Ice Storm Insight

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There are surely many stories that can be told about the challenging winter from which we are (we hope!) emerging. Mine is about as mundane as they come. But it came with a lesson, at least for me.

It was the morning after a night that had layered a sheet of ice over much of twenty states, including New York. I arose earlier than usual, to allow extra time to get to shul for Shacharis. I bundled up, opened the door and stepped outside. After three steps, I turned on my heels and, slowly, gingerly, returned to the house.

During one of the season’s previous eruptions of inclement weather, I had hurt my back shoveling snow. I was in excruciating pain for weeks thereafter, weeks that included the day of the ice-storm. I realized that were I to hazard even the block and a half walk to the closest shul, the chances of my slipping and falling—with repercussions to my back I preferred to not imagine—were considerable.

“Well, this, too, is for the good,” I consoled myself, invoking Nachum Ish Gamzu’s credo as I retreated defeated. And, in its way, it was.

The house was quiet and I took my time donning my tallis and tefillin at the dining room table. I took out my siddur and davened.

It was a deliberate, unhurried tefilla. I was able to say every word in psukei dizimra and tachanun distinctly, able to pay closer attention to the amida, to stop and think at each of its brachos, to truly connect in a way that so often eludes me in shul. I recited kiddusha disid’ra and aleinu more slowly than I had in a long time.

And yet, it was without a minyan. Which is not the way a Jewish man should ideally daven.

There are two seemingly unrelated things called “Yud Gimmel Middos”—literally, “13 Measures.” One is a list of thirteen aspects (or, as commonly rendered, “attributes”) of Hashem’s mercy, based on words in Shmos (34:6-7) that begin with Hashem’s name stated twice (with a pause signaled between them, representing, the Gemara says, one’s different relationship to Hashem “before he has sinned and after he has sinned and repented”).

The other “13 Middos” refers to a list recited daily before psukei d’zimra, at the end of “korbonos.” This list, cited in Rabbi Yishmael’s name in the Sifri, enumerates the hermeneutical rules by which halachos are derived from the Torah’s psukim. Some of that methodology, which is more descriptively known as the “13 Middos Through Which the Torah is Interpreted,” is logical, some of it not obviously so; all of it, though, comprises a sacred part of Torah Shebe’al Peh itself.

Isn’t it odd that both the expressions of Hashem’s mercy and the hermeneutical principles number thirteen, and both are described as “middos”?

Most of us have paused at the fact that, at least from our limited perspective, Hashem seems to present two very different “faces”: on the one hand, He is the Merciful Lifegiver, the Forgiver of sin and Bestower of blessings; on the other, the Lawgiver.

The Creator is both “avinu” and “malkeinu,” our Father and our King—both merciful Parent and summoning Sovereign.

That may be the subtle implication of the “13 Middos” oddity—that the Source of mercy and forbearance is the very same Source of law and obligation. Divine mercy and Divine law are inseparable facets of the same Unity. The demands of Divine law are born of Divine love, inseparable from it; they reflect Hashem’s concern for our own ultimate wellbeing.

And so, while my minyanless morning brought me to a feeling of closeness to the Divine I too seldom manage, the requirement of davening with a quorum remains incumbent (even if, on occasion, it cannot be managed).

Were Hashem only an av, a father, then I would choose to worship Him at home. But He is a melech, a king, too, and has decreed otherwise.

So now what I have to strive toward—and analogies, I imagine, abound for us all in our individual daily lives—is to bring some of the specialness of my ice storm davening into every tefilla recited, less leisurely but more properly, with a minyan in shul.

© 2011 AMI MAGAZINE

[Rabbi Shafran is an editor at large and columnist for Ami Magazine]

The above essay may be reproduced or republished, with the above copyright appended.

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