Pluralistic Perspectives Dvar Tefillah—The Rabbinical School of Hebrew College
13 Cheshvan 5777 / 14 November 2016
Holy Blessed One, today I don’t have the words. I sent down my bucket into the well of language and brought it up empty.
Holy Blessed One, I am reeling. From the election. From this post-election week. From the long-standing rifts in this country now being starkly revealed. So that now we can see the scope of the task at hand. So that now we are trying to see where we will fit into that work, what training we will need in order to be instruments of healing and justice.
Holy Blessed One, I know I must cry out rather than fall silent. I know that my voice is a tool I’ve been given to use on behalf of my fellows, of the smallest amongst us, of the stranger and traveller. Because we were once strangers. Because we travel still. Holy Blessed One, I know I must not mistake silence for safety.
Holy Blessed One, I know Your words are all around me. Your words are on the shelves of this Beit Midrash and in the mouths of my classmates, my colleagues, my teachers. You have stood over my shoulder in this room so many mornings as I wrestled with grammar and Gemara, history and halacha. As I learned to string words into sentences, sentences into the give and take of sacred text. As I learned to string myself into the chain of transmission, to understand Your pages as something I’m a part of. As I learned to forge my link in that chain—even if our sages never quite imagined me settling my queer, trans self down on a bench to study.
Holy Blessed One, I spent my first months at this school memorizing Mishna. I spent hours walking circles and reciting, pressing the words of our sages words into the folds of my brain. I spent hours walking circles and reciting, trusting that my muttering would build up to something. I spent hours walking circles and reciting, wondering what exactly I was building towards.
Holy Blessed One, I want to walk in circles and recite. I want to know which words to memorize. I want to be a builder among builders. I want the bricks of Your Torah in my hand. I want the mortar of healing and justice to spread between them.
Holy Blessed One, I don’t know whether I believe that You’re listening to my prayer. I don’t know whether I believe in a You who can listen or intervene. I don’t know whether I even need to believe in You to have this conversation. There are some things five years of rabbinical school can barely begin to answer.
Holy Blessed One, here is what I’ve learned about prayer: There are words on the page to remind me what words taste like when I have none. There are words on the page to show me how to be both grateful and demanding. There are words on the page to offer me a place to start.
Holy Blessed One, I know I’m less alone when Your words are on my lips. I know my work is in helping others to feel less alone, less hopeless, more able to act. I know that this work would be impossible for me without the teachings of our sages, without the voices of my teachers and fellow students.
Holy Blessed One, I have learned to come to You even when I don’t have the words. You have given me teachers to open doors of learning and let me in. You have given me fellow students to grow and scheme with. You have given me a place to stand. You have given me prayers for when I’m wordless. You have given me songs for when I’m songless.
Holy Blessed One, I think what I need is a psalm. Not one of the jubilant numbers, every lilting syllable threaded through with joy. Neither one that scrapes the valley of despair and leaves me knee deep in mud.
Holy Blessed One, if the psalm I need today can find me it will be by the banks of a river. A river running through a strange land. I might cry by the banks of that river. I might want to hang up my harp on the branches of this prayer.
But Holy Blessed One, I know a psalm means I take my silence and set it to music. I take my fear and set it to music. I take my anger and set it to music. I take my questions and set them to music. I take my love and set it to music. I set it all to music and I sing.
Gray Myrseth in a fifth-year student at the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College and will be ordained in 2017.