Thursday, May 26, 2022

February is Jewish disabilities awareness and inclusion month (JDAIM). Substance abuse and addiction, including alcohol and other drugs and chemicals, is very much a disability and as such, should also be discussed this month.

Lisa Lisser is a Jewish educator working toward a certificate in spiritual counseling with Beit T’Shuvah, a Jewish home for addiction recovery in Los Angeles, and is on the board of the T’Shuvah Center in New York. She shared the following thoughts regarding this problem.


How a Deeper Dive Into Liturgy Can Reveal What We Fail to See

Sometimes tefillah moves us, and sometimes we move through the tefillah. It is our practice, our ritual. We lose some of the meaning as we forge through to ensure that we complete our prayer, sometimes forgetting to hear what is hidden within.

I was recently doing a deep dive into the meaning of the Kedusha, our “call and response prayer,” best known for, and always chanted during, the repetition of the Amida (or Shemoneh Esrei). It has unique choreography as we stand, hold our legs together as if one leg, bow and then rise up on our toes, aching to reach the heavenly sphere, trying to get closer to God. We skip over it when we read the Amida silently, but call it out in all its glory and choreography when we repeat the Amida together, in minyan, in community. The Kedusha enables us to reenact the angels’ calls to one another testifying to the glory of God. It incorporates Isaiah’s vision, (Is. 6:1-3), and Ezekiel’s power (Ez. 3:12). Both of these prophets speak of the call of the Angels, the Seraphim, the Ophanim, and the Holy HaYot. The power of Angelic chorus is something that feels enriched and expanded when re-enacted in community when we can hear all of our voices together.,

But the words of Kedusha are said two other times during our morning Shacharit. And those two times it may be said privately, on our own, in our own voices with the power to dig deep into our hearts. The Kedusha d’Sidra is said at the end of the morning service. And the first time we chant the Kedusha is Kedusha d’Yotzeir (The Sanctification of Creation) during the first blessings before the Shema.

These blessings after the Barchu are the blessings where we acknowledge Creation and the gift that God has given us in creating light and darkness. We are reflecting on the acclamation bestowed on God by the Angels, for the act of Creation. But this time, we remain seated. Though it is said during the beginning of our communal prayer, we are not required to be in community, we can be on our own. This Kedusha reflection can be about the creation and the uniqueness of each of us. We are God’s “created” ones.

Though our Halacha prioritizes prayer in community, in minyan, it is significant that this prayer is permitted in a non-minyan setting, reinforcing the value of each of us in our individual lives.

Rabbi Sarah Krinsky writes, “The presence of a kedushah that is permitted in non-minyan prayer emphasizes the idea that each person, regardless of how inside or outside the communal core they may fall in a particular moment, is still crucial, and their prayer is still welcomed and accepted.”

All of us matter. Our God, who created the Angels, created us as well. This Kedusha tells us that “all are beloved, all pure, all mighty.” All of the Angels and all of us.

This teaching moved me. I fell into the text in a more intentional way. I felt less alone. What does it mean to “fall outside the communal core”? Illness often takes us outside the communal core. We know that illness separates people, particularly when that illness involves drugs or alcohol. Particularly when we or a loved one are struggling with mental illness. We, and our families, often hide that illness, and that can leave us feeling even more alone. This prayer, the Kedusha of Creation, tells us that even in our “aloneness,” we matter. Even in our solitude, our voice is heard and valued by God.

Though we often feel that we know intellectually that we can find help in our prayer, we rarely take the moment to stop and really see the words, hear their power and live with them for a while. That’s what the Kedusha d’Yotzeir offers us. A moment of help. May we give ourselves the permission to find those moments, and turn to the words of our tradition to welcome us when we feel alone and disconnected, honoring God in the process as the source of our being.

Since the passing of her son Eric by suicide in 2016, Eta Levenson and her family founded the Eric Eliezer Levenson Foundation for Hope to fight the stigmatization of mental illness, raise awareness about mental health challenges and help prevent suicide. She can be reached at [email protected]

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