"Where is the passion?"

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.


Rabbi David Algaze
          Rabbi David Algaze