Today I had another opportunity to do a Devar Torah for our morning Zoom minyan.
I'd like to dedicate it to the memory of Rabbi Hamilton's father, may his memory always be a blessing.
Today, had we been in a real instead of a virtual room, we would have read for the Rosh Chodesh torah reading from Numbers 28:1.
"Command the Israelite people and say to them: Be punctilious in presenting to Me at stated times the offerings of food due Me, as offerings by fire of pleasing odor to Me."
The tone of this pasuk is one of command, demanding exact adherence to the offerings presented to God. It presents God as an engineer, demanding from us exact measurements, equipment that is in excellent shape and adherence to a strict schedule. This is a strict God, one we must follow for fear of punishment.
Each morning for the past few months a group of us get out of bed and daven in this very special Zoom room. Each morning we peer a through early morning eyes, skim, chant or concentrate on this amazing document which is a siddur, developed so many generations ago. I find my mind wandering from the words and to the genius in the idea of a daily system of prayer. As I sit perched on my seat by the computer I wonder about the words and wether the ideas in the siddur are of paramount importance if we recite them each day. I take the time to imagine how things worked as the siddur was slowly being developed and the role of the flesh and blood people who helped decide what is included and what didn’t make the cut. This is both humbling and powerful, considering that here we are, meeting in this strange room each day, repeating those same words over and over again, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but always circling back to those same words every morning.
During davening there are certain prayers that I gravitate toward. These prayers are the snippets that live between the mainstays of the prayer, crouched between the Bar'chu, the shema, the Amida and even the Aleinu. Of course the mainstay prayers are the skeleton of the liturgy; they are the spine, the femur bones, those bones that bear the most weight and strength. The other liturgical additions are the sinews and tendons that bind these bones, that help keep them strong. These little gems appear in many places in the morning davening. Their words lay waiting patiently in the siddur, as our eyes brush over them or past them; the gentle gems of the liturgy, ideas where we hear from the angels and are asked to be our better selves.
Toward the conclusion of the service, after our second Ashrei, is a short Psalm, psalm 20, that offers us a warm and encouraging message as we prepare to leave the synagogue for our days. It goes like this
May the LORD answer you in time of trouble, the name of Jacob’s God keep you safe.
May He send you help from the sanctuary, and sustain you from Zion.
May He receive the tokens of all your meal offerings, and approve your burnt offerings. Selah.
May He grant you your desire, and fulfill your every plan....
Following the first part of the Psalm 20, the words change and it transitions to be a psalm about war, revenge and power. My eyes alight on the beginning of this psalm and my heart takes comfort from its words, because for the first half of its 14 lines, we have a different image of God, a more empathetic God, the God who is a parent. This is the Parent who is sending their child out to school each morning, bringing to the bus stop to meet the day with his backpack and lunchbox. This the parent who remembers each morning to tell His child to have a safe day, a successful day. This is the God of parents, the One who hopes that the children's hopes for the day are actualized. The beginning of Psalm 20 acknowledges the humanity of its supplicants. This part of the Psalm is about the hope of acceptance, the desire of humans to “get it right.” In these lines Gd is not the engineer, but a loving parent. This is God who is kissing us on the forehead and sending us on our way each day. This is the God who bids us farewell as we leave the synagogue and start our days.
There is a place in our lives both for the God of Numbers 28:1, but there is also a place in our lives for God in Psalm 20. They are each different. Both are necessary, both help us be better people. On this Rosh Chodesh Ellul, I hope that we will realize both and I hope that we will all leave this room knowing that it is with a gentle kiss on the forehead as we begin our day.
Chodesh Tov and Shabbat Shalom
Psalm 20 taken from Sefaria
Numbers 28:1-3 taken from Sefaria