More than anything else I’ve come to understand in life, I’ve learned that it’s not only about being in the right place at the right time. There’s a third angle. You must be the right person.
My journey into the daily prayers became a relationship, I’m not sure at what point. What started out feeling forced, unnatural, became a fluent part of me as I evolved from feeling like a poseur to owning my spot.
In life, my heart pounds whenever I show up someplace for the first time. Here, though I had a good general idea of what to do and how to fit in, there was often some new detail that poked at my confidence. Some more glaring than others. The first time I turned up at the shul closest to me, I noticed they pray nusach sepharad, according to the Sephardi tradition. The siddur they used is from the same modern publisher I’m used to, and whereas the service is by and large the same, there are some devils in the details. That first time I found myself zipping along, getting to the end of the prayers pretty darn quickly. A little too quickly, even taking into account my growing familiarity with the liturgy. And then it dawned on me that this siddur is in Hebrew only, unlike my usual one that has both Hebrew and English. Meaning one needs to read every page, not just the right-hand ones……
Once my self-consciousness gave way to comfort, and I moved inside to a place of belonging, I began to explore. Dad would sometimes mention the beauty in the liturgy. For years, I’d roll my eyes; I couldn’t imagine anything more boring. Now, communing daily with it, I found the poetry, the lofty yearnings, the oh-so-human turns of phrase. And I found the words that found me.
Some years ago, Dad had some medical difficulties and had missed shul for a few weeks. Upon his return to his makom kavua, his designated place, I looked over toward him at one point, and the feeling that all was right with the world enveloped me. At that moment, we began the Amidah, the central prayer for which we stand still and silent. And then it grabbed me: The first of the 18 blessings is ‘magen Avraham’ – blessed be He who protects Avraham. My father is Avraham. Avraham Aharon, to be exact. From that day forward, that was Dad’s special blessing, my pact with G-d. Coincidentally, the very next blessing is ‘mechaye hameitim’ – blessed be He who gives life to the dead. For these many years, I had consciously looked away from Dad as soon as we said ‘amen’ to protecting Avraham. Bli ayin ra. Lest we tempt the evil eye. There are many interpretations of ‘giving life to the dead’, none of which I had ever wanted to contemplate. Now, those two blessings are linked for the rest of my life, and to my surprise and gratitude, bring me strength.