August 13, 2021
Is the Service Over Yet?
Dear Holy Friends,
I hope this correspondence finds you doing well and in good health.
While we look forward to welcoming you back to the synagogue for in-person services shortly, we are hard at work preparing for the upcoming High Holy Day services. As I work out the services with Rabbi Stern and Cantor Zim, I can hear the perennial question in the back of my mind… Is the service over yet?
I may be the Rabbi, but I am not embarrassed to admit that even I have asked myself that same question many times!
As a youth growing up in Toronto, I remember fondly the pageantry that accompanied the Rosh HaShannah services. The sanctuary was always filled to the back and the aisles were jam-packed and overflowing. Adding to the dignity of the day, people were dressed in angelic white to reflect the possibility of new beginnings, as described in detail in our Machzor.
In the weeks leading up to Yuntif, our classes in Cheder were focused on the themes of the High Holy Days to help get the students into the correct frame of mind for this solemn season. In spite of this preparation and the palpable excitement in the building, I can tell you that I feel guilty, to this day, that I wasn’t the biggest fan of some of the prayers, in particular, the Amidah of Rosh HaShannah, which is literally the longest Amidah of the liturgical year.
The Amidah, which marks the time for our silent devotion, was overwhelming to a young Torah/Hebrew student. It was fraught with page after page of unfamiliar texts, quotes from the Tanach, and interruptions due to the blowing of the shofar. It also required intense, ongoing concentration and, of course, the interminable standing. Just thinking about it now, I can recall my internal voice kvetching, “Are we done yet?”
In fact, I wasn’t wrong to be intimidated by this holiday text. The Rosh HaShannah Amidah is augmented by three additional lengthy sections of prayers called Malchuyoth (Kingship), Zichronot (Remembrances) and Shofaroth. Each of these sections has no less than ten biblical quotes: three from Torah; three from the books of the Prophets; three from Ketuvim (the third and last section of the Bible); and an additional concluding quote from the Torah. The literary structure of the text is magnificent, but the text is long!
My goal should have been to enjoy the literature, liturgy, and music, but I was often distracted by my fidgety feet!
So, when we gather together for Rosh HaShannah and it seems that the prayers and standing are getting longer and longer, it is OK to ask the age-old question, “Is the service over yet?” But, then remember that we are standing together, as generations have before us, and realize that as long as the Amidah may be, you will eventually get to sit down.
Wishing you a Shannah Tova Umetuka and a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD