“…and solid, and right and present and straight, and loyal, and beloved, and appreciated, and desired, and pleasant, and awesome, and amazing, and reconciled, and accepted, and good, and beautiful is this [truth] for us, forever.” – The siddur, after the Sh’ma.
The collective backbone of the Jewish people is always being tested, from the times of Pharaoh, where Israel was physically bent over in backbreaking labor, to today, where Israel ekes out a tenuous oasis in the midst of world chaos. To be sure, even in the time of national physical slavery, Jewish spiritual health was also at its near lowest, described as hovering at the 49th level of contamination. Israel bordered on near extinction and complete despair over the benefits of Jewish life. It took several bold miracles to lift Bnei Yisrael out of the mud.
Today’s situation in America and abroad is somewhat different, yet mirrors that mud in profound ways. While there are no physical taskmasters and shackles, there are spiritual overlords and virtual bonds that require a second look. Once, as an entire people—not just a privileged few—Jews daily recounted our exit from Mitzrayim, in the form of the daily Sh’ma. On Shabbos, Jews all stood together, as a people, holding the kiddush cup declaring freedom. Of course, a strong minority still does—Baruch Hashem. Yet, our collective unity seems to manifest itself only in annual phenomena, like the seder. Virtually all Jews stand together proudly around the table, reading clearly, each one having personally left Mitzrayim.
But, why? Isn’t “In God We Trust” on the dollar next to the pyramid stamp enough of a cue for the average American Jew? Isn’t the slavery theme passe in the land of the free and the home of the brave, and best relegated to a show in the White House? For the most part, the collective physical back is not really bent over in America. In general, American Jews breathe a fresh air, and don’t show a passport to get into synagogue. Jews pride themselves on having fought for civil rights, built clinically relevant medical centers and added depth to a rich milieu of arts, sports and comical entertainment.
Yet, as upright as Jews may feel, Judaism faces painful osteoporotic vertebral compression fractures, having been relegated to the stage of fluorescent lights and electronic denominationalism. Even amongst the best of neighborhoods, Judaism faces a physico-spiritual kyphoscoliosis. Bnei Yisrael doesn’t carry the Mishkan, and the vastly sun-drenched Ezras Nashim of the Beis HaMikdash has been replaced with misguided perceptions of the sanctity of external wall space. What happened? Surely, Judaism is stressed, even her most root-centered form. The Jewish people, as a whole, has accepted de facto that there is no daily smoke-raising herb (ma’aleh ashan) in our daily service.
Of course, that is about to change radically—with the fire of prayer for the final redemption (geula). This is only possible by exercising the strength of Jewish spine, invoking the phrase in the siddur quoted above. These 15 expressions, our sages teach, represent a Torah-based anatomico-spiritual spinal alignment, each touching on a separate nerve exit point. The masters of the Zohar teach us that prayer indeed is a spiritual battle with the original snake; thus when we pray, we often will form a snake-like posture, bending, contorting, twisting and bowing at the proper times. When this battle is neglected in this world, it is reserved for a similar, yet less favorable battle in the dusty snake’s domain.
Our spinal health, exercised by sincere prayer, is crucial in order to fight the last metaphysical battle—to bring the Moshiach. The physical sway, twist, turn of the Jewish backbone in prayer demonstrates its resilience and true desire for the return of our true open-air, incense-burning and smoky korbanos avodah. Only with this true workout, can Bnei Yisrael once again be able to slaughter the collective ego on the altar of Oneness, and ultimately unify the Jewish people with a fortified spine.