Monday, December 17, 2012

Mumbling Alienu

It may just be me who rushes out of shul early to run to work - but have you noticed that Alienu doesn't get much respect these days?

Sometimes on Shabbat, people are in a pre-kiddush talking frenzy that causes mourners to have some difficulty hearing the cue to start saying kaddish at the end.  At morning services there are people wrapping their gear up and will only half heartily bow to acknowledge thank you "to the Supreme King of Kings".  I guess this post is a confession that I personally fear that I haven't really been giving Alienu the proper attention.  After all, isn't this the same prayer that is one if the pinnacle moments of the Rosh Hashana Mussaf tefilla? As a child, only the chazzan in our shul actually full out prostrated himself during the repetition, but in Israel (and now I have seen other Diaspora congregations) all daveners will get down on the floor to "bow in worship" with their full bodies to this very prayer.

Granted that Jews do not generally bow a lot in tefilla anymore, especially compared to Muslims, and this may have been strongly influenced by Jewish encounters with Christianity, so shouldn't this mini-bow be very important? The only exceptions to the full bowing (proper prostration) are on the High Holy Days and it is interesting that the same tefilla is precisely chosen to conclude and exclamate our daily prayers.  The prayer's message of acceptance of the yoke of heaven, the majesty of God, and use of full animation to make this point seems sometimes distant from the everyday mumbling of Alienu and tip of the head.

Alienu is a special tefilla, so much so that one is required to join in saying it even one happens to be in the room as the congregation gets to it.  I would humbly list it on the top ten of most well known Jewish prayers, partially due to its exposure and universality, and its tune (so well known that I have seen many an agnostic friend heartfully sing the words when visiting a shul for a family event).

What are you thinking of when you say Alienu?  How do you keep the magic focus in your prayers?

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