Sunday, February 26, 2012
Hallel is a series of psalms recited on Holidays. It was just recited for the two days of Rosh Chodesh for the new month of Adar. Hallel is often accompanied by moving melodies. A good chazzan makes Hallel an uplifting, even exalting experience. But for mourners, Hallel presents a challenge. My Shiva (the week of mourning after burial) coincided with Rosh Chodesh (the new month of Kislev), an occasion on which Hallel (the “half Hallel” to be exact) is recited. Unlike the other days of Shiva, I did not lead prayers on that day. Not only that, when the time to recite Hallel came, the Rabbi indicated I was to leave the room so that I would not be present for the joyous recitation. Someone came to inform me when it was “safe” to come out. My exclusion felt right: not only could I not share the joy of Hallel, my mourning would have been mocked by Hallel. (Another example of how wise Jewish law is when it comes to death and mourning.) Even now, three months into my mourning period, reciting Hallel feels a bit incongruous. My spirit is bound up with saying Kaddish, not with expressions of joy. That day will undoubtedly come, for as the Psalm says “Hear me, God, and be gracious to me. You have turned my mourning into dancing, you have loosened my sackcloth and supported me with joy.” (Psalm 30: 11-12) It hasn’t yet.