There are many things to readjust to as an avel, the lack of music, curtailed social life (though tbh that is no different from everyone else at the moment!) and of course as a man, leading the davening from the amud.
Well, in my case not strictly an amud, more of a garden fence, but it does the trick.
It has been slightly surreal, my tallit blew off on one occasion, a flock of birds drowned out Kaddish Titkabel and the minute by minute weather checks to determine whether I davened by the fence or took shelter in one of the gazebos (there is one in both gardens!).
However, there has been a real benefit to my tefillah. You see when you are the Chazzan, you have to concentrate more on the tefillot and you also say more of them which allows you to think about certain tefillot. Of course the obvious one is Kaddish – said over 70 times (not including Shabbat). However, the one that really made an impression was the four ‘yehi ratzon’s’ that are said on Monday’s and Thursday’s only by the chazzan after laining, before we all recite Acheinu together.
The yehi ratzon’s date back to days of Rav Amram Gaon, whose siddur prescribed that they be recited on laining days, as the merit of communal Torah reading makes the time most fitting to ask Hashem for the fulfilment of His people’s yearning’s.
So what do we ask for and what is the link between them and the parshiot we read this week?
We ask Hashem to restore the Bet Ha Mikdash to restore the Shechina – the divine presence to our lives.
Chukat begins with the law of the Para Adumah ‘Speak to the children of Israel and have them take for you a perfectly red unblemished cow, upon which no yoke was laid.’ (Bamidbar 19:2). This was a focus of the service of the mishkan and eventually the Bet Ha Mikdash. We read these pesukim with a longing to return to the service of the Bet Ha Mikdash
We ask Hashem to keep destruction and plague away from His people.
Balak ends with the terrible plague ‘Those that died in the plague numbered twenty four thousand.’ (Bamidbar 25:9). Caused, in this case by the hedonism and immorality of the Jewish nation.
We ask that Hashem to preserve the teachers of Torah and their families and communities.
Back to the start of Chukat we read “Zot chukat haTorah asher tzivah Hashem – this is the ‘chok’ of the Torah that Hashem has commanded” (Bamidbar 19:2).” The Torah is filled with many different types of commandments. There are those that make sense to us and those which do not. We are taught that the understanding of the ‘chukim’ is beyond us. As said above, our parsha begins with the laws of the para adumah — the red heifer that purified those who had become ritually impure by coming in contact with a corpse. The bit that is ‘beyond us’ is that the same ashes that make those who were impure become pure, conversely those who were pure become impure.
The Ohr Ha Chaim asked a pertinent question – Why didn’t the parsha begin by stating that this is the ‘chok’ of the para adumah or that this is the ‘chok’ of taharah or tum’ah (ritual impurity)? Why was this ‘chok’ labelled as the ‘chok’ of the entire Torah?
The answer is as follows. If a person adheres to this mitzvah, the Torah equates that to adherence to all of the mitzvot. Keeping the ‘chok’ reveals a trusting decision to keep the laws of Hashem taught throughout the entire Torah. Not only the ones that make sense to us, not only the ones that we feel emotional about, the ones that are culturally satisfying – no all of them – the ones that Hashem commanded.
That is the essence of Torah – that is what we have been taught by the sages and lived by in our families and our communities – it is the only recipe for Jewish continuity.
We ask that we should hear besorot tovot – good tidings and have salvation and comfort.
At the heart of Parshat Balak, is the attempted cursing of the Jewish people by Bilaam. Of course as we know, he ends up with blessing us three successive times, the last one with the famous Ma Tovu blessing ‘How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!’ (Bamidbar 24:5). Bilaam looked down at the Jewish nation and their peaceful dwelling and beautiful sanctuary touched his heart. Instead of a curse, words of blessings, inspired by Hashem, came out of his mouth –besorot tovot – good tidings which spoke about our eventual salvation.
Four special blessings in our davening – restore the Bet Hamikdash, keep us free from destruction, preserve Torah and its teachers and give us goodness – all central themes of Chukat and Balak.