May This Year Be A Blessing
A few years ago, I was sitting next to R. Lori Klein at the Shabbat evening service at OHALAH. I don’t remember whether I noticed her siddur or whether she showed it to me first, but I took an immediate liking to this Nusach S’faradi Tahor, as it was called. At some point, I just asked her to take mine for the rest of the service so I could look through it as we davvened. When I got home, I asked our son Noah, who was then part of the US embassy staff in Tel Aviv, if he would find me a copy, which he did. There are several important things I’ve learned from using this siddur now for at least two years which I hope to share with you all, and here is the first.
Actually, let me back up before I start. Most of us have grown up using different variations of the same nusach ha-t’fillah / mode of prayer, and that is Nusach Ashkenaz, literally the German mode but really the European. All the siddurim we most commonly use, including those of the major movements as well as many of the creative siddurim that are around, are essentially Nusach Ashkenaz. Hassidim use their own version of Nusach Ashkenaz, often called Nusach S’fard or, in the case of Chabad, Nusach Ari. This nusach borrows much from Nusach S’faradi and from what is known as Nusach Eretz Yisrael and yet retains the basic feel of Nusach Ashkenaz. (The Italians also have their own nusach which in many places is uniquely theirs.) Finally, there is Nusach S’faradi, the form of the liturgy used by Jews who come from Muslim countries and particularly North Africa. While I have davvened from both Nusach Ashkenaz and S’fard for decades, I realized I had never really used Nusach S’faradi before.
Eleven years ago, Hanna and I became stewards of a small piece of land. As a result, I have become conscious of where the water table is at different times of the year, of how much wood I need each winter to heat my home and the effort it takes to cut it, bring it home, split and stack it so that it will be ready for the colder weather. And we have a garden where we grow most the apples we eat all year, all the strawberries we eat, and many of our vegetables. If the summer takes too long to get started or cools off a little earlier, we have fewer tomatoes, another vegetable we rarely buy anymore. We get our eggs and goats milk from a local farm as part of a CSA every two weeks and I hear from the farmers what the weather conditions mean to their productivity.
The ninth blessing of the weekday amidah is called Birkat haShanim, the blessing for the year. In both Nusach Ashkenaz and S’fard, it is the same blessing year round with a difference of only one phrase. But in Nusach S’faradi, there are two different versions; a shorter one in the summer and a longer one in the winter. Given the onset of climate change and the extremes in weather that we are already experiencing, this blessing has become a major focus of my morning davvenen and kavvanah. Please God, I think behind the words, don’t allow the blindness of the few to make it impossible to grow the food we need to feed ourselves. Please God, I think behind the words, give us the good year we may not “deserve” and a little more time to fully wake up to our new reality and begin to change our lives in ways that will support the planet’s health and our own.
For those of you with printed copies of the Kol Koreh Weekday Siddur, the S’faradi version takes up two pages which can be inserted after the version already there. I’ve also inserted it into the electronic copy for sale on the ALEPH Canada website as the beginning of a full revision of the entire Kol Koreh series which will include, as does the machzor now, embedded sound files and notes.
Our relationship to the land, whether we grow our own food or buy directly from those who do, is precious, fundamental, and delicate. So I offer you the format of this blessing in both Nusach Ashkenaz and S’faradi. I pray that the words will open your connections to the land and move you to find your own ways of strengthening them.
In that vein, I recently saw a documentary called “Tableland” which I strongly recommend. You can find out more about it here: http://www.p1-productions.com/tableland.html
Finally, while I funded the upgrade to my website, much of the time I spend preparing this blog and the materials that go with it is paid for by a partnership of ALEPH, the ALEPH Ordination Programs, and ALEPH Canada, so please consider a donation to any one of the partners (excluding me).