Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Day 6 - Blessing the Congregation

I spent most of Tuesday on either the floor of a bathroom looking up at the ceiling, or in a bed. I woke up in the morning feeling my stomach bubbling, and I was trying to figure out why. Whether it was overwhelming amount of delicious dairy food from Shavuous or because I woke up in the middle of the night and accidentally got a drink of water from the sink forgetting that I was in China, nevertheless, I woke up as ill as I can imagine ever being.

The thing that got me out of bed was my discussion with the Rabbi in the morning when he told me that I didn’t have to get out of bed for davening (praying) if I felt as ill as I did. The thought that occupied my mind was that if we had a minyan (quorum), then I would be permitted to do the mitzvah (commandment) of duchaning (blessing the congregation). This is a birthright of mine, as I have been born into the priesthood as being a Cohen, the son of Aaron. As such, on high holidays, ritualistically, we bless the congregation.

I personally didn’t have the need or the desire to do the mitzvah, but I knew that without me, the congregation could not be blessed because I was the only individual in the congregation that was a Cohen. The problem is that in order to be eligible to go up and bless the congregation, I read in the Kitzur Shulchan Auruch (Abridged Jewish Code) that the Cohen had to daven the Shema and the Amidah with the congregation in order to later bless the congregation during Mussaf. However, I could barely stand because I was sick from Chinese food or water poisoning.

I managed to pull myself out of bed and when I tried to throw up, nothing came out except for pieces of vegetables from the night before. I started to daven, and when it came time for the repetition for the Amidah, we didn’t have a minyan (quorum) so the Rabbi decided to walk to the Israeli Consulate to get a 10th guy. I figured since it was close to 92 degrees outside, if I walked with him, I would sweat out whatever it was that was ailing me.

We got our tenth guy, and an eleventh. The problem was that as soon as I walked inside, I needed to drink a coke or I would pass out because I started dripping sweat profusely as soon as I got inside. Even after drinking the coke, I was still not feeling good – I was dizzy by this point. We said the Torah portion, and when it came time to do Mussaf, I stood with the congregation and I prayed everything I was supposed to.

While the congregation davened Yizkor in remembrance of souls who have departed, instead of going outside, I went into the bathroom to try to vomit, but nothing would come out. I sat on the cold floor and thought that I would not be able to duchen. When everyone came back into the shul, I joined them and davened Mussaf. I was standing two feet in front of the Aron HaKodesh (where they keep the Torah) and at chazaras ha’shaatz (the repetition of the Amidah prayer), as soon as we started to say "Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh," vomit lurched from my innards and I almost shot vomit out at the Aron. Knowing that even though I was standing in front of G-d, I grabbed my mouth and ran across the women’s section into the bathroom and literally a gallon or so of vomit escaped from my body. I couldn’t believe that much was inside of me.

I was looking into the mirror and twirling my pointing finger inside sink (now filled with vomit) with the water running trying to hasten the vomit going down the drain. I thought to myself, "This is it. With all my efforts to fulfill my role as a Cohen, I have lost the chance and I have let down the congregation." I was no longer going to bless the congregation because I thought there would be no time to clean myself up, get better, and to take off my shoes and approach the area from where I would duchen.

Surprisingly enough, I remembered something my Rabbi told me once, namely that a person is given the power to act according to what he is. "I am a Cohen," I thought. "It is my identity to bless the congregation. This was a duty that has been handed down to me from G-d. If I am truly a Cohen, then I should get the strength to do this because this is who I am; this is my nature."

Immediately all feelings of illness subsided, and I felt shockingly fine. I washed the vomit off of my beard, cleaned myself off, and took off my shoes. As I exited the bathroom, I instructed one of the women not to let anyone go into the bathroom or the smell of vomit might knock them out.

I put on a Talis (a prayer shawl), approached the front of the congregation, and I signaled to the Rabbi that I was ready to go. I was surprised how good everything felt and how clear my voice was as I duchened. It sounded almost magical, even to me. I did the whole thing, finished the davening, and put my shoes back on.

As soon as the service was over, I immediately felt sick and weak again. I forced myself to say Kiddush (blessing over wine) and to have some food, and I went upstairs to take a shower. After laying on the bathroom floor and looking up at the ceiling again for around twenty minutes feeling ill, I managed to force myself to get into the shower. Afterwards, I spent some time with the Rabbi’s children whereas one read me a story, and then I went downstairs to sleep until after nightfall.

Avoiding feeling excitement that I did the mitzvah of duchening, I was more happy that the congregation got blessed. I rehearsed the events of the day in my head a few more times, and I could not help but to feel in awe of the experience of getting well just in time to bless the congregation.


Rowan said...

I'd say you drank the water (just a hunch - hear it's one of the worst places to drink water in the world!)

The Lord works in mysterious ways -I'd say He was guiding you when you went to do your prayer.

Would you mind explaining to me more about: The thought that occupied my mind was that if we had a minyan (quorum), then I would be permitted to do the mitzvah (commandment) of duchaning (blessing the congregation). This is a birthright of mine, as I have been born into the priesthood as being a Cohen, the son of Aaron. As such, on high holidays, ritualistically, we bless the congregation.?

I don't think I truly understand, what does this all mean? I'm interested in learning.

Zoe Strickman said...

Sorry, I am kind of incommunicato here in China. It took literally a few minutes before I was able to proxy out of China so that I can respond to your comment. :)

In Jewish history, there were those that served in the Temple in Jerusalem. This Temple is still standing, and it has a mosque in the middle of it. Within the Temple, there were two levels of high priests, the Cohen and the Levi. This line of priesthood passes down from the father from generation to generation. I am from this line of priests. It is not that uncommon; many people are today.

Part of the duties, even today, is that the priest is supposed to bless the congregation by holding his hands out like Spock, saying a blessing, and going through a short ritual called duchaning. In order to be able to do this, the Cohen blessing the congregation must meet certain criteria, namely being unblemished, and praying with the congregation that day he blesses them.

I hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

That is very interesting. I'm glad I checked your blog, I do not feel I would have learned what you explained to Rowan anywhere else.

Rowan said...

Sorry to make ya comment like that, I realize China isn't ideal for this sort of thing.
But Wow! This seems a huge honour! Do you feel ultra priviledged? Or do you come to expect it with your birthright. I'm nowhere near as interesting, but I did find a while ago I am a descendant of King Robert the Bruce. There! So now that I have shared that, I don't feel quite as little and unimportant *teases*