Zeek magazine, summer 2009
TV and religion on Speaking of Faith

A tefillin meditation

This morning I opened the מטא–סדור / Meta-Siddur created by R' David Wolfe-Blank, of blessed memory. The name is something of a pun. In English, the name "Meta-Siddur" suggests that this text transcends the prayerbook, offering commentary on it. The Aramaic word meta means "to reach towards," and this loose collection of teachings, arranged according to a four-worlds understanding of the journey of Jewish prayer, "is intended as a 'reaching' toward a more evolved siddur." This isn't a siddur one can use to pray with; it's an amazing collection of resources to dip into, which will inform how I engage with more traditional siddurim over time. Anyway, I was looking for inspiration, something to carry with me into my morning practice.

The page that drew me was page 82.1, which has two columns of text. In the right-hand column are the words from Hosea which we recite as we wind the straps of tefillin around the hand: "I betroth you to me forever, I betroth you to me with righteousness and with justice, with lovingkindness and compassion; I betroth you to me with faith, and you shall know God." (I wrote recently about how the Hebrew is unclear: are we speaking to God? Is God speaking to us? The words can mean both at once.) The left-hand column of text contains a series of assertions, which R' Wolfe-Blank calls "Partnership Vows:"

I will defend you, in private and in public.
I will not speak ill of you behind your back.
I will champion you.
I will cheerlead you.
I will struggle to achieve physical well-being to ensure that I spend my maximum lifespan with you.
I will struggle to achieve emotional well-being to ensure that I spend my maximum happiness with you.
If I find myself becoming judgmental I will speak with you honestly and clearly so that we can sort out what is yours and what is mine to own so that together we can learn and grow.
I will watch my withdrawals.
I will never cut you off from me abruptly or absolutely.
I will never suddenly walk away from you.
I will walk with you...

I love the way these vows preserve the ambiguity I like so much in the original Hebrew. I can speak these words to my partner, and I can speak them to God -- and I can imagine God speaking them to me. Each of these options challenges me in a different way. Speaking them to my partner would be the easiest of the three; speaking them to God honestly is harder. What would it mean to defend God? To speak with God honestly and clearly about my judgments and my baggage so that I can discern my own issues and move them out of the way of our relationship?

I'm not looking for another daily practice to add to my list -- I have enough trouble maintaining the ones I've already committed to doing! -- but I can imagine reading this list of vows some mornings as I lay tefillin. I'm curious to see whether and how doing that would change my relationship with the words, or with the act of putting on my tefillin, over time. Thanks, R' Wolfe-Blank.


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