Over these many months I have offered a treatment of the blessings that comprise the Amidah, the standing prayer that is central to all our services. Having concluded discussing them, we now reach the coda that closes the Amidah recitation. That coda was originally unscripted. It was the place that was devoted to personal, spontaneous prayer. It is here that the contrast between the collective and the individual,, the public and the private presents itself with force. (I have written about this issue before – see my columns in Kol Emunah for April 2014 and May, 2014)
I am putting aside the column I had originally intended for this month because I believe it is important to write about a dramatic development just unfolding: The Israeli government has just announced that it is not going through with what they have been planning for some time – to expel almost 40,000 refugees who have made their way from Africa to Israel in search of safety. Instead, about half the refugees will be permanently settled in Israel, while the other half will be absorbed by Western nations, including Canada, Germany and Italy. (See – Haaretz, April 4, Israel Reaches Deal with UN) Continue reading
Our concluding blessing in our most central prayer, the Amidah, is a prayer for peace. This is in accord with our practice in general, to conclude any major series of blessings or prayers with words of peace. The text of the last blessing depends, in our Ashkenazic (European Jewish) custom, on whether the Priestly Blessing is part of the recitation of the communal Amidah. (Other customs include the recitation of this text always, even when the Priestly Blessing is not recited.) So in every morning service, and at many other times, the text of the blessing for peace is an expansion on the elements found in that ancient Biblical prayer:
“May the Eternal bless you and care for you;
May the Eternal shine His Face upon you and be gracious to you;
May the Eternal lift up Her Face to you and grant you peace.” (Num. 6:24-26)
As our private meeting with our Creator – also known as the Amidah prayer – winds down and we prepare to leave God’s Presence, we start saying our “thank-you’s.” This is the next-to-last blessing of our string of blessings. We thank God for all God is and for all God does for us.
We begin by addressing God in the usual way: “We acknowledge You, for You are the Eternal, our Almighty Source of Strength as well as the Almighty God of our ancestors, for ever and ever.” But right away we call God by less familiar names: “Rock of Our Lives, Shield of our Salvation – that is You, from generation to generation.” We have moved from established, almost generic theological terms, terms we use in a formulaic way all the time, to more urgent, existential terms that acknowledge our need for God in order for us to simply live and survive. And then we drop all descriptions and address God directly – “that is You.” Continue reading
We have been standing in prayer before God for some time now. It is time for us to wrap things up. Concluding a conversation with God can be a difficult task. Do we really want it to end? Or are we itching to finish up? Have we felt embraced in God’s Presence, or have we forced ourselves to mouth empty words?
Because wrapping up can be as hard as starting off, our tradition adopts a structural approach to help us along. It gives us three opening and three closing blessings, and they are found in every recitation of the traditional Standing Prayer (`Amidah). It is the middle section of blessings that changes with the weekly and yearly calendar. The middle section is very different when recited on weekdays, than on Shabbat or Festivals or on the Days of Awe. But our introductory and concluding blessings remain constant; they are that important. They are that perennially necessary. They are needed to get us going and, after we have done our best, they are needed to help us gracefully bow out of our encounter.
Rabbi Greenstein sends along an email he received from The Rabbinical assembly concerning the recent fires in California.
A Kavannah (prayerful intention)
As We Light Shabbat Candles
By Rabbi Ari Lucas
לֹא-תְבַעֲרוּ אֵשׁ, בְּכֹל מֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם, בְּיוֹם, הַשַּׁבָּת
Let no fire burn in your homes on the Sabbath Day
– Exodus 35:3
Will you hear my voice, my distant one,
will you hear my voice, wherever you are –
A voice calling strong, a voice crying silently
And above time, commanding blessing? Continue reading
There is an old joke that tells of two Jews meeting and introducing themselves to each other. The small talk gets to questions about what each one does for a living. One of the two offers that he is a wealthy businessman with far flung ventures. His merchandise travels the world. But there are seasonal and market ups and downs and many challenges that continually demand his immediate response, giving him much cause for worry.
“So, what is your profession?” asks the entrepreneur. The second Jew looks down humbly. “Well, I am employed by my village to sit atop a high tower.”
“Yes, that’s what I do all day long.”
“What’s the point of that?”
“I am watching for the arrival of the Messiah. As soon as the Messiah will appear on the horizon I will see him approaching and announce the news to the town.”
“And from this you make a living?” asked the skeptical businessman.
“Well,” replied the sentinel, “the pay is not much. But the work is steady.” Continue reading
So, a rabbi walks into a cave.
With his son.
The son says to his father: “Abba, Father, can I get you anything?”
And the rabbi says: “That’s alright. I’ll just sit in the dark.”
This joke is inspired by a story in the Talmud (BTShabbat 33b-34a). It happened during the Roman rule over Palestine, in the middle of the second century CE. Continue reading
A rabbi walks into an egg store.
He walks up to the counter and says, “I’ll have a dozen fresh eggs, please.”
The man at the counter doesn’t even look up: “Sorry. No eggs.”
“Whaddaya mean?” asks the rabbi.
The man, still not looking up at the rabbi:
“Hasn’t been a fresh egg laid in these parts for three days now.”
Rabbi: “Is that so? Why, just yesterday, after I gave my sermon, the President came over to me and said, ‘This time, Rabbi, you really laid an egg.”
This funny joke comes from a funny story told in the Talmud: Continue reading