Synagogue Error

Something strange and wild and interesting happened at synagogue tonight. I drive the Jewish boys to temple on Friday nights, and I usually have a good time. It’s a simple service, and if there’s a minyan they say kaddish and a number of other prayers, the Shema, and some hymns. The boys are usually bored, but sometimes they have fun. They do Kiddush immediately afterward, providing grape juice and wine, and cookies. Usually things go smoothly.

Tonight, after kaddish but before the Shema, one of the little kids in the crowd, a four-year-old in a red sweatshirt, tiny black curlets of hair, and an Animaniacs yarmeluke, goes up on the bima, the dais at the front of the hall, and opens the Ark. It wasn’t the right time in the service to open the Ark.

As a Christian, singer, and seminary student, I’ve often been present in congregation or choir or acolyte space when something has gone significantly wrong, but this is the first time I’ve had the chance to observe it in another tradition. In a Christian service, things feel slightly out of whack until the energies of the participants realign and rededicate themselves to the sacrament at hand.

This was like that, but different. There was this sudden sense of awesomeness, of authority, of awe and presence, that flooded into the room. The synagogue at once seemed darker, dimmer. There was a sudden, inexpressible silence after a strange not-quite sound.

We had heard it unconsciously, a familiar noise and a comforting one, suddenly in an unfamiliar and discomforting place. The sound of the wooden Ark doors on their metal and wood tracks. This sound did not belong at this place in the service, and we reacted quite strongly, becoming silent for a moment before several things happened at once.

The kid began to cry, the rabbi rushed forward to shut the ark doors, the mother of the child rushed forward to grab the kid’s yarmeluke and plant it firmly on his head before sweeping him back to her seat — and everyone began saying, “no, it’s not time yet, this doesn’t happen now, it’s not the right time,” and numerous “NO!”s.

I’ve talked about this often with X and Y and T and F: how a magical working can be disrupted subtly or drastically by a gross interruption in the rite. This looked like it might undo everything, all at once, that had already been done in the service. Nobody seemed to know how to react.

There was a change in the energy, then, maybe a quarter-minute from when the Ark had been opened. As the Rabbi put his hands on the handles of the Ark doors, I had a strong sense of a huge energy spike in the chamber, of wild and uncontrollable energy flooding into the room, a sense of darkness and an awesome presence that filled the room. There was unmitigated, unalloyed power there, huge and ancient and invulnerable.

And I looked, and saw the Torah. For the first time, I really saw the Torah, as opposed to the scrolls the Torah is written upon. The rabbi here had rolled back the ark doors for me to look inside the Ark before, but never in the context of ritual space, never at the ‘wrong time’ in ritual space. At the sight of the three scrolls there, glittering and covered with their plaques and covers, it was like gazing somewhere else. I don’t know where, and I wish I did.

Then, the Ark doors close. For a briefest moment, it is like the presence which I have sensed forms a thin sliver, knife-edge thin, in the space between the doors. It is an impossible, invisible scalpel of light that can cut the world open. And then the doors are really closed, and the Door that they represent is also shut, and the presence is gone. The sense of power, and authority, and ancient purpose, is gone as if it had never been.

The ceremony resumed. The kid isn’t crying any more, we do the next few parts of the service, one of my kids is called up to do a responsive reading on kindness and generosity (how apropos, I think, given that he needs to learn that lesson, still). Then some more prayers, and the Ark is opened.

It’s not the same, not as when it was opened irresponsibly and accidentally. Sure, there’s power and reverence and awe, but most of that is being generated by us, by the congregation, now. There’s almost nothing that wasn’t in the room already. Before, when the kid opened the Ark, it felt like the real deal.

There’s more I want to say about this sometime, but I think it’s going in my pen-and-paper journal. Some stuff you just don’t broadcast, and this may be one of those things. Maybe it’s a mistake to put this in my LJ, but it’s where I’ve typed it, so I’m posting it. I won’t re-write it if it gets deleted.

16 comments

  1. Something tells me that perhaps this was a lesson for you – perhaps even an extension of the lesson of your staff the other day – to stop looking at life in the same way and to connect with the real power again.

    Rituals are good as long as the meaning and intent behind them is understood by those who participate. If the intent isn’t understood – or perhaps worse not even know – then the power they have is greatly diminished.

    By doing something out of order, you are forced to look on things in a new light. By the sounds of things, this is exactly what has happened for you.

    Big things seem to be happening in your life right now. Your staff I believe is part of it. It’s possible your grandmother’s passing may also be connected.

    God bless, my friend.

  2. Something tells me that perhaps this was a lesson for you – perhaps even an extension of the lesson of your staff the other day – to stop looking at life in the same way and to connect with the real power again.

    Rituals are good as long as the meaning and intent behind them is understood by those who participate. If the intent isn’t understood – or perhaps worse not even know – then the power they have is greatly diminished.

    By doing something out of order, you are forced to look on things in a new light. By the sounds of things, this is exactly what has happened for you.

    Big things seem to be happening in your life right now. Your staff I believe is part of it. It’s possible your grandmother’s passing may also be connected.

    God bless, my friend.

  3. That’s amazing. I wish I knew more about the Jewish faith…so that I could understand it all in a better light. But even with the little knowledge that I have, I can feel that it was a special experience

  4. That’s amazing. I wish I knew more about the Jewish faith…so that I could understand it all in a better light. But even with the little knowledge that I have, I can feel that it was a special experience

  5. That sounds like a fascinating and powerful experience. I envy you having it. It’s interesting, I’ve never been particularly into chaos magic, but that experience makes me want to experiment with various important ritual items in a similarly non-standard fashion.

  6. That sounds like a fascinating and powerful experience. I envy you having it. It’s interesting, I’ve never been particularly into chaos magic, but that experience makes me want to experiment with various important ritual items in a similarly non-standard fashion.

  7. Breaks in ritual of the sort you describe don’t happen by chance. Something drives them.

    I suspect, with Sou, that you’ve seen something meant for you to see.

  8. Breaks in ritual of the sort you describe don’t happen by chance. Something drives them.

    I suspect, with Sou, that you’ve seen something meant for you to see.

  9. The implication to me, as an External, are interesting, in that it seems as though the ritual exists to seal away that Power from the experience of the congreation, to emasculate and disempower it, to cast it out, to Close the Door. When the ritual proceeds apace, the Torah is just a scroll, just paper, just ink. When the rite is disrupted, the Real Thing comes close, from its non-Euclidian space, roiling and ominous, and the door has to be shut as the ritualists cry out “No!” and turn away. Babies cry. Possibly, milk curdles.

    By extension, then, is the God being evoked really what He’s being characterized by the ritualists? Are they accomplishing what they’re saying they’re doing? Or, by their rites, are they successfully pulling themselves further from God’s presence, for safety or fear, or whatever?

    Do Jews have the equivalent of Satanists, who throw the Ark’s doors wide at the wrong time, who invert the rites, who attempt to conjure forth that Ineffable Presence and free it? Walkers of the Qiliphoth, as it were.

  10. The implication to me, as an External, are interesting, in that it seems as though the ritual exists to seal away that Power from the experience of the congreation, to emasculate and disempower it, to cast it out, to Close the Door. When the ritual proceeds apace, the Torah is just a scroll, just paper, just ink. When the rite is disrupted, the Real Thing comes close, from its non-Euclidian space, roiling and ominous, and the door has to be shut as the ritualists cry out “No!” and turn away. Babies cry. Possibly, milk curdles.

    By extension, then, is the God being evoked really what He’s being characterized by the ritualists? Are they accomplishing what they’re saying they’re doing? Or, by their rites, are they successfully pulling themselves further from God’s presence, for safety or fear, or whatever?

    Do Jews have the equivalent of Satanists, who throw the Ark’s doors wide at the wrong time, who invert the rites, who attempt to conjure forth that Ineffable Presence and free it? Walkers of the Qiliphoth, as it were.

  11. oh!

    how this moves me to tears of awe! imagine: but an innocent child who is moved by something to draw open those Doors – even in a “wrong” place – especially in a “wrong” place!

    i am sure it was a shock for the congregation – these are rituals, & a ritual is by nature meant to be repeated in an order, likewise each time – &, oh, holy of holiest – to have been there to feel how that room changed, from the jar or it, from the simple displacement, but, OH-

    the awe that must have come forth!

    a child a child! on the eve of welcoming of the Bride-
    my first reaction is to assume that this child is aware of something that perhaps the rest of us cannot any longer comprehend in our adulthood-

    you have witnessed something very very mighty, Andrew. something holy & unnamable, something akin to floods, Brother. you have borne witness to a Sign. see if there isn’t some subtle & important Change in the coming days…

  12. oh!

    how this moves me to tears of awe! imagine: but an innocent child who is moved by something to draw open those Doors – even in a “wrong” place – especially in a “wrong” place!

    i am sure it was a shock for the congregation – these are rituals, & a ritual is by nature meant to be repeated in an order, likewise each time – &, oh, holy of holiest – to have been there to feel how that room changed, from the jar or it, from the simple displacement, but, OH-

    the awe that must have come forth!

    a child a child! on the eve of welcoming of the Bride-
    my first reaction is to assume that this child is aware of something that perhaps the rest of us cannot any longer comprehend in our adulthood-

    you have witnessed something very very mighty, Andrew. something holy & unnamable, something akin to floods, Brother. you have borne witness to a Sign. see if there isn’t some subtle & important Change in the coming days…

Leave a Reply to Magic: The Challenge of Opening Doors | Wanderings in the Labyrinth Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.