I typically spend Friday night shushing my young sons and growling at them to sit still during the Shabbat service. Rabbi Mandel recently invited the students to a Friday night service at Touro Synagogue, and I brought my boys. The Rabbi encouraged the children to join him on the bima and I took a seat in the balcony, unable to scold, prod, or shush. I watched the boys imitate the Rabbi, fully engaging their bodies in the movement and ritual of the service. They arranged and rearranged their oversized tallit on their small shoulders. Siddurs propped on the bima, they trailed their fingers along the Hebrew lines, shuckling rhythmically. Even though Rabbi Mandel’s service was predominantly in Hebrew and not edited for children, my boys weren’t bored or fidgeting. Lacking self-consciousness, the boys allowed themselves to feel the beauty of the prayer and the community’s care through the movement of their bodies.
Why don’t more of us shuckle or wear tallit during prayer? Probably because, like me, you’re embarrassed. I’ll look silly! Everyone will see that I don’t know what I’m doing! Like you, I complain that services are uninspiring, but my self- consciousness keeps me from feeling the love and caring that the moment offers. If we want deeper connections and more meaningful spiritual lives, we need the open hearts and vulnerability that we had as children.
I relearned vulnerability in the most unlikely setting - the office. On my first day I asked a staff member how to succeed and she replied simply, “trust us.” I trust colleagues with my fears and insecurities and have been met with the deepest caring. They’ve taught me the radical kindness of making a person feel seen, heard, and valued - the preconditions for growth. They've shown me that vulnerability is the birthplace of belonging and courage, creativity and accountability. At its best, being vulnerable creates a safe space for others to grow.
Temple Shalom facilitates our connection to each other and G-d. The music and rituals of the worship service are designed to elicit our vulnerability, but having the experience we desire requires us to do the work. We have to show up with open hearts, ready to help each other feel love, joy, and belonging.
We recently read in Parahsat T'rumah. V'asu li mikdash v'shachanti b'tocham- and they shall make me a sanctuary and I will dwell in them. Or, in the gospel rendition,
O Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary
Pure and holy, tried and true
And with thanksgiving I'll be a living
Sanctuary for you
This year, I'm going to show up, wear a tallit, wrap myself in God's sanctuary, and lean into the discomfort of vulnerability so I can be a sanctuary for others and be part of creating the deeply meaningful experience we crave.