Book Serialization Part 11: Six People You Meet in Synagogue

Book Serialization Part 11:  Six People You Meet in Synagogue
For 2013. We present our book in serial format on our blog - God's Favorite Prayers...

The Mystic’s Prayers

[Ashk. Heb. kah-dish; Seph. Heb. kah-deesh]
–noun, plural Kad·di·shim
[Ashk. Heb. kah-dish-im; Seph. Heb. kah-dee-sheem]. Judaism.
1. (italics) a liturgical prayer, consisting of three or six verses, recited at specified points during each of the three daily services and on certain other occasions.
2. (italics) Also called Mourner’s Kaddish. The five-verse form of this prayer that is recited at specified points during each of the three daily services by one observing the mourning period of 11 months, beginning on the day of burial, for a deceased parent, sibling, child, or spouse, and by one observing the anniversary of such a death.
3. Kaddishim, persons who recite this prayer.

—Random House Dictionary, 2010

n my spiritual quest in scores of synagogues, not surprisingly I sought after and expected to meet up with some mystical personalities. After all, mystical traditions are inextricably associated with the religions of the world.
Allow me introduce you to Hannah the mystic, one such ideal type whom I met. To do this, I first must take you way back to the earliest description in Tanakh of an individual reciting a prayer at a sacred shrine. The brief narrative from I Samuel chapter 1 tells us about the Israelite woman Hannah, who recited the first silent prayer in the biblical record at the tabernacle at Shiloh.
The biblical Hannah’s story is a sad one. She was childless and she wanted a child, so she came to the tabernacle entrance and just went ahead and poured out her soul directly to God. Every successor to Hannah who prays to God in a synagogue, Temple, or anywhere, engages in an analogous mystical act and shares in the belief that his or her words or thoughts somehow unacoustically travel to God’s ear. 
Here is Hannah’s short narrative:
Once, when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on a chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s temple.

In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord. …

As she continued praying before the Lord, the priest Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman.

Eli (to Hannah): How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away.

Hannah: No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.

Eli: Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.

Hannah: Let your servant find favor in your eyes.

Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.

Eli the priest could not understand that Hannah, or any sober person, could think that they could speak directly yet silently to God. The priest believed that only he and his brethren controlled the access to the sacred. All requests had to be vocalized and ritualized, and had to go through him, according to his ways and the directions of the holy place. Eli acted as if he was the gatekeeper of heaven, as he is depicted in the story, sitting on a chair at the entrance to the Temple. As told, once Hannah explains her acts, Eli accepts her sincerity and intercedes for Hannah. He assures her that God will grant her non-vocal request.
Eli had for Hannah, in this anecdote, just one accusatory and rhetorical question. I have more to ask Hannah about what she thought that she was doing there at the sacred place of Israelite worship. Here are some of the things that I want to know:
Hannah, what was your imagined experience while standing at the holy site and reciting your prayers?
When pouring out your soul, did you feel transported to heavenly realms to be with the angels, closer to God?
Did you seek to relive the experiences of salvation, along with the Israelites, as they miraculously walked through the dry land of the split sea on their way out of slavery in Egypt?
Did you want to sense the excitement of the anticipation of the redemption of Israel at the end of days and to hear the footsteps of the coming of the messiah?
As these questions suggest, along the spectrum, I want to explore and better understand the mystical, the mythic, and even the kabbalistic varieties of direct religious experiences and their qualities and intensities.
The biblical Hannah appears to me at first to represent a mystic at the most basic, entry level, i.e., one who seeks an encounter with God by talking to him. Everyone praying in the synagogue emulates the biblical Hannah the mystic, the founder of all silent personal prayer in Judaism, an archetype of Jewish religious liturgical experience. She explained her actions to Eli the priest at ancient Shiloh. He was satisfied by her explanation and told her that God will grant her request.
More advanced mystics may engage in a fuller experience, with more bells and whistles. They may delve further into the mythic life of religion, which I speak about below. And the most advanced mystics may reach out to even more transcendental and esoteric categories of experience, like those associated with the later Kabbalists.
Let’s meet Hannah’s direct contemporary descendants in our synagogue and ask them to explain to us more about the experiential notions of Judaism that they find there.

No comments: