I find myself sometimes shouting alone in a crowded room. The minyan is
praying, but I do not hear the voices. People are moving their lips,
they are swaying a little but their words are not heard. The room is
silent; one would not know a crowd is here. The synagogues of today have
become too quiet at the wrong times. Surely there is the din of people
talking to one another, of greetings and the noisy movements of people
and objects. But at the time of prayer there is no crying to the L-rd,
no shouting, no emotion. When it comes to speaking to Hashem we suddenly
become reticent. Or cold. Where’s the passion?
If we cannot cry in the synagogues, if we cannot raise our voices
pleading and sobbing before Hashem, what have our prayers come to? The
trouble is we have become too civilized, too decorous in the places
where we should pour out our emotions. Upon entering a Sephardic
synagogue, on the other hand, one is struck by the chorus atmosphere.
Every prayer is sung in unison and the melodies envelop the room. The
responses, the antiphonies all work together in beautiful patterns of
song. But in most Ashkenazic minyanim one finds too much silence. Except
for Hasidic and yeshiva minyanim, the pattern is too sedate, too
deferential and lacking in passion.
A similar pattern is visible in weddings. We do not dance enough; we are
not sufficiently fired up to dance before the hatan and kallah, as we
should. Beyond the perfunctory and lethargic rounds that we weave around
the bride and groom there is little of the sense of excitement that we
should display in those occasions. The hatan’s friends dance away to be
sure and so do the bride’s female friends. But the majority of us seem
too tired after just a few minutes. That cool attitude is the very
antithesis of what our function should be: to enhance the simcha.
Finally, there is too little screaming about issues that affect the
Jewish community both here and in Israel. The lack of an outcry over
Pollard’s imprisonment and the absence of a campaign to defend Israel’s
policies reveal the apathy of the Jewish community. In the areas where
we need to become vocal, we have become too disengaged, too passionless.
Most saddening is that the person who shows some emotion is looked at as
if he were strange. But the madman is not the one who dances but he who
is too cool. The Rabbis teach us that Amalek had the effect of “cooling
the waters” upon our leaving Egypt. The passion, the fire that burned
within us was diminished by Amalek’s influence. Our generation seems
overly afflicted with this “coolness” and “cool” has become a virtue
rather than a problem.
It is time for us to burn again. In synagogues, we need to raise our
voices a bit more. In joyous occasions, let us not be embarrassed to
dance. And in social matters, let us not be too timid to raise an outcry
when it is called for. Civilization has its place, but without some
fire, we are all lifeless.
The way of Torah is pleasant but it is also luminous, radiant and
joyous. In the celestial realms there is no sadness, only joy and
laughter. Here on earth, we should be no less. The sign of a healthy
person is to possess some passion and to feel with intensity. Coolness
is a symptom of ‘Amalekitis’. So banish the depression, put away the
silence. Brothers and sisters: Rid yourselves of the shyness; bring in
the smile and sing loudly and joyously again.