Friday, June 20, 2003

A quick note about Pesicha

I want to take a minute here and talk about pesicha.[fn1] And when I say "talk about," I really mean, "complain."
[fn1:] Without going into too much detail, this is the process of opening the Ark and removing the Torah for the public readings that happen (at least) three times a week. See this entry in the Jewish Virtual Library for more information.
Listen -- I know, it's a big honor, and I know it's an important job. And I know that the tradition is that the husband of an expectant mother is given pesicha quite often, as a segulah [fn2] for an easy childbirth. But here's the thing... Pesicha makes me nervous.
[fn2:] Plural, segulot; The word translates roughly as precious/secret, and in this usage means a sort of 'charm,' which is probably the worst and most controversial and offensive translation I could use, but the only one I can think of right now. The good news is that according to the stats, no one but me has read this blog, so I don't have to worry. I'll get back to the whole segulah thing below.
First of all, and this is just my inexperience, I never finish the bits I'm supposed to read in time. So I end up either standing there while the whole tzibbur (congregation) waits or I end up skipping huge swaths of the text. While I usually consider personal moral decisions -- and make no mistake, I consider it a moral decision -- somewhat removed from the concerns of the group's inconvenience, in this case it's actually the group's inconvenience that brings up the question in the first place. Setting aside that there's a halachic weight to tircha d'tzibur, [fn3] there's the fact that a big part of pesicha is itself simply serving as a facilitator; allowing the group access to the Torah. I feel like it's somewhat hypocritical to simultaneously facilitate and impede access.
[fn3:] In making Torah-law decisions (halacha),there is some consideration given to tircha d'tzibura, which is the burden on the congregation. I can not emphasize enough that the consideration given is severely limited, and no one should take it on themselves to make some ridiculous excuse for what they want to do based on this concern.
I've sort of asked about this, and I've gotten better at speeding through the readings. (Which is a problem of itself, because if you really read that stuff, it's pretty beautiful and seems awfully deep, but speeding through it forces me to miss a lot of that beauty and depth.) That isn't the problem that really bothers me, though.

It's the whole segulah thing. You have to start by understanding what, exactly, is going on with segulot in the first place. We can't be dealing with any kind of magic or hocus-pocus. Judaism certainly countenances mysticism, and more than countenances but propounds an understanding that, to steal a fabulous line, "there are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy," but at the same time it (and I) reject, categorically and necessarily, an assertion that there is more in Heaven or Earth than is under the hand of Hashem.

What's going on with segulot is basically an idea of reflection -- of midda-keneged-midda (measure for measure). The idea seems to me to be that the way you deal with the world will be reflected in the way Hashem directs the world to deal with you; the energies you send out will affect the shape of the energy He sends down.

So, when an oni (poor person) asks you for tzedakka (charity), and you make it your business to give them money without making them wait, and with a smile, and with ease... then Hashem, in providing your needs, will do so in as quick and easy a way as possible. (Obviously, there is a more complex system at work, but a fuller investigation will have to wait.)

Given that, the segulah parallels with opening the ark and taking out the Torah are pretty obvious, and I find myself thinking about them a lot when I'm called for pesicha. I want G's labor to go quickly, but not so quickly that I can't get us to the hospital in time, so when I walk up to the ark I am quick, but deliberate. I want her to efface and dialate quickly and painlessly, so I am careful to quickly and smoothly open the ark. I want the baby to be born quickly and painlessly for all involved, so I try to quickly and carefully and smoothly get the Torah out of the Ark. Finally, I look forward to holding the baby myself, so I try to get the Torah as quickly as possible into the hands of the person who's going to take it through the next steps of the ritual.

I'll be honest; I've taken it so far as to be extra-careful not to bump into anyone or anything on my way up there, because I don't want to get into any fender-benders on the way to the hospital.

And to be quite honest, that scares me a bit. Because I gotta tell you, I daven shacharis [fn4] during the week at a place where the ark is a little small, and the Torah is a little big, and not a few times have I knocked the top of the Torah on the top of the ark while taking it out. The doors stick a little, too, and a few times I've had to sort of yank 'em open pretty hard. None of this bodes tremendously well for G, and I'm feeling the pressure.
[fn4:] daven: lit, "of the fathers," meaning the scheduled and structured prayer set out for us, in its basic form, by the Forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov (a/k/a Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). The three basic mandated prayers are morning, afternoon, and evening, called shacharis, mincha and maariv, respectively.
Now, fine, I'm being preyy tongue-in-cheek here, and at the end of the day of course I'm not really compaining about pesicha, nor am I really worried that a sloppy pesicha on my part will somehow lead to a difficult birth and troubles for G. and the baby. But as a good friend of mine has said often enough, "we laugh because it's funny; we laugh because it's true." Of course I'm not really worried.

Except maybe a little.


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