Two interesting moments at shul this morning, back in Thornhill:
1. My Rabbi paused before Aleinu to say a few words:
“Aleinu is a prayer about the coming of y’mei hamashiach – the days of the Messiah, or the Messianic age, depending on your point of view. In that light, I would like to make sure that the latkes have been put in the oven, so that they will be warm by the time we’re finished praying. You can’t have y’mei hamashiach without latkes.
On the surface, I’m sure this was just a humourous interlude for most – but it struck a great theological chord for me. That a rabbi who strongly identifies with the Reform Movement would make a reference to the coming of the messiah, and leave open the possibility that someone might accept a personal messiah, and not just the generic “messianic age” is a huge indicator of the uniqueness of the Reform Movement in Canada, and in particular, my Rabbi. It was a joke, a casual reference, not intended to be a drash or a d’var t’fillah. But in those few, brief sentences, there resonated a resounding cry of the possibility for Reform Judaism to embrace in practice the spectrum of beliefs that it purports to do so on paper.
2. Not having put much thought into it before, I noticed this morning at the start of the amidah that our congregation repeats the line “Adonai s’fatai tiftach ufi yagid t’hilatecha” chanting it twice – in Hebrew both times. While there’s nothing that says you can’t chant it twice, there’s also no specific reason to do so. One might ask: why is this prayer read twice? What is it about this specific line that merits a double reading? The answer – nothing. Then why do we chant it twice?
Before I go out in search of the actual answer, I want to posit a hypothesis…
A number of years ago, due in large part to the influence of the rabbi, our shul made a conscious decision to increase the amount of Hebrew used during services. As a result, almost the entirety of Shabbat Shacharit is now conducted in Hebrew. My guess is that on the way, the pre-Amidah line was read in both Hebrew and English, to facilitate the transition. At some point, the English was dropped, but people were accustomed to chanting it twice, so the English was just replaced with Hebrew, resulting in a doubly-chanted Hebrew line.
That’s my hypothesis. Tune in next week when I hope to have an answer from the Rabbi.