This morning during our study of Avot d'Rabbi Natan, a weekly class with a loyal group of students, we attempted to deconstruct a text about the Sages view of the relative impurity of a menstruating woman. The discussion, as you can imagine, was rich and far-reaching. The class is one of the highlights of my week, an excellent way to start things off inside Shul on a Shabbat morning. Three quick hallway conversations led to a move across the street, into the Rotunda space, where our weekly Shir l'Shabbat program was meeting, a bank of guitars and mandolin, a drum, several "axe-wielding" tots aspiring to careers in rock and roll, and dozens of happy parents and grandparents, promised, through the practice of the Hebrew language, that the community of fellowship in which they found themselves, would be assured of survival, merely because the binding force of the Hebrew language itself remains alive.
Before naming a new baby in the community, I shared the famous Midrash from the Sages, that one of the reasons that God redeemed Bnai Yisrael from servitude in Egypt is because the Jews preserved their Hebrew names. Such is the redemptive power of language.
Back across the street. Sneak in breakfast, roll the Torah, and prepare for a Bar Mitzvah, a fine young man with an open and sincere heart, giving that pure joy to his family at seeing him ascend to the bimah, sing Hebrew words, and link himself, inexorably, to past and future generations. Around the corner in the Social Hall, our Gan Shabbat and Yachad Shabbat programs were meeting together. That means Kindergarten through 6th graders and their families were together, singing prayers in Hebrew, moving their bodies through the various ritual traditions of bending and bowing worshipful maneuvers, and forging a new meaning for a new generation in relationship with Judaism's ancient practices. Altshul had settled into my study--pluralistic seekers after Shabbat morning's fuller tradition; and the Lay-Led Minyan, CBE adult members celebrating their tenth anniversary of meeting on Shabbat morning, a bit removed from the Bar/Bat Mitzvah glare.
Exclusive Bar/Bat Mitzvah services really are a challenge. Their less worshipful and more educational venues, opportunities to display Judaism's rich spiritual tradition to an audience of participants who aren't generally practiced in, well, practice. My focus in such moments is different from other public prayer moments. There's more public teaching; more explaining that needs to be done; and the music is generally more "performative" than experiential.
When I began my service at CBE in 2006, the quick assessment was that the only hope for building a Shabbat morning prayer experience for the community would require a three-fold approach: 1. Keep the Lay-Led Minyan going in its own way, long-time CBE members who weekly practice a meaningful, participatory Reform worship; 2. Invite in Altshul to be welcomed to practice their open-tent pluralism, letting their traditional spiritual fervor emanate outward; and, 3. Move Sunday School to Shabbat and make it a family learning experience, which means that Yachad ("together") has a kind of ladder-like progression from birth through 6th grade, learning in a set of stages, Hebrew language the binding force every step of the way.
I was feeling proud of this achievement, really proud, when I looked up during the service this morning and saw one of the guests releasing a massive, unrestrained, non-stifled YAWN. Full on. Comic Book Worthy.
Was this an Angel, come to mock me in my pride? An editorial statement on the relative boredom of my teacherly manner from the pulpit? Or an insomniac, caught in a naked moment, relaxing into the experience of Shabbat but merely forgetting to simply cover his mouth?
Thank God, at just that moment, it was time to face the Ark for the Barchu. I turned toward God, fully, and nearly burst out laughing. I imagine, suddenly, myself, emerging from the side door of the Chapel in full scuba gear--snorkel, flippers, mask--the whole megilah. My diver alter-ego motioned to the room to "please rise" just like a Rabbi should. I couldn't decide whether or not I should stage a goldfish inside my mask but that was for another time. The Hebrew words called me from the page. Looking down, their black shapes called me home.