Libenson on Judaism as remix
Rainbow for Shabbat Noach

Davening hallel with Drew

I love davening Hallel in community with Drew.

The psalms of Hallel are recited -- sung, traditionally, to a variety of melodies -- on festivals, new moon, times of celebration. They're meant to be sung with great gusto and spirit. And sometimes, I find, groups of adults get self-conscious about that. We're not sure we know the tunes, or the Hebrew isn't as fluid as we want it to be, or we just feel a little bit silly about singing and dancing. We tend to be reserved in the presence of each other and the presence of God.

But when I have Drew in my arms -- as I did for the recitation of hallel on Shemini Atzeret last week -- I naturally sing with passion, and dance around the room, and twirl in circles, because it makes him laugh, and making him laugh is one of my greatest joys. When I'm singing to God with Drew, or singing with God to Drew (it feels like both at once) I lose any self-consciousness I might have otherwise had.

And I think the rest of the room does, a little bit, too. When there is a laughing toddler squealing with glee as his mama spins in circles while singing psalms, everyone in the room seems to smile more widely. Maybe seeing a child's unironic, unselfconscious joy helps us to connect with the psalms' motifs of praise more easily.

Singing Hallel last week -- dancing around the sanctuary, twirling my toddler in my arms -- I remembered other, earlier, moments in Drew's life (and in my life as a mother) when I have danced and davened with him: at the Shavuot retreat with Reb Zalman when Drew was just over six months old, at smicha students' week that same summer at Pearlstone, countless other times which didn't spark poems or blog posts but which remain in my memory even so.

I know that the day will come when he won't let me hold him anymore while I sing and pray. Already he squirms out of my arms after a while, wanting to run around the sanctuary, climb onto chairs, explore the world. Though he usually runs right back to me and raises his arms to be lifted and cuddled and danced around the room again, that won't always be true. It feels incredibly precious to me...and that, in turn, heightens my ability to daven the psalms of Hallel with deeper feeling.

This is, I think, one of the ways in which Drew is (as my previous spiritual director told me he would be) a deep spiritual teacher for me. Without Drew in my life, I would never have discovered how it feels to daven with my own child in my arms. One of the psalms of Hallel speaks about calling out to God from the narrow straits, and my experience of parenthood has taken me there; every time I sing min ha-meitzar karati Yah I think of postpartum depression. But when I sing lo ha-meitim y'hallelu Yah, "the dead cannot praise You" (but we can!), I know that the added dimensions of joy which motherhood has brought to me are also part of my ability to offer God praise.

(My deep thanks are due to Rabbi Pam Wax for leading our Shemini Atzeret service, which made it possible for me to attend as a davener and a mama rather than as "the rabbi." It is a joy to lead davenen, and it is also a joy to sit in the kahal with my son.)