hazzan Diana Brewer was ordained through the aleph ordination program. she leads prayer services regularly at the jewish community of amherst, and is on the staff of the davvenen leadership training institute.

Sacrifice as a Teddy Bear?

In my last writing, I spoke of the progression of Avodah, of worship. Human sacrifice to animal sacrifice to the fire of prayer. Happily for me, one of my classmates managed to record, word for word, one of R. Vivie Mayer's teachings on this topic, which became the basis for the teddy bear reference. She said, "The power of myth and tradition enables us to stay tethered to the past without having to go back, and allowing us to move forward in our individual and collective evolution."

How does this get us to teddy bears? We'll get there, I promise. What becomes clear, when you start to look at the particulars, is that in the practices of worship (and really almost anything we do), there exists a sense of longing for the past, or at least a longing for a connection to the past. As R. Vivie said, we try to stay tethered to something. So, we can't sacrifice our children anymore. What do we do now? We find something that resembles that, but which is acceptable in the new paradigm. A new normal. The Temple, the seat of the sacrificial rites, was destroyed. What do we do now? We pray at times that reflect the times we would have been making these offerings. We pray in ways that reflect the longing for these offerings and a reverence and gratitude for our heritage, and for how it was brought to us. We pray for our prayers to be an acceptable replacement for the settling fires of the altar.

So, teddy bears. Any readers ever have a teddy bear, a special blanket, perhaps a stuffed fennec fox or platypus? Yes, we have one of each of these in our household. Only one of those items belongs to my daughter. Actually, the thread of my daughter's relationship with her special stuffy exemplifies perfectly the conversation we had in class about the evolution of worship and teddy bears. At the time she was given her beloved fennec fox three years ago, she had never developed an attachment to an object in the way she attached to this splendid critter. She slept with it every night, brought it everywhere we traveled, played with it every day, bringing it to life. She picked out yarn, and had my wife crochet a hat for it. She bought other foxes - fennec and otherwise - to build a family for it. Just beautiful to watch! 

Sometime within the past year, I think, she made a decision to stop sleeping with the fox, but gave him a prominent place on display in her room. She has continued to bring him on overnight trips, acknowledging that she is not ready to take that particular step just yet. This summer, she turned 10 (!). Shortly after her birthday, she attended sleep-away camp for the first time. Of course Fox-pup, as he is known around here, went with her. I've also noticed she has been sleeping with him again since returning home. Turning 10 has been a very big deal for her. Watching her navigate the layers of meaning this new age holds for her has been beyond remarkable. She contemplates out loud, and she reflects her ambivalence about this leap in other ways that I'm quite sure she is fully unaware of. 

This darling little Fox-pup is surely her tether to her very recent, and oh-so-distant past as a single-digit kid. She can pick him up or leave him behind, snuggle him in bed or leave him on the shelf at will. I suspect that, someday, he will remain on the shelf. But I won't be surprised to see him packed into a box headed for her college dorm room in another 10 years. So, too, for us are the memories of these ancient practices. OK, not as snuggly as a golden fennec fox, and not likely to be returned to in a practical sense. I'm not even sure where my stuffed platypus, Sylvia, is in the house at the moment. But I sure like knowing that she's around.

(Why) Is Prayer Better than Sacrifice?

Three Set Times for Prayer: Sacrifice? That's so 2,000 years ago!