Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Slow and Steady
Yesterday afternoon as I was hurrying off to get lunch, I was stopped at the corner by an elderly man. The man, as I recognized, was the gabbai (person in charge of the inner-workings) of the Gr"a Synagogue in my neighborhood. Being very old and unsteady, he asked me if I would help him make it across the street, and then to the door of the synagogue. Of course, I said that I would help him, and I walked with him arm-in-arm across the street. As we got closer to the synagogue, a car pulled up behind us, and in an attempt to rush us or move us, began to blow the horn. Immediately, I attempted to move out of the way, trying to lead the gabbai onto the sidewalk. He refused, and after asking me if I understood English, told me, "Slow and steady".
After helping the man reach his destination, I started thinking about what he told me: slow and steady. As I walked to lunch, I began to look around much more, stopping to see things that I might have missed previously. Ahead of me, a woman also stopped at each small garden, pressing her nose into the flowers surrounding each gate. The rest of the day, I tried to do everything and say everything with much more intent and concentration. Walking, eating, and praying especially, are much more meaningful that way.
This morning, as with last night, I prayed more slowly than usual, concentrating on the words that I was reading, and thinking more about what they meant. That's the wonderful thing about Hebrew. No matter how many times you've read a text, or how obvious the meaning seems to be, you can always make a new connection, definition, or understanding, whether through proximity, spelling difference, numerical value...there's always something new to find.
This is true of everything. Within the legal times for prayers, the earliest time that one is allowed to pray the morning prayer is after a time called "Mi SheYakir". This is when there is enough natural light, or should be enough natural light, to recognize the face of an acquaintance at the distance of four cubits. Knowing this halacha (law) I never thought more about it, until when I recently read an interesting lesson on the particular zman (time).
The story goes that a rabbi onced asked his students how one could tell that the night had ended and the day had begun. "Perhaps," one suggested, "it is when you can see an animal in the distance and determine whether it is a sheep or a dog." However, the rabbi answered that this was not the determinant. "Could it be," asked another, "that it is when you can see a tree in the distance and tell whether it is a fig tree or a peach tree?" Again, the rabbi answered that this was not how to tell when the night had ended. Finally, after all had suggested their own idea, they demanded that the rabbi tell them the answer. The rabbi looked at his students and said, "It is when you can look at the face of a man or woman and see your brother or your sister. Because if you cannot see this, then it is still night."