Rabbi Richard Levy writes, regarding the power of communal worship, “If the hopes that we have shared are not to have been shared in vain, we must not leave our words here in our seats, neatly folded in our books. Our words must go streaming out the doors with us, accompany us as we walk on the road, when we sit in our houses, when we lie down, and when we rise up.” I remember these words when I am engaged in public prayer. I try to find, in each step, the lesson that I need to take out into the world when the service is done.
Lately I have been intrigued with Barchu, our “call to worship.” We find Barchu at the doorway between our preliminary warm-up prayers/psalms, and the formal communal prayers. It welcomes us into the portion of the liturgy known as “Shema and its Blessings.” Barchu signifies the official beginning of our communal worship.
It’s easy to see Barchu in the context of the siddur. The shaliach tzibbur, or service leader, calls upon us to praise God. (This is why the first line is traditionally recited only by the service leader.) We respond appropriately, blessing God as has been requested, and we continue to do so for the remainder of the service. But where does Barchu fall in the context of our lives? What do we take from it beyond the logistical and liturgical information just described?
As I reflect on our “call to worship,” I begin to think not only about what it means to be called, but the source of the call as well. It is easy to know when a person is calling. It’s audible, it’s concrete, it rings like a telephone or a text message. But calls do not only emanate from people. A moment, a recipe, a musical arrangement – all of these instances and more can cry out to us for something that will improve or complete what is not quite yet finished or resolved to satisfaction. Every day seems to call, “Are we there yet?” The answer is no. We are potentially being “called to task” with every breath.
Barchu, our call to worship, is not merely a call to worship. We are being called to bless. We may understand what that means in the context of worship, but how do I take this unique call and response into the world with me each day? Am I able to see each moment as opportunity to affect, change, raise, or complete a sacred interaction? When I hear a call, am I able to respond each time with blessing?
Contemporary Jewish composer Noah Aronson issued a Facebook invitation some months back, asking people to compose their own words to his musical kavanah for Barchu, entitled “Am I Awake.” You can hear Noah’s original recording here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4evjPk_LoT0
I was inspired by Noah’s invitation. Here’s what I considered:
Am I awake, do I hear the call?
Will I let these words change my life at all?
How will I respond to the prayers’ request?
When I have the choice, will I choose to bless?
If I can allow the call of Barchu to leave the synagogue with me and accompany me on my way, I remain awake to my potential to bring blessing to every-day moments and interactions. Seeing each day as a calling enables me to reflect and respond. Before I react, before I speak, before I turn away, before I dive in, I hear a call to bless. And then I give it my best shot.