You’ve probably noticed that I have a distinctive way of saying Yehay Shemay Rabba.
Some people have told me that I yell it.
Others have told me that it’s bothersome to them.
So the question is why do I say it the way that I do.
What do I hope to accomplish by saying it as I do?
Is it worth bothering people?
The story goes back to an early experience that I had with someone (he’ll remain nameless here) widely considered to be a paragon of devotion, simplicity, and sincerity.
He was a teacher at the yeshiva high school I attended in my junior year of high school.
Despite the dismal experience that I had there, he, this teacher, remains to this day one of the bright spots.
And he yelled yehay shemay.
He YELLED it!
The words erupted out of him.
I wasn’t so much impressed as I was stunned.
Stunned out of my shyness.
Stunned out of my numbness.
Here was a man, a fearless courageous man, willing to debase whatever social capital he had, to praise God.
He set the bar for me. `
In my journey for authenticity his yehay shemay remains a reference point to aspire to.
So in salute and solidarity I do the same.
To this very day.
While that’s the majority of the story, there’s more to it.
I’m not going to spill all of my secrets here but let me touch on a couple that are relevant to this question.
The first is that I’m wired to handle the muddied conflicts of life poorly.
I supose that there are those who are not bothered by the injustice and suffering of the World.
I suppose that there are those who have made an internal arrangement that allows them to keep the sadness and confusion at arm’s length.
I just cannot.
I go about my very middle class life, earning my keep, thank God, raising my family, living within the lines of normative society as though everything is fine.
But it’s all an act.
It’s all a costume.
Inside I’m going crazy.
Inside I’m boiling over with longing and agony.
To paraphrase Cat Stevens, I just can’t keep it in.
My outlet is yehay shemay rabba.
That’s my release valve.
That’s my space where I can reveal myself to my self and remind my self that my heart still beats and that my blood remains red.
That I am still part of humanity and not some numbed out drone who ‘lives’ the schizoid life of modernity.
The second reason goes to my long term depression and anxiety.
God has cursed me and blessed me with depression and with anxiety.
Cursed me for the obvious reasons: it takes me three times as long to do anything that a non-depressed, non-anxious person can do in a snap.
I have loose, wobbly, disorganized neurotransmitters and it takes me a long time to get them in order so they can do things like get out of bed in the morning, get up and go to the store, or write a blog post.
But He’s blessed me with chronic depression and anxiety because these experiences have brought me into contact with so much of Life unnoticed by the happy and the naturally serene.
He’s also given me a way to explore depression and anxiety in such a way that I can discover things that help others who also suffer from depression and anxiety.
Like the blessing of pattern interrupt.
Without going into the whole backstory, pattern interrupt is a behavioral technique to disrupt habits, patterns of behavior, and moods.
Instead of trying to hit a grand slam homerun to rid myself of depression and anxiety ONCE AND FOR ALL, I’ve developed a whole list of interruptions that compel me to be my best, my most joyous, my most un-weighted down self FOR ONE MOMENT.
Yehay Shemay at full tilt is one of those pattern interrupts.
Whether you call it singing or yelling or screeching or saying it loudly with verve and joy, yehay shemay is a moment when I am out of depression and anxiety.
It’s a moment of blessed release from the heaviness of mood and doom.
Before I get to the problem of other people and bothering other people, there is one other ‘part’ of the backstory:
Jewish History, especially the Shoa and terrorism..
There is not much that I can do to right the wrongs of those who have been murdered.
I am not Superman or God.
I am not a solider or an analyst who can locate a monster planning an abomination on my beloved People.
What I can do is to hold these hold Jews in my consciousness and in my heart.
What I do is to give them voice and represent them in the way that I live.
Yehay shemay is not so much a battle cry but the last word in the dialogue between Jew and monster.
And who doesn’t want the last word?
The monster may touch the body of the Jew but the Spirit, that growing, gathering, eternal Dynamo of the Jew, only gets stronger.
And it finds expression through my voice.
Now about those other people:
First of all, I’m not stupid and I’m not cruel.
If I’m a shul or place (like a shiva minyan) where the decorum and vibe is somber then I keep my voice in check.
(But then I try to make a point of davening in places more hospitable to my deranged, chassidic, fiery way of prayer.)
But if it’s a shul where I’m comfortable enough to be myself then I let it roar.
Shuls are not supposed to be libraries.
Or funeral parlors.
They are spaces for spiritual renewal.
They are like gyms.
If you go to a gym, you expect to sweat, to get sore, to maybe even get high.
That’s what shul is.
At least to me.
If you go to gym and you don’t sweat then most likely your workout wasn’t worth too much.
(And I could ask what the point of going is; but I won’t because it’s better to go to the gym even if you don’t break a sweat and it’s better to go to shul to mumble and grumble through the words than not to)
I go to shul to get high.
To get closer to God.
To reach for the Heavens.
And if people are bothered by that then I wish them well and I invite them to contact me for a professional consultation.
Or better yet: join me!