Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our daily, Shabbat or Holyday Prayer Service. Often during the course of the service we encounter some real gems that we don’t have time to reflect upon; this will give us an opportunity to select one prayer and take a closer look.
Unique to the High Holiday liturgy are personal prayers designated to be recited solely by the Hazzan as Shaliach Tzibur (Prayer emissary of the congregation) to the Almighty. While the best know of these personal petitions is Hineni, the prayer during which the Hazzan, with great trepidation and awe approaches the Bima from the midst of the sanctuary, other such prayers can be found in the Shacharit (morning) and Musaph (additional) services.
It is during the Musaph service that we find the brief but moving personal petition known as “Ochila La El, I shall put my hope in God.” Ismar Elbogen, the unparalleled scholar of Jewish Liturgy, places the origin of this anonymous prayer in the time of the Amoraim, (approx. 210-500 C.E.) the magnificent scholars of the Talmud. Elbogen characterizes this time as a period of great liturgical creativity.
Through the text Ochila La El, and its ancient plaintive melody, the Hazzan passionately expresses a yearning for the ability to communicate the feeling of being in the presence of the Divine Countenance through the Hazzan’s chanting of liturgy. The Hazzan prays for the gift of “Manei Lashon – Eloquence of speech.” As Rabbi Nosson Scherman, the editor of the Artscroll Machzor, points out, the text of the prayers are prescribed by the Machzor but the Hazzan must use the eloquent language of Jewish Music resonating from the depths of the Hazzan’s soul to express the innermost meaning of the words.
I have often said that my mission as a Hazzan is not only to be the representative of the congregation in prayer to the Almighty but also to be the representative of the prayers to the congregational family. Ochila La El, provides insight into how the Hazzan approaches this task; “Ma’archei Lev” (the function of the Heart) – a deep and abiding love for our Jewish Musical and Liturgical Heritage and for the members of the congregational family the Hazzan serves.
It is this mission, this resonance of the soul that guides the Hazzan on and off the Bima. Whether teaching a Bar or Bat Mitzvah student or sitting on the floor with religious school students and sharing thoughts together about our prayers or opening up an adult’s eyes to the beautiful world of Torah reading, or writing articles about liturgy, or comforting an ill or bereaved individual or family or even singing the “Dinosaur Song” on a Friday morning with the Early Childhood Center students, it is with “Ma’archei Lev,” this deep and abiding love that the Hazzan approaches every facet of his role in the community.
The bottom line of Ochila La El is “Y’hiyu L’Ratzon Imrei Phi… May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable unto You my Rock and my Redeemer.” As your Hazzan, “Ochila La El”; I pray to God that I May succeed in transmitting the true Ma’archei Lev – the meditation of my heart, the Nesahma (soul) of our sacred heritage through my chanting of the liturgy and through all that I do. May God hear the supplications of all that approach the Almighty with sincerity and grant all of us a year of blessing.
I wish all a G’mar Hatima Tova – may you be sealed in the book of life for a year of health, peace and prosperity.
Hazzan Michael Krausman