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Toward Shabbat: Vayishlah

7:45AM- I turn my computer on and sign into Zoom. I put on tallit and tefillin and recite a couple of quiet prayers in preparation for Shaharit, then I sit for a few moments in silence.

וַאֲנִ֗י בְּרֹ֣ב חַ֭סְדְּךָ אָב֣וֹא בֵיתֶ֑ךָ אֶשְׁתַּחֲוֶ֥ה אֶל־הֵֽיכַל־קָ֝דְשְׁךָ֗ בְּיִרְאָתֶֽךָ׃

But I, through Your abundant love, enter Your house; I bow down in awe at Your holy temple. (Ps. 5:8)

7:58AM- my colleagues appear on my screen. “Boker tov.” We do a quick check-in as the list in the Zoom waiting room grows longer.

אֲנִ֗י בְּ֭צֶדֶק אֶחֱזֶ֣ה פָנֶ֑יךָ אֶשְׂבְּעָ֥ה בְ֝הָקִ֗יץ תְּמוּנָתֶֽךָ׃

Then I, in justice will behold Your face; wide awake, I am filled with the vision of You. (Ps. 17:15)

7:59AM turns into 8 o’clock;  I click the “Admit All” button on the upper right corner. The screen quickly fills up with dozens of faces; it is a truly magical moment that repeats every single morning. It never ceases to amaze me and to fill me with a deep sense of gratitude for this morning prayer community. We join from different neighborhoods in New York City and from various other places around the country. On a given day, there are between 65 and 100 of us. We sit in front of our computers, in our living rooms, our kitchens, our bedrooms, and our studies. Occasionally, someone is  outdoors and in their little Zoom square we can see a piece of sky.

Boker tov! We meet again on a new day, as we have for the past 260  mornings since the pandemic started in March, and we look into each other’s faces and into our personal spaces. Our many spaces merge into one common and safe space. A virtual space for prayer, yet no less real. A spiritual miracle.

מוֹדֶה אֲנִי לְפָנֶֽיךָ

I give thanks to You (Prayerbook)

8:01AM- we begin with gratitude, for the gift of our bodies and our souls, for who we are, for what we have. Gratitude awakens our sense of awe and gratitude turns into praise.

כֹּ֣ל הַ֭נְּשָׁמָה תְּהַלֵּ֥ל יָ֗הּ הַֽלְלוּ־יָֽהּ׃

Let all that breathes praise Yah. Halleluyah. (Ps. 150:6)

8:20AM- we arrive at the Shema seeking to align ourselves with the One, and we commit to love and to serve with all our heart and with all our soul.

אֲ֭דֹנָי שְׂפָתַ֣י תִּפְתָּ֑ח

Adonai, open my lips. (Ps. 51:17)

8:25AM- we stand in silent prayer of supplication. We beg for the things we need, not for our superfluous, capricious, or pretentious wants,  but for our actual, real needs and those of our world, those things without which our lives and our world would crumble: understanding, forgiveness, healing, sustenance, justice, vision, hope, and peace.

יִֽהְי֥וּ לְרָצ֨וֹן ׀ אִמְרֵי־פִ֡י וְהֶגְי֣וֹן לִבִּ֣י לְפָנֶ֑יךָ יְ֝הוָ֗ה צוּרִ֥י וְגֹאֲלִֽי׃

May the words of my mouth and the prayer of my heart be acceptable to You, Adonai, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Ps. 19:15)

It’s a little after 8:30AM,  and we are almost at the end of our service.  Before the Kaddish, the mourners are invited, one by one, to share the names of their loved ones. The succession of names is in itself a prayer. There is an incredible intimacy and power to this daily ritual as we share grief and comfort. I have been on the receiving end of comfort for 7 and 1/2 months on Zoom as I mourned for my mother, my gratitude for this minyan knows no bounds. I know so many others feel the same.

We conclude around 8:40AM, and I am ready to engage with a new day, with all its challenges, its routines, and its surprises. These precious 40 minutes of prayer and community will sustain me and give me strength.

בְּיָדו אַפְקִיד רוּחִי בְּעֵת אִישָׁן וְאָעִירָה
וְעִם רוּחִי גְּוִיָּתִי ה’ לִי וְלא אִירָא

I place my spirit in God’s care, when I sleep and when I wake
And with my spirit, my body too, Adonai is with me, I shall not fear.

J. Rolando Matalon

Written By J. Rolando Matalon

José Rolando Matalon, B’nai Jeshurun’s senior rabbi, was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and was educated in Buenos Aires, Montreal, Jerusalem, and New York City. After his ordination at the Jewis...

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