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To pray is to get away

The following essay was written by Rabbi Shapiro for the October 2010 dedication of the supplementary siddur, Palace in Time. Although the essay introduces the new prayerbook, it also presents an approach towards understanding what might happen in any worship service.

“To pray is to get away.”

I know that’s an unusual definition of prayer, but perhaps it’s also a useful way to think about our services and Shabbat as well.

What do we do when we gather for services? In one sense, we do “get away.” We “get away” from business as usual. For at least part of an evening (or morning) we set aside our computers, our handheld devices, television, work, and errands.

In services, a friend of mine once said, we change our orientation. Think of those high school math books with the intersecting lines: one axis on the horizontal; the other on the vertical. For most of the week, we focus on the horizontal. We go from point to point accomplishing various tasks. At services, we stop our forward rush and look up. We “orient” differently. All week we are told, “Don’t just sit there. Do something.” On Shabbat and during services, we listen to another voice that tells us, “Don’t just do something. Sit there. Be.”

That’s what I mean by suggesting that, when we pray, we are trying to get away or step outside the ordinary. When we pray, we reorient. We refocus, and hopefully, this supplementary siddur for Sinai Temple will enable us all to accomplish this purpose more comfortably, more fully, and with real joy.

The Cantor and I have collected music, prayers, and readings for this booklet that are varied, contemporary, and thought provoking. We’ve provided transliteration so that Hebrew doesn’t become an obstacle to prayer. We also imagine the service being used in a number of ways. For services when we want to highlight music and use more instrumentation, we’ve provided lots of texts that can be sung. For Kabbalat Shabbat, when it’s customary to read Psalms 95 to 99, we’ve made those texts available together towards the beginning of the service. We won’t ever have a service where we use every page of this siddur, because this booklet contains material for much more than one service. But over time we will pick and choose as we find our way towards the feeling of Shabbat and authentic worship.

This booklet is called “a palace in time” because it suggests that we are indeed trying to get somewhere when we pray on Shabbat. We are trying to get to a different place, a holy place. To paraphrase Abraham Joshua Heschel, “The seventh day and prayer right our balance and restore our perspective.  Like a palace in time...not a date, but an atmosphere. When we pray on the seventh day, we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time. To turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”

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May this siddur help us in our prayers.

May something holy happen when we come together in this sanctuary.


Rabbi Mark Shapiro,
Shabbat Vayera,
October 2010

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