I almost jumped. Caper berries, it turns out, can make quite a noise when they fall over a dozen feet and hit a single sheet of paper.
We were in the midst of selikhot, a set of penitential prayers that form part of the morning service just before Rosh Hashanah and between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Within selikhot, we were in the midst of takhanun.
When I started rabbinical school, I couldn’t have told you what selikhot or takhanun were. Like many elements of traditional Judaism, they weren’t a part of the Reform tradition that I grew up in, and I never came to explore them as a (very) young adult. To be perfectly honest, I still wouldn’t call takhanun an integrated part of my Jewish experience, because it’s not part of the “typical” davenning at RRC. I’m becoming familiar with the words now as I’m becoming familiar with the way that folks at the Conservative Yeshiva daven in general, and I’m learning that takhanun strums a deep chord in the Jewish narrative. As we pray, our foreheads tucked onto our forearms, we admit exhaustion, and we more-or-less beg for God to remember us. I would call this part of the service less a supplication than a heartfelt plea born from centuries of often painful exile. There is a brutal humanity to the words, and although I don’t agree with all of them, I feel power in them.
Yesterday, when I davenned takhanun, I was quite tired. I had arrived home at 11:30 the night before after a choir rehearsal (conducted by a Hebrew-speaking Frenchman to a room of largely British and American Hebrew-speaking-except-for-me expats, where we sang in Latin and Italian). I had slept for a few hours and woken up at 4 to watch the first presidential debate.
Why, you might ask? Because I really wanted to see it live before all of the spin. Because I wanted to feel connected to home. Because I only had class the following day until noon and knew that I’d be able to relax and nap, if needed, after that. Because #imwithher, and if you’re not we should talk.
I finished watching and thought to myself: “I’m glad I get to pray soon.”
At the Kotel, we davenned at the egalitarian section. It’s probably not what you think of when you think of the Western Wall, but right now it’s the only part of the wall where people of all genders can publicly pray together. The Conservative Yeshiva davens there one morning a week. As we davenned selikhot, I tried to think about a world full of communal transgressions and accountability and tried not to think about the (fill-in-the-blank-however-you-like) mansplainer who had filled my wee hours.
The caper berry hit my sheet. I was startled from the words of prayer. A purple smudge marked the word צדיקים– tzadikim– righteous ones–pursuers of justice.
I don’t believe in an intervening God, at least not to the degree of a God who would drop a caper berry onto my selikhot supplement. But I do believe in a God that:
חונן לאדם דעת, ומלמד לאנוש בינה- a God who “graces humans with knowledge and teaches humans wisdom,” as we say in the amidah. So, I guess you could say that although I don’t believe in a God who made the caper berry hit a word that reminded me to pursue justice, I do believe in a God who endowed an interconnected universe with the smarts to see a smudge as a symbol.
It’s going to be a tough season. Tzadikim are going to be important. Let’s chase justice together.