Let me put my bias out front. I love daily minyan. It is one of the must unappreciated parts of Jewish life. The sense of community and belonging that come from daily prayer and the sense of peace it brings to the whole day, are feelings that I can not get if I pray alone and they make getting up early worth the effort.
I began my davening life just before my 13th birthday. My father bought me my first pair of tephillin and showed me how to put them on. Then he gave me a small siddur. Inside the cover was a list of about ten page numbers. He told me to learn those ten prayers first and when I got good at those ten, to add another new one. We did not have a daily minyan at our synagogue at that time (although there is a morning minyan now). My father and I sat together in the living room of our home, and prayed together every day until I went off to college. I continued to pray by myself until I discovered daily minyan when I started Rabbinical School in Los Angeles. In the minyan at Adat Ari El in Los Angeles, I became part of a group of old men (woman were not part of the minyan until a couple of years later), most of whom were well over 70. I learned to laugh and joke with them and shared their good and bad days. For the hour or so we were together in the morning and then again in the afternoon, we became close friends and looked out for each other. Eventually I learned to be Shaliach Tzibor, the one who leads the davening, I started reading Torah there and in my final year at the University of Judaism, I was the Ritual Director of the minyan at Adat Ari El.
I have gone to minyan every time I could, at synagogues all over the world. I have come to believe, as one of my minyan friends, Morrie would say, “It is the heart and soul of our synagogue.”
I came to terms many years ago that I would never be able to “sleep in” in the morning anymore. I came to realize that there would always be a minyan that I would need to attend before I would go about my work. Minyan frames my day. The morning (Shacharit) service helps me put my day into perspective. Saying the liturgy that I have come to know so well, gives me sacred space to put the activities of the day into proper perspective. “I had so much to accomplish,” says a poem I once found, “That I had to take time and pray” (http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/4-7-2005-68242.asp ). It now is rare that I lose patience and get angry at anyone during the day. My siddur has at the beginning of the service, “I hereby accept the obligation of fulfilling my Creator’s mitzvah in the Torah: Love your neighbor as yourself” as a reminder that we all have to get along. The early morning blessings for our body and soul and for keeping close to Torah and away from sin remind me of what I need to concentrate on when I am going through my day. The frustrations are just inconvenient; I try to keep my focus on what is important.
Ashrei gives me a chance to symbolically recite the entire book of Psalms three times daily. Shema gives me the chance to publicly affirm each morning and evening the theology that is at the core of my life. Three times a day I say the Amidah, adding my personal prayers for the health of family and friends, for justice and peace and often add a prayer for what is happening in my life as well. Others at Minyan can take off their Tephillin before Aleynu and rush on to work, I only remove my Tephillin after the last Kaddish and then I sit for a few moments more reading a book with a thought for my day.
In the afternoon, I set an alarm so I don’t forget to get to minyan at the end of the day. It helps me make the transition between work and home, so that when I get home for dinner and my evening responsibilities, the pressures and worries of my office are all put away until tomorrow.
There are barriers to joining a minyan. When we are beginners we need to learn the special melodies that go with daily prayer that are different from the nusach for Shabbat and Holidays. Since there are some who only come for Kaddish, it may take a couple of days until the “regulars” come and say hello. It is hard to always be welcoming to those who use the minyan and then forget about it for the rest of the year. Yes they daven fast, but they know the secret to daily prayer. We don’t have to all be on the same page all the time. When we find a prayer that speaks to us that day, we pause and spend some time there, and then catch up when that prayer has said all it will say that day.
I teach that anyone who wants to see a daily miracle should attend a daily minyan, either morning or evening. Every day we need to find ten all over again. What happened yesterday does not count. There can only be a minyan when ten adult Jews walk in that door. Some days I think we will never make it and suddenly it swells to twenty Jews. Other days I think will be easy and we struggle to get the tenth in the door.
We have been a lifeline to some who were living alone. We have strengthened those who have lost parents, spouses and yes, even children. All of us at minyan are wounded in some way and we support each other. The old guys often celebrate with good scotch, but I could never imaging drinking scotch before breakfast. In my minyan community, I can share what concerns me, and my senior friends speak with experience to let me know that my concerns are either well placed or not. They have been there before and I have learned much from speaking and listening to them. We are all graduates of the school of hard knocks and we have much to share with each other. Minyan gives us all a reason to get up each morning, so that we can be there for each other.
What is the value of saying the same prayers over and over again each day? Well, first of all the prayers are the same, but each day I find that I am different and a different prayer speaks to me. Second, peace comes into my life as I welcome familiar prayers back again each day. Third, over the course of the year, there are subtle differences in the liturgy that help me be sensitive to the passage of time and sensitive to subtle nuances in my life as well. Finally, as taught by Rabbi Max Kiddushin, there is a kind of “normal mysticism” that comes when we say the same prayers every day. There is something more that comes from praying familiar prayers over and over again that is not found in the translations on the opposite page. Prayer by prayer, each word, each song, each thought helps me discover a new way to find God in my life. If I am unsure, suddenly words pop off the pages that make me feel better. When I am sad, a familiar passage suddenly lights up with new meaning that brings hope and joy back into my life. When I am too full of myself, I find that the siddur helps me make room for God.
There is not a minyan in the world that does not miss a day from time to time. No matter how traditional the community, no matter what time the minyan meets, no matter how many members the congregation has. There is that special feeling that everyone gets when the tenth person comes in that door because that is the moment that binds the group together in prayer. If you ever feel alone and unappreciated, come to minyan early, and they will be overjoyed to see you and count you in their group. They do it not out of a sense of duty, but out of the joy that comes when we bind ourselves together as a community of ten.
Join a daily minyan. It will seem strange at first but the people there will welcome you to join them in prayer. Keep coming and see how quickly they warm up to you. How they get you involved in their lives and how they intertwine so beautifully in your life. It is almost never intrusive or rude, only a group who care for each other as they thank God for daily renewing their lives.
At minyan, I have learned never to take tomorrow for granted, and to thank God for the gift of today.