BTW – Ba’al Tephila Workshop

BTW is an exciting new way to learn how to lead synagogue services or to understand more about the process of how services are conducted. How many times have you searched the web for a YouTube video or other source that will show you how to do something in a simple direct fashion? With BTW you can now use that same approach to learn how to be a service leader!

The BTW… is divided into a series of Keynote presentations and videos. These presentations and videos will guide you step by step through the process of learning how to lead each service. You can play these at your leisure.

Of course you can ask questions any time by emailing me, Hazzan Michael Krausman at hazzankrausman@bethel-omaha.org. You can also arrange a time to meet either online or in person for practice or further instruction or just to hang out and chat! You can even email recordings of yourself chanting the parts of the service you are learning and I will happily review them with you. You can also respond to the comment section below with questions, suggestions or feedback.

Here is the first video, the BTW intro. You can also receive it as a keynote presentation if you send me an email.

Enjoy!!

Advertisements

Share a Prayer: Modim Anachnu Lach; Thanksgiving

With the American festival of Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, the notion of expressing gratitude is very much in our thoughts. For Jews, this is not an annual event but rather a persistent theme in our hearts and heritage. Indeed, we wake up in the morning with “Modeh Ani,” a prayer thanking God for watching over and restoring our souls to us and fill our day with a myriad of Blessings acknowledging the role of the Blessed Holy One in all of our abilities and in everything we experience.

Several years ago when reflecting on the Jewish connection to Thanksgiving I related the following teaching:

… As my good friend Rabbi Mario Roizman points out, as Jews our very essence is to be thankful. Jewish people are referred to in Hebrew as “Yehudim.” We receive this name from our Biblical ancestor Yehudah, the son of Jacob. When Yehudah was born his mother Leah she declared, “Odeh et Adonai, I will give thanks to God; therefore they named him Yehudah.”(Gen.29:35) thus giving thanks is part of our DNA. Indeed, Rabbi Roizman points out that Yehidim can be understood to mean: “the people who say thank you.”

Perhaps the quintessential prayer that indicates how much we value giving thanks is Modim Anachnu Lach. This blessing is found in the Hodaiya, or prayers of thanksgiving and acknowledgment section of Amidah, a collection of 7-18 blessings that are the central core of each of our daily, festival and Shabbat services. Below is the text according to Siddur Lev Shalem published by the Rabbinical Assembly.

“We thank You, for You are ever our God and the God of our ancestors; You are the bedrock of our lives, the shield that protects us in every generation We thank You and sing Your praises-for our lives that are in, Your hands, for our souls that are under Your care, for Your miracles that accompany us each day, and for Your wonders and Your gifts that are with us each moment – evening, morning, and noon, You are the one who is good, whose mercy is never-ending; the one who is compassionate, whose love is unceasing. We have always placed our hope in You.” Click here for the Hebrew text.

Our great Talmudic sages mandated that after having made a series of requests from the Blessed Holy One on weekday or even after expressing the uniquely holy nature of a Holiday or the Sabbath, we are to acknowledge the presence of God in all that we have in our lives. Ismar Elbogen one of the greatest scholars of Jewish liturgy of all time, notes that although the present text of Modim can be found as far back as in the 9thCenturay compilation of Rav Amram, earlier forms of this poetic expression can be found across time and liturgical traditions. Elbogen also points out that it is into this section of the liturgy that our sages required that prayers of gratitude for the miracles of Hannukah and Purim be inserted. Indecently, modern prayer books also include a similarly worded prayer for Yom Ha Atzmaut – Israel Independence day.

The devastating loss of the Beit Ha Miqdash, the Holy Temple of Jerusalem in the year 70 C.E. was a watershed moment in the development of the Jewish people. Our great sages in their wisdom opted to replace the biblically mandated sacrificial cult with a system of prayer which would enable us draw close to our Creator by expressing our thoughts, fears, yearnings and aspirations. At first only a simple list of mandated blessings was produced – it was up to the individual worshipper to compose the introductory text that would more deeply express the theme of the blessing. Eventually gifted authors would compose relevant poetry to be uttered by the worshipper. While the current text of our blessing is indicted above, a second version of the Modim prayer that became known as the “Scholars Modim” or, Modim d’ Rabbanan was found to be so relevant that it too is included in our prayer books.Click here for the text.

Thus, in communities where the Amidah is expressed individually by the congregation and then repeated aloud by prayer leader, individuals recite the Modim d’ Rabbanan individually while the leader chants the main version. One of the salient features of this scholarly Modim is the expression of gratitude for the very ability to express our thanks. The commentator on our Siddur Lev Shalem points out that “the ability to express gratitude is seen as a special gift to humanity. The attitude of thankfulness connects us to the world with a sense of humility and a joyful spirit of openness.”

Rabbi Ruven Hammer, noted authority on Jewish liturgy explains the process of bowing as we say Modim Anachnu Lach and the significance of this prayer in a note published in his wonderful commentary on the Conservative Sim Shalom Siddur entitled Or Hadash:

“Bowing at the beginning and end of the Modim blessing indicates that we are bringing our Prayer to an end. We began with bowing to God and we conclude with a bow. We physically symbolize our acknowledgment that God is our true Ruler, to whom all thanksgiving is due. The seriousness with which the Sages viewed this particular prayer can be seen by the fact that the Mishnah teaches that if one who is leading the service says the word ‘modim’ twice, ‘he is silenced’- i.e., stopped from leading the prayers (Berakhot 5:3). As the Talmud explains, ‘It is as if he acknowledged that there are two powers in the world’ (Berakhot 33b).”

Whether is it is because of what is hardwired into our identity as Rabbi Roismam suggested above or whether it is due of the many and sometimes harsh lessons of our history, we as a people never take anything for granted. On the contrary, Jews as people are continually expressing our gratitude. Jews do not only give thanks on special occasions or when we are siting down to eat a festive meal; we are constantly cognizant and appreciative of our special relationship with our Creator – “evening,  morning and noon.”

Here is a classic setting of this Prayer by Jacob Rapaport made famous by the legendary Hazzan Mordechai Hershman:

 

This is Hassidic version by Lev Tahor

 

Here is a contemporary setting of this Prayer by Cantor Jonathan Comisar sung by Cantor Sara Hass and Cantor Lizzie Weiss

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share a Prayer: Search for Hametz

Contrary to the common misconception, the primary mitzvah of Pesach is not to eat enough matzah to commit gastric suicide. Rather, we are commanded “V’ Higadita L’Vincha…you shall tell this story to your children.” Indeed, the Seder with all of its experiential components is the quintessential family education program, empowering parents to pass on our precious  heritage, replete with family history and customs, to the next generation. 

Before the Seder begins, however, there is a wonderful ceremony that not only, illustrates the concept of removal of Hametz (leavened products) in an experiential fashion, but  involves everyone in climax of Passover preparation. This ceremony is called Bidikat Hametz, the search for leaven. 

How do arrive at this point? On Pesach, the Torah commands us to avoid all contact with Hametz – any item which has been allowed to rise for more the 18 minutes. This includes  products containing yeast, Se’or –  items made with a sourdough process, grains that have been allowed to ferment and other similar products. Rabbinic tradition has understood this to mean we can not have benefit in any way or even posses these items or anything that may contain even the smallest trace or crumb of Hametz. So we dutifully scrub and clean every crevice of our homes lest we miss a tiny particle of Hametz and violate this injunction. Thus, it is traditional to shun the dishes,pots and pans etc. that we normally use and replace them all with  dedicated Passover dishes  and utensils. Despite all of our cleaning, however, we still would own the “non-Passover” kitchenware not to mention alcohol, fine china and other products that would be very expensive to replace if we had to dispose of them. There are great stories told by employees and residents of institutions in Israel that housed newly arrived immigrants from Ethiopia who were awakened in the middle of one of the nights leading up to Pesach by a cacophony of crashing dishes emanating  from the communal kitchen. They discovered to their shock and disbelief the their  Ethiopian brethren were “helping” the residents get rid of the non-Passover dishes by destroying them in preparation for the holiday.  

Fortunately, our sages alleviated  the need for such draconian measures( although my kids are always ready to smash dishes) by instituting a process known as Mecirat Hametz, which allows for the temporary sale to a Gentile of forbidden items that would cause too much of a financial hardship to us if we had to destroy them or eliminate them from our homes.A special bill of sale is drawn by which the Hametz reverts back to the original owners and the deposit is returned unless the buyer wishes to pay an exorbitant price based on the market value of all of the Hametz included in the original deal. 

As I noted above the Torah specifically states ” No Hametz shall be found in your homes…[or] within your borders.”(Ex. 12:19; 13:7) However none of us is perfect. It is possible that a microscopic particle of Hametz may remain for example, one Cheereo or morsel of Captain Crunch or a tiny crumb  may be stuck to the bottom of the fridge or somewhere similar. Therefore, our sages devised a formula by which we can declare any Hametz that we have unwittingly left  un-sanitized  null and void “as the dust of the earth.”  

Rabbi Joseph Elias writing in the Art Scroll Haggada explains that just evoking a formula seems a bit insincere, can we really just declare our homes devoid of Hametz? So, in order to insure that we  can honestly certify to the best of our knowledge that our homes are Hametz free, the search for Hametz  using the following process was instituted.    

We begin our search on the evening of the day before the first Seder. The text and detailed instructions can be found below or in any good Haggadah. You will need a candle to guide your search, a feather to sweep up Hametz a wooden spoon to receive the Hametz and a paper bag to collect the Hametz. This year we are following a custom of using the Lulav or Palm branch left from last sukkoth in place of the feather. It is customary to strategically hide morsels of Hametz, some use 10 as it has mystical significance, in your home. I often use breakfast cereal as it is easily to scoop and doesn’t cause too much collateral damage i.e. crumbs. In order to make it more exciting for the kids, I have them stay in a bedroom while I hide the morsels of Hametz. The children ideally take turns holding the spoon, feather, candle and bag although your mileage may vary, especially with the candle. 

After the Hametz has been hidden, (make sure you remember were it all is or you could be in for a nasty surprise in the middle of Pesach) we turn off all the lights, gather together  and recite the Blessing thanking God for making us holy with the Mitzvot and commanding us to remove ( i.e. burn) all Hametz. We then search throughout the house (I tend to confine the hiding places to the public parts of the home as opposed to the bedrooms just to be on the safe side) scooping up the offending pieces of Leaven and collecting them in the paper bag. After all the Hametz is in the bag, we add the feather, spoon and candle (extinguish the candle first) and recite the Hametz Nullification formula in Aramaic and or English. The excellent Feast of Freedom Hagadah  produced by the Rabbinical Assembly, notes that this text is first found in the writings of Rabbi Issac Ben Jacob Alfasi of Fez ( 1013-1103)

” all Hametz in my possession which I have not seen or removed, or of which I am unaware, is hereby nullified and ownerless as the dust of the earth.”

The bag of Hametz and the associated contaminated utensils are carefully set aside until morning. In the morning after breakfast but before the deadline for eating Hametz passes, usually about 2.5 hours before midday, all the Hametz is gathered together and burned. Usually a metal trash can will work for this purpose or an old Barbecue that you do not plan to use for Pesach. We complete the Hametz search and destroy mission with the following declaration, recited after the burning is finished, again in Aramaic and or Hebrew.

“All Hametz in my possession,whether I have seen it or not,whether I have removed it or not, is hereby nullified and ownerless as the dust of the earth.”

Of course we are familiar with the biblical origin of the requirement for eating Matza. The Israelites in their haste to leave Egypt did not allow sufficient time for the dough to rise and so they baked flat cakes of Matza instead of bread. But why the total obsession with Hametz? Perhaps this is a good topic of discussion for our family as we go through the Hametz eradication process. 

Rabbi Alex Israel  of the Pardes Yeshiva in Jerusalem suggests three possible reasons for the prohibition against Hametz. Whereas Egyptian worship involved the usage of leavened bread in the context of sacrificing to their various deities, the Torah, wanting to avoid any similarities between  the  idolatrous practices of the Egyptians and our service to God, permits only unleavened bread in the Israelite Sacraficial Services. Secondly, Rabbi Alexander cites a source that points out that leavened bread requires human technology, i.e. the introduction of yeast or sourdough to work. Since the Exodus was accomplished only by the Divine Hand of God with no human input, we eat Matza which is made with out the benefit of this human ingenuity. Rabbi Israel’s final point is based on the fact that while as mentioned above, with all other sacrifices there is a prohibition against any Hametz, the offering for Shavuot is an exception, it requires the inclusion of loaves of leavened  bread. Shavuot celebrates the receiving of the Torah on Mt Sinai, seven weeks after the Exodus from Egypt. The children of Israel, upon leaving Egypt, were a primitive group of escaped slaves. It was only after receiving the Torah that we grew  from a gang of former slaves  into a definitive nation with a direction and purpose under God. Therefore, Rabbi Israel teaches, we eat the plain bread of slaves on Peasch but eat the enhanced loaves of the bread of God’s chosen emancipated nation on Shavuot. 

Experiences such as the search for Hametz help to create the lasting memories that are the building blocks of family history. Like the Seder, it is a wonderful way to pass on our rich and beautiful heritage to the next generation in a concrete fashion. By including the search and burning of Hametz in our Passover tradition we are empowered to teach our  children about the fundamental  meaning of the holiday and are thereby enabled  to fulfill the primary mitzvah of Pesach –  “V’higadita L’vincha Ba Yom ha Hu, and you shall teach these lessons to your children on that day.”

Best wishes for a Zissen  (sweet) Pesach to all.

Click here for the text for the search for Hametz in Hebrew and English. Taken from Feast of Freedom Hagadah  produced by the Rabbinical Assembly,

For some interesting ideas on how to make your Seder even more appealing as well as some musical enhancements, click here.

I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at hazzan@e-hazzan.com or leave a comment below.

Take care,

Hazzan Michael Krausman