Monday, February 25, 2008


If there is one word in the English language that elicits a response of boredom, of yawning protest, it is -Repeat! We hate repeating things. We search for the new, the innovative, the different, even the avant guard. Repetition suggests the dryness and dullness often associated with the least interesting things of life. One of the most frequent compaints that come my way regarding the prayer experience is that prayer as we know it is too repetitive. And in fact, those of us familiar with traditional prayer cannot but concur with this assessment.There is indeed much repetition in the Jewish worship service.
Furthermore, there is no lack of the repetitive in the Torah as well. Considering the reading of the Torah portion this week and we encounter an entire segment of Scripture devoted to sheer repetition. "Vayakhel"-and Moses gathered , the children of Israel to contribute what they could in both goods and services to the construction of the Sanctuary in the wilderness. The reading then proceeds with countless verses repeating all the items that were needed for the sacred service..."the Tabernacle, its tent and its covering, its clasps and its planks, its bars, its posts,and its sockets, the ark and its poles, the cover and the curtain for the screen..."(Exodus 35:11-12) and it goes on like this till the end of the reading, one verse after another.
We wonder:Why? What is the purpose of such repetition?
One answer to the repetitions of this specific Torah reading lies in the idea that God so loved having a dwelling among Israel that the details were repeated.
In general, what is of unusual interest is that so much of Jewish practice and engagement are intimately and inescapably intertwined with the experience of repetition, without which spiritual objectives would never be achieved. The name for one of the great works of Judaism, the Mishnah, is derived from the root word which translated means "to repeat." The Shema , a central prayer of Judaism, reminds us to "repeat them" , the words of Torah, to your children. Repetition is an indispensable process by which we preserve and enhance Judaism and Jewish commitment.
Why repeat? To recognize the multi layered dimensions of the human reality, to hopefully encounter, through thoughtful and open hearted repetition, the depth and dynamic meaning of life's fullness and indeterminate breadth of significance and value. Not rote like repetition, but reiteration with an open mind and heart, receptive to the myriad nuances and subtle messages embedded in every word of Torah and in the experience of repetitive prayer and the doing of good deeds.
As one arrives at a greater awareness of the intricacy and multifaceted reality of human existence one cannot help but be struck by wonder and amazement at the richness of all things. To gain in gratefulness for the gift of this life and universe, repetition becomes requisite.
Shabbat Shalom

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