We take a journey through time, flying up out of the 21st century CE room at Hebrew College, into the air, back down to the 5th century BCE Temple in Jerusalem.
We say birkot hashachar together as we ascend the steps of the Temple. Fifteen steps is fourteen fixed prayers and one individual prayer. And then we split up.
The Temple is crowded, and it’s hard to take it all in. I meet with the high priest in his inner chamber, but I have nothing to give. He gifts me anyway.
We don’t say blessings. We do blessings. We offer sacrifice. We are offered in return.
We convene again, and we descend the steps. We run. We fly. We are back at Hebrew College, its own Temple.
We say baruch sheamar.
I wrote most of this right after a guided meditation for korbanot, the prayer that my tefila group is looking at this week. Unlike the guided mediation for elohai neshama, the prompts for this exercise were not the actual words of the prayer (which is part of why I haven’t reproduced them here, as I have for previous tefila group posts) but the idea of the prayer.
Korbanot are a selection of biblical and Talmudic passages that explain how the service in the Temple operated. It can be generally said that in the post-Temple era, prayer replaced sacrifice. Thus, “[a]lthough these passages can be found in most traditional prayer books, reading them has become less common. Because of their focus on animal sacrifice in the Temple many liberal prayer books do not print them at all” (Ben Kell). Indeed, the siddur that I use does not include them.
As part of what I would describe as a liberal Judaism, I am uncomfortable with references to the Temple that indicate a longing for its return – which I would suggest that these do. Thus, I appreciated the fact that we did not focus on the prayers themselves; it is unlikely that I will incorporate them into my practice. My ambivalence about the prayers is reflected in my collage (above), into which I incorporated photographs of temples that don’t cause me so much consternation: the Pantheon in Rome and the altar of Vespasian in Pompeii.
Yet I find compelling the metaphor of prayer as concrete action. I generally pray without expectation of its literal efficacy in anywise other than on me. Could I also begin to think about my prayer as an offering to G-d?