A Mussaf of Inspiration

Before we share the final post of this year with you, we would like to take this opportunity to wish everybody a Kesiva V’Chasima Tova. May we all merit another fruitful year of learning, giving and growing together. – David & Mark

By R’ Mordechai Scher

Every year, without fail, the same memories are dominant in my mind during the month of Elul. As I wonder and worry, yet again, how will I possibly be ready and able to benefit most from the opportunity of Rosh HaShana, I return to the most moving public prayers I’ve known.

One such experience was in Tulkarem, an Arab-populated city in the northern Shomron, east of Netanya. I was a company medic and squad leader on reserve duty. It was the end of summer, and our compound (called the “michlaot”, animal pens) was dry, hot, and dusty. Our duties were unpleasant this time round; by day reinforcing the police in maintaining public order and enforcing curfews, at night hunting wanted terrorists in the surrounding villages and hills. I was one of the fortunate soldiers able to leave for Rosh HaShana. My family was visiting in the States, so I made the expected choice and remained in Tulkarem so that someone else could go home to his family. I chose this out of understood obligation. I didn’t want to do security patrols and worry about ambushes on Yom Tov (our battalion CO had been firebombed while on patrol in his jeep). I didn’t want to have my holiday meal in the heat, under camouflage nets. I didn’t want to pray in my fatigues, in the dust, with barely a minyan, precariously perched on folding benches.

We could be sure of a minyan only for morning services, since we were all needed on patrols throughout the day. Nonetheless, there were many yeshiva students in our neighbouring armoured battalion, and we got services organised. Ashkenazim and Sepharadim prayed together, as we had neither the numbers nor the facilities to fully accommodate both customs. We prayed the Shachrit service lead by an Ashkenazi, and the Mussaf service led by a Sepharadi. As long as I live, I do not expect to follow a more moving service than the Mussaf, that Rosh HaShana. I was awed and inspired then, and I am whenever I call up that experience in my heart.

The young man leading Mussaf was an infantry officer in the Golani division. He was of North African descent, from a religious upbringing, and clearly knew what he was doing. I can’t recall his name, despite my gratitude to him. His prayer exemplified so much of what I aspire to in reaching for communion with G-d.

His melodies were simple, straightforward. He had a pleasant voice, and his melodies drew their beauty from deep inside him, rather than some artificially added musical adornment. His prayer conveyed and inspired confidence and awe together. He prayed as a child, confident in Avinu, our Father in heaven. He prayed as one who was safe and secure in his Father’s presence, assured that his loving Father was close by, and that all would be as it should ultimately be. He knew that he was his Father’s child, a product of his Father’s loving act, and bearing within him a soul that is the expression, the inherited characteristic from that Father. Such faith, such comfort as he communicated, was beyond words.

Together with this confident love, was a tremendous, trembling awe. Even as he prayed, he seemed about to be dumbstruck by the wonder and concern. Was he truly going to live up to his Father’s gifts to him? He was so aware that his Father is no less Malkeinu, our King. The Divine mastery, absolute and evidenced in all the Creation, required an accounting of him. How could he stand before ultimate justice, knowing his mistakes and failures? How badly might he have betrayed the relationship and confidence his Father invested in him? What might the necessary consequences be, to set aright the Divine balance he must be part of, in G-d’s people, and G-d’s creation? He, and his congregation, are the King’s children. Yet how prepared were they to live with the King, to represent Him, as they stood before Him at the height of Rosh HaShana’s accounting and judgement. Did they really accept the King’s sovereignty, and did they really accept their place as His children? Was it a hutzpa, an unforgivable arrogance, to stand before the King, and maybe not truly acknowledge Him?

I do not know how long that prayer lasted. It seemed that we had been given a glimpse of eternity, and we did not want it to end. This young officer’s prayer was naive and honest. It spoke of faith, love, confidence, and unbelievable awe. It was complex, but it was not complicated. Each year I thank G-d for having been a part of the prayer of one who was tamim — wholly with his G-d. Each year I remember, and each year I pray that I should learn to pray.

2 comments on “A Mussaf of Inspiration

  1. What is beautiful is the Rabbi Scher “heard” all that meaning in the simple sweet prayer of a fellow Jew he never knew. The meaning he finds is clearly nothing but a reflection of his own tefillah and ahavas yisroel, which could at best resonate in another man’s song.

    One who seeks inspiration can always find it.

    Love to you all!

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