As a new year dawns, what did we learn — and how have we changed?
Last year I was sure that as a mother with a demanding schedule, I would jump at the prospect of davening in shul. On the rare occasions I was obliged to make it work, like for shofar on Rosh Hashanah or maftir of parshas Zachor, I savored the thunderous ameins, the roar of yehei shemei rabbah that crested and dipped like a raging tide. And if I managed to snatch a Bircas Kohanim, the sublime chant of “yevore-che-chaa-aah!” pierced my core, as if uttered by Ahron Hakohein himself.
Then the coronavirus brought shul to me. Suddenly my alarm clock was superfluous; the corona-minyan outside my bedroom window woke me in the morning with a hearty amein, or a throaty Kaddish, or (on particularly sleepy days) chazaras hashatz. My kitchen window became a portal to prayer; I prepped dinner to the cadence of Minchah and cleaned up to the chanting of Barchu. Krias HaTorah, Kabbalas Shabbos, amein yehei shemei rabbah — I could participate in virtually any tefillah betzibbur I wished! Except that to my astonishment I found that frequently, I did not want to.
I found that when the 16th amein of the day trilled up through my window, be it thunderous as a volcano, I was no longer moved. Same for the resounding yehei shemei rabbahs. And while relaxing on the couch with a book, I was loath to jump up and join the tzibbur outside my living room for Minchah. I would daven later when I finished the chapter.
In a moment of mortifying honesty, I discovered that I didn’t love shul as much as I had thought.
Now I know that there is a difference between being moved by the novelty of the thing and being moved by the thing itself. I realize that my impassioned feelings toward tefillah b’tzibbur had so much more to do with the former; that cherishing tefillah b’tzibbur is not a given, but rather the sweet dividends of long hard avodah. That the commitment it takes the men in my life to daven Shacharis, Minchah, and Maariv with a minyan is something I could not necessarily oblige myself.
And most importantly, for all the glory of riding transcendent waves of tefillah b’tzibbur, there is much more to be said for the dedication, perseverance, and (dare I say it?) downright grit that making minyan every day, three times a day, demands.
Elana Moskowitz has been teaching in seminaries for nearly 20 years.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 828)
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