By Rabbi Eliav Bock
This blog post was originally featured as part of the Rabbinical Assembly’s #HeshbonHodesh: Nisan monthly newsletter.
This past Shabbat morning, I suited up my baby daughter in her winter gear, put on my own jacket and gloves, put her in the hiking backpack and headed out the door for my Shabbat teffilot. It is a ritual we have practiced almost every shabbat over the past year, so long as the temperature is above 20 degrees, and it is not raining. Walking around my suburban neighborhood I sing, out loud, often clapping and dancing to the words of the morning prayers. It is a practice started last March when I thought I would be gone from shul for only a few weeks. I watched the early spring turn to the hot summer, to the vibrant fall, to this past snowy winter. I watched the brook, where I often stop to recite the Amidah, go from a thawing stream, to a small trickle in the late summer, to a frozen slide the past few months.
I connect most deeply with the Divine when I am outdoors. I experience radical amazement when looking at flowers and trees. I understand what it means to become I and Thou when I am staring at a hillside about to burst with green leaves and turning brilliant hues in the fall. The sun, the breeze and even the bitter cold allow me to feel the Divine energy in my daily life.
Pre-pandemic, the only place I consistently prayed outside is at Ramah in the Rockies. My ten weeks at camp, davening in the high mountains, are usually the highlight of my spiritual year. I am often able to coast on that spiritual nourishment when I return to my indoor suburban synagogue for a few months, only to crave a healthy dose of outdoor teffilot by late winter. A gift of this pandemic has been to give me a reason to pray outside, almost every shabbat for an entire year.
I miss seeing other people on Shabbat morning. I miss my elementary age boys coming to shul and having friends to play with while I sit in the service; but I do not miss sitting in a sanctuary. I hope that we can once again gather for in-person communal prayer, but I also know that walking and davening, even in a cookie cutter suburban neighborhood, can provide an enriching and sustaining teffilah experience.