To avoid being squeezed between incoherence and chaos Jewish life involves the conscious input of order.Our techniques for managing this are twofold, prayer and ritual. The dimensions are mobilized so as to arrangeour life style spiritually according to these two techniques. For example, the day is arranged withthree set prayer times, shaharit, minhah and ma’ariv; morning, afternoon and evening prayers, historicallycorresponding to the times of sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem, destroyed by the Romans in the year 70CE. Each Service of prayers is recited in a set order; p’sukey d’zimra, bar’khu, shema’, ‘amidah, alenu; songsof praise, formal call to prayer, declaration of the unity of God, standing prayer, final prayer. In this way anattempt is made to impose upon the inconsistencies and random events of human life a structure or frameworkfor each and every day. Jewish life, then, takes time as its essential dimension for building the sacredinto the fabric of our existence by standardizing it within a set framework of prayers.
The words of the prayers are the other dimension; human language providing meaning and mediating betweenevery individual’s understanding of our common culture and the values codified in the texts fromwhich the prayers are taken. Thus a flexible system is in place, permitting a gradual evolution within this systemso as to allow it to be fitting for every age and appropriate to each generation. The essential moral, ethicaland spiritual teachings are expressed by the recital of the prayers so as to bring into our lives today theaccumulated wisdom of centuries, whilst obsolete traditions are not lost and forgotten but can be transformedinto socially meaningful and relevant symbols. Thus our year goes by with an order imposed by Festivalscelebrated at their due season each with its relevant teachings with their meanings appropriate forbringing clarity and conscience into our modern life.
Modern life can sometimes seem overwhelming with its complexity and speed. The special times for contemplationonce a week, every shabbat, bring healing to those disconcerted by the pace and fierceness ofour existence, dismayed by the callousness and brutality of our entertainment, doubtful about the valuesportrayed by the media and upset by events and trends in our world or our society. With our religion we canreclaim control over ourselves, our own values and our own standards of behavior. We can stiffen our personalmoral fibre and show by our own example how to choose a personal direction so as to infuse purposeand hope into human life.
Blind fate then no longer rules over us. We have taken control! This is not necessarily easy, but it might beeasier than allowing life to push us around. It may involve ‘swimming against the tide’ but that might preventus being either swept out to sea or swept up upon an unwelcoming rocky shore. Putting order into ourUniverse through the deeds we do and the words we speak is typically human in its endeavor. To try andput reverence into our souls by governing what we consume we use ritual as well as prayer.