Embodying Prayer

Think about it: from the beginning to the end of our Shabbat morning service we are engaged in a fair amount of standing and sitting, bending and bowing, touching and kissing (and not just because our friend is sitting next to us!). At a certain point, we even go up on our toes three times in succession.

These are moments when the physical meets the spiritual, and we are given a special “choreographed” enhancement which we may choose to “dance” – or not. The why and how of what we do is not my topic (though that interests me greatly). Rather I ask you to ponder: what am I embodying when I do this motion at this moment in the service? To answer that question you will want to look to a translation of the prayer text, and discovering numerous possibilities for the action, make your own determination for why you bow, bend, or kiss. If it feels right, make it personal and meaningful to you.

I may bow to acknowledge or connect to the word I am bowing on; I may wrap and kiss my tzitzit during the Sh’ma, and touch the Torah and kiss my tzitzit, to connect very personally and lovingly to words of Torah; or I may prostrate bodily during the Aleinu blessing on Yom Kippur to acknowledge that there is something greater than I can even imagine, that is the Source of Creation. All of these movements connect me to the prayer, helping me to feel that I’ve embodied its message.

Our Sages of the Mishnah and Talmud, called Hazal (ח”זל), added most of the suggested rising, stepping, bowing, kissing and wrapping at certain junctures where we do them. Perhaps acknowledging and connecting to words of prayer with movement is a form of blessing in itself.

Elaine Pollack