“What do you mean you’re not as religious as you used to be?”
I rolled my eyes. My mother didn’t get it.
I wasn’t less religious, not in an external way.
“I’m talking about my own spirituality, Ma. I feel like…I haven’t picked up the phone to have a real phone call in a while, you know?”
“You’re talking to me, mamisheineh.”
I laughed internally at that comment. I can’t really argue with the fact that on some level my mom is basically G-d.
I did sigh though.
“I don’t know, Ma. Something’s missing.”
I call my mom every day. Not because she’s G-d, but because we have a very close relationship. At the end of the day, I need to know I’ve given her comfort and companionship even from 3,000 miles away. Nothing soothes me better than her calling me “Cookie.”Nothing makes me feel so indestructible or more validated than when she laughs at one of my jokes.
Calling my mom is therapy time. It’s technically, somewhat, kind of a form of prayer.
I’ve told her that I feel strange recently. I’ve mentioned how it feels weird to pray irregularly after having prayed twice a day for a long time.
I’ve had these spells of impiety before, usually during a depressive slump. The one Dr. Seuss says will happen after bang-ups and hang-ups and being stuck in perches and lurches.
My mom knows all about those slumps. She understands them completely. She knows what to say when I tell her about them.
Prayer is mine in a way it has never been hers. She has only looked to it for comfort when everything else was pulled out from under her.
I needed prayer. I need prayer. To set the time for me on a different dimension than the clock can provide. I need it to call me back, to take me out of myself, to have me drift to the clouds and back down to the core of the earth.
I need prayer to actively make me stop my day and smell the proverbial roses. I need it to remind myself that there is something outside of me, that the world isn’t coming to an end because I am not at the center of it. I need it to make me recall that if I really say it, if I really think about it, for a moment I am timeless.
Cue the beams of sunlight and orchestral music. I’ve made prayer sound like your daily (scheduled) dose of epiphany.
It’s not like that.
But I still need it. Maybe others don’t. Maybe others already feel glorious and grounded all at once, without prompting. Maybe others feel and converse with G-d without it. Maybe others don’t need to believe in G-d and maybe they’re happier, and a little less lonely.
(I can hear all my Stern alums say “Hey, Rav Soloveitchik told you it would be lonely!”)
With Elul here, I’ve been feeling the lack acutely.
This terrifying month that demands inspection and introspection before we begin again, hasn’t been one of my best performances.
Every day is a wakeup call until the court date. All accounts balanced. All damages paid and forgiven. All accomplishments and sins valued. It’s the highest Law there is, and it’s waiting, just ahead.
It’s heralded too. Everyday this month, a shofar blows to remind all those who care. Judgment is coming (yes I know how that sounds and yes I always have Game of Thrones on the brain.)
When I was in high school, we had a minyan everyday (two!two!), and I was able to hear the shofar every morning (well, those mornings I showed up.)
Something about its sound would travel through me like a delightful chill.
It scared me and comforted me.
This shofar, the symbol of sacrifice and of war, this ancient sound, could interrupt any silence, any murmur, any deafening horde.
This shofar could mimic the thunderous moment on Har Sinai.
It was timeless, suspending us all, keeping us hooked, asking us to stand up straighter, pleading with us to answer the call.
(Ya, I romanticize the hell out of stuff.)
I haven’t heard the shofar once this month.
(I opened up my neglected Mishnah Brurah while writing this, just to confront the small notes of the Ramah that impacts all Ashkenazim: “[In reference to Slichot] Uminhag ashkenaz eino ken, elah, m’rosh chodesh v’eleich, matchilin l’tko’ah acharei ha’tefilah shacharit.” I may not have to get up early for slichot every morning but I am duty bound to hear the herald.)
I’m pretty sure there’s an empty echo inside me, waiting for it. I want that sound to pull me out of this dark, cloudy, long, meaningless exhale I’ve been taking over these past few weeks.
How can I miss it? How is it I haven’t heard it?
This morning I learned that it’s actually not difficult to miss important sounds, like the blast of a nationwide siren.
Today, when the Home Front Battalion blasted those very sirens, I could barely hear them .
I was warned there would be a drill. I was ready.
When 11:10 came, I braced myself.
Wait…a low mumble…of something…?
I opened the window(not the protocol if war breaks out, by the way. Please don’t open the windows).
There it was, the prolonged whine of the siren, warning us of a not so distant war that would inevitably come.
I wanted it to jerk me awake, out of this funk. I wanted it to jolt me into action, to think, to reflect morosely on this sad song of a country.
My roommate and I joked about not hearing it, about the potential of sleeping through it, about how I already lived in the ma’mad so I wouldn’t need to run in the middle of the night if a rocket were making a course for my apartment building.
But it was the closest thing I’ve had to the shofar sound this month.
I stopped, didn’t I?
I realized the bigger things, the horrifying things, the things beyond the Oh my God I am so single and so lonely and overwhelmed and Oh my G-d my new job and how have I gotten this fat, maybe don’t eat a whole bag of chips and forgo exercise for two weeks and what if my parents never come live here and there’s no one to look after them and why does this person hate me and I forgot to give a tithe of my paycheck and-
For a second there was a moment of national consciousness.
For a moment I thought about suffering and fortitude and G-d.
Did I think about my sins? Did I think about how I have to enable change? How my habits need fine tuning and my deeds need to increase?
But there’s my mom(aka shrink) for that.
And she’ll remind me to pray, and maybe tomorrow I’ll listen to her.
“the Shofar tolls for thee…”
Just Kidding. Shofars don’t toll. (#ifjohndonnewereajewishmillenial) (BAM. That was a great hashtag)