This article appears as part of the Portal on Jewish Prayer and in Keeping God at the Center.


"Lord of our strength. Rock of our fortress"
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts"
"Cause our eyes to sparkle with Your Torah"
"He grants us good kindnesses"
"King, Who helps, Who saves, and Who protects"
"Grant us, from Your essence, knowledge, understanding, and commonsense"
"Bring us back, in full repentance, to Your Presence"
"Bless this year of ours like the good years"
"Give us our fair judgement"
"On the saints ... and on the soldiers of the Israel Defence Forces"
"We thank You ... for Your miracles"
"The Good One ... the Merciful One ..."
"Grant peace"
"Oh, One Who is appeased in mercy and One Who is reconciled by supplication!"
"Indeed, we do not know what to do, for our eyes are upon You"
"Blessed be our God Who created us for His glory"
"Indeed, in Your hand are the souls of the living and the dead"
"Blessed are You, Lord, the King Who Personally will always reign over us"


On the Fear of God
On Truth
On Sin
On Forgiveness
"Praying Next to a Survivor"


"One who prays must direct one's heart to the meaning of the words which one brings out of one's mouth" ( Shulhan Arukh , Orah Hayyim, 98:1). This is the norm in Jewish practice: that one should understand what one says in prayer. To understand requires, first, learning the prayers, studying them. It, then, requires thinking about them, pondering them. It is not enough to mumble words, nor is it enough to meditate wordlessly. Prayer, in Jewish tradition, is neither a recitation of an incomprehensible liturgy, nor is it an emptying of one's mind as in some Eastern traditions. Tefilla is both, an exercise of mind and of consciousness. For that reason, there is a separate mitsva called ´iyyun tefilla, the study of the prayers. Knowledge increases our spirituality; study leads to praxis. And, the reverse: increased spiritual awareness leads to knowledge; praxis augments our study. This chapter will develop this theme, concentrating, first, on phrases from the nusah ha-tefilla, the core liturgy, [1] and their meaning as derived from, and brought to, prayer. Then, since reflection sometimes requires extended thought, this chapter will conclude with several essay-meditations on selected themes central to traditional rabbinic prayer.


Lord of our strength. Rock of our fortress. Shield of our salvation. Fortress for us. / God of the universe. Our king. Rock of Jacob. Shield of our salvation. / Rock of our lives. Shield of our salvation. You are He Who endures from generation to generation. [2]

There is overlap here; what does that mean? What do these images suggest? Why does the formulation from the Amida have fewer terms in Hebrew, when that is the contex of the liturgical profession of faith? These phrases have puzzled me for a long time; I am not finished pondering them.

The problem of understanding these phrases begins with an anomaly of Hebrew, indeed of semitic, grammar: 'adon ´uzeinu can mean "the lord of our strength" or "our lord of strength," and even "our strong lord." The same is true of the other terms. [3] To complicate matters, the meaning changes slightly with the grammar. Thus, "the lord of our strength" would mean that God, as lord and master of creation, is the source of our strength, while "our lord of strength" or "our strong lord" would mean that the powerful God is our God. Which did the authors of the liturgy mean to say? Or, did they mean to say all of the above and so purposely used a term that has multiple meanings? Which do we mean to say: that God is the source of our strength, or that the God of power is ours? And so on, for the other terms. For myself, I prefer "the lord of our strength," that is, I affirm that God is the source of my strength, the rock of my fortress and of my life, and the shield of my salvation. [4] Nonetheless, I understand those who prefer to affirm that the God of power, fortress-likeness, life, and salvation is their God.

The real issue is the nature of these images: "rock, shield, fortress, king, Lord, God, You." The terms "Lord," "God," and "You" are not really images or metaphors but names for, or appelatives of, God. The terms "rock," "shield," "fortress," and "king," by contrast, are clearly images or metaphors; no one would claim that they actually describe God. [5] All these images are biblical, yet that alone does not explain their use in the liturgy since other well-known biblical images do not appear here. Why were these particular images chosen? What is the meaning of the double metaphor: "rock of our fortress"? And, more broadly, why use images at all? What is the advantage of image over direct theological statement?

As images, "rock," "shield," and "fortress" evoke an aura of strength, power, and protection. One feels sheltered when these images are called to mind. This is all the more true if one links them with "fortress," "life," and "salvation." as in: "rock of our fortress," "rock of our lives," and "shield of our salvation." The God they portray is the "Rock of our lives" which are all too fragile, the "Shield of our salvation" which is far from fully achieved, and as the "Fortress for us" in times of trouble when one needs and uses a fortress. The double image of "Rock of our fortress" -- the mighty outcropping that protects that which, being impregnable, protects -- is very powerful here; it is a reinforced metaphor. The representations and especially the piling of image upon image are highly suggestive. They portray and evoke a protecting God, and do it much more vividly than a series of theological statements about the omnipotence of God. [6]

The meaning of these three phrases is now clearer.

The first phrase appears in the blessing over creation before the Sh'ma: "He Who, in His mercy, causes light to shine upon the earth and upon those who dwell on it and Who, in His goodness, always renews every day the works of creation. 'How great are those things which You have made, Lord; You have made them all in wisdom; the earth is filled with Your possessions' (Ps. 104: 24). [7] The exalted King; Alone from then; Who is praised, glorified, and towers above since the beginning of time. Lord of the world, in Your great mercies, have mercy upon us, Lord of our strength...." We have here, then, a theology of creation which praises God as creator but also as a source of mercy, and which then goes on to use four powerful images of protection -- "Lord of our strength. Rock of our fortress. Shield of our salvation. Fortress for us." Adding the four images of protection to that of the transcendent King of creation impresses upon us that God not only creates, God protects. Creation implies protection.

The second phrase appears right after the Sh'ma: "It is true, stable, correct, enduring, ... set and accepted. This word is good and beautiful for us, forever. It is true. God of the universe. Our king. Rock of Jacob. Shield of our salvation ... God's words are alive, enduring, faithful, and cherished for ever and ever -- for our ancestors, for us, for our children, for our descendants, and for all the generations of the seed of Israel, Your servants." We have here, then, a theology that affirms the truth of God's Torah, that is, of God's revelation. Adding the images of protection impresses upon us that God not only creates and protects, God also reveals and protects. Revelation too, implies protection.

The third phrase appears at the beginning of the first of the last three blessings of the Amida but its context is not praise but confession of faith. The Hebrew word, modim has two meanings: to "acknowledge" and to "thank." The beginning of this prayer is a real confession of faith. It is as close as Jewish liturgy gets to a formal "I believe." The full text reads: "We acknowledge You -- that You are Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, forever and ever. Rock of our lives. Shield of our salvation. You are He Who endures from generation to generation." [8] The prayer, then, goes on to thank God -- modim in its other sense -- for the many miracles of daily and national life. [9] We have here, then, a confession of faith which acknowledges God as Lord, and as our God and the God of our ancestors forever, which then goes on to use two powerful images of protection -- "Rock of our lives" and "Shield of our salvation" -- and which concludes with a profession of God's eternity. Praising God Who creates and protects and Who reveals and protects is not enough; one must also confess God as Lord and protector. [10]

So much to think about: the use of imagery, the centrality of God's protectiveness in Jewish religion, the integration of God's protectivenss into the theology of creation, revelation, and lordship, and the use of these images and themes both in moments of praise and in a formula of confession.

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"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the fulness of the universe is His Glory / Blessed is the Glory of the Lord from its place." [11]

The Bible contains only two direct quotations from the angels. [12] The first is drawn from Isaiah 6:3. There, the prophet tells how he saw God sitting on a throne surrounded by fiery angels, each of which had six wings: two covered its body, two covered its face, and two were used for flying. These angels, the prophet records, "were calling one to another and said, 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the fulness of the universe is His Glory.'" [13] Again and again, the theme of the fiery six-winged angels and their hymn of praise to God appeared in western art and liturgy, including, to be sure, rabbinic liturgy. [14]

The second quotation from the angels is drawn from Ezekiel 3:12. The prophet has recounted in chapter one his vision of a figure which is half fire and half gold-silver alloy. The figure is sitting on a sapphire throne which, itself, rests on a vault of ice. At each of the four corners of the vault is a creature. Each creature stands upright, has four wings (two for covering the body and two for flying), and four faces on its head (one for each primary direction: forward, backward, right, and left). Between each two creatures is a set of two wheels. The two wheels intersect at right angles and, in the rims of the wheels, are eyes. In the center, under the vault, is a circle of fiery coals which send forth flashes of lightning. The vision, altogether, is called the "Glory of the Lord"; later rabbinic sources called it the "Chariot"(Hebrew, kavod / merkava). [15] When the vision moves, there is great noise. The prophet's initiation begins with the approach of the vision in chapter 1. This is followed by God's charge to the prophet in chapter 2. The vision concludes in chapter 3, verse 12. There, as the Glory lifts off the ground, the verse of praise -- "Blessed is the Glory of the Lord from its place" -- is heard. This vision of Ezekiel, perhaps because it is so complex, did not achieve the centrality of the vision of Isaiah in western art and liturgy; however, in rabbinic liturgy, the quotation from Ezekiel merited an equal rank with that of Isaiah.

The liturgical weaving of these two biblical quotations, sometimes with other verses, is known as the Kedusha (the holy praising of God) and it occurs in several forms and in several places. One occurrence is in the prayer on nature which precedes the Sh'ma. There, all the heavenly beings, which are also created and hence are as much a part of "nature" as any other being, are portrayed as praising God as follows:

He creates holy ones ... He makes ministers, all of whom stand erect in the highest places of the universe, and proclaim in awe, together ... They are all beloved, they are all refined, they are all mighty, and they all do the will of their Master with fear and awe. They all open their mouths in holiness and in purity, in song and in melody, and they bless, praise, glorify, acclaim, and proclaim as holy and as king, the Name of God, the King, the great, powerful, and awesome One; He is holy. They all accept the yoke of the heavenly kingdom one from another, and give permission one to another, to proclaim their Maker as holy, in a tranquil spirit, in a refined language, and in a holy melody. Together, as one, they chant and say in awe, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the fulness of the universe is His Glory." The wheels and the holy creatures, raise themselves up facing the fiery angels in a great noise, uttering praises opposite them saying, "Blessed is the Glory of the Lord from its place." [16]

The Kedusha occurs again, twice, in the Amida. In the silent prayer, the verses are omitted and there are only a short few phrases and a blessing on God's holiness. [17] In the public repetition of the Amida, however, the prose version is expanded into a poetic form, the versesare inserted, and a new verse (Ps. 146:10) is added. The basic text reads as follows:

Let us proclaim Your Name holy in the world as they proclaim it holy in the heavens above, as it is written by the hand of your prophets: "they were calling one to another and said, 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the fulness of the universe is His Glory.'" Opposite them, they proclaimed, "Blessed is the Glory of the Lord from its place." And in Your holy Scripture it is written, "May the Lord rule forever, your God oh Zion, from generation to generation; halleluya." [18]

In various services, the narrative of the setting changes and sometimes the Sh'ma is added, but this is the basic form of the public Kedusha, the one which requires a quorum of ten for its recitation.

The Kedusha occurs yet again in the Kedusha de-Sidra [19] where the three key verses are given with the Aramaic translation and midrash:

"They were calling one to another and said, 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the fulness of the universe is His Glory'" -- they received [permission] from one another and said:

"holy" -- in the high heavens, in His dwelling place;

"holy"-- on earth, the work of His power;

"holy"-- for ever and ever and ever;

"the Lord of hosts [...]" -- the whole earth is filled with the radiance of His glory.

"A spirit lifted me and I heard behind me the sound of a great noise: 'Blessed is the Glory of the Lord from its place'" -- a spirit lifted me and I heard behind me the sound of a powerful movement which recited praise saying, "Blessed is the Glory of the Lord from the place of His dwelling."

"The Lord will reign forever and ever" -- The kingdom of the Lord will exist forever and ever and ever. [20]

All three versions of the Kedusha depict very well the sense of the angelic praise of God in rabbinic prayer. Even if one is intellectually skeptical of the existence of angels and of the literal veracity of the prophetic and liturgical texts, one does gain an appreciation for the grandeur, holiness, and awe of the worship of God. To pray is to enter that realm.

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Cause our eyes to sparkle with Your Torah. Cause our hearts to cling to Your commandments. Unify our hearts to love and to fear your Name. So that we shall not ever be ashamed. [21]

There are two kinds of study: one in which we keep up to date in the area of our competence and one in which we study for its own sake. The former is necessary; the latter is a source of joy. The study of Torah, in its broadest sense, is really of the latter kind; it is study we undertake for its own sake. Even those of us who are "professional" Jews (should) have some domain of Torah which we study for its own sake.

"Cause our eyes to sparkle": The study of Torah yields an additional joy: it allows us to set ourselves into a context of meaning and value that transcend ourselves. Study of Torah brings us into the presence of the Jewish people, Jewish history, and Jewish spiritual striving. Even more important, study of Torah brings us into the presence of God, for to study any of the sacred texts is to explore God's presence among us. It is to study how God relates to us, and how we relate to God. Study of Torah puts us Face-to-face with God. When we study Torah, we can feel the presence of God looking over our shoulders. [22]

Because the study of Torah brings us into direct contact with God and God's interaction with us, it brings a special joy and that joy is reflected in our eyes. They twinkle as we wrestle with the texts. They sparkle as we appreciate the word-play. They radiate as we fathom the depths of the theology and sense God's closeness. This is the meaning of the phrase, "Cause our eyes to sparkle with Your Torah." [23]

"Cause our hearts to cling": The nature of human being is that we cling to patterns, feelings, and ideas. Some of these are good; some are not. Yet we cling to patterns, especially those from our past, with great force. To cling to the wrong set of ideas and feelings is called "neurosis." To cling to the right set of feelings and ideas is called "commitment." The process is the same. The second phrase, "Cause our hearts to cling to Your commandments," is a recognition of this phenomenon. We, as humans, must cling; the question is to what. Since we are not always sure what to cling to, the text tells us, 'cling to God's commandments.' To put this another way: "When in doubt, don't." We know what God's commandments are, especially the moral ones. When in doubt about whether something is right or wrong, don't do it. And, conversely, if you sense it is the right thing to do and it does not contradict any of the commandments, do it. Cling to the commandments, in sureness and in doubt.

"Unify our hearts": The Hebrew word for heart is lev and it comes from the root l-v-v, also written: l-b-b. There are two plural forms for "our hearts": libeinu and levaveinu. The latter expresses the double second letter visually; the former swallows one of the double letters. The first (swallowed) form occurs here in the phrase, "Cause our hearts to cling to Your commandments"; the second (expressed) form occurs in the phrase, "Unify our hearts to love and to fear your Name." Why use the two forms? Why use the second form in the phrase about unifying our hearts? This text cries out for interpretation.

Rabbinc Judaism teaches that we really do have two "hearts"; that is, two basic human tendencies: the yetser ha-tov, the tendency to do good, and the yetser ha-ra´, the tendency to do bad. A moment of self-reflection will allow anyone to realize that this is substantially correct: we all do have basic tendencies, almost instincts, for good and for bad. The two tendencies are represented by the expressed form of "our hearts": levavenu. This prayer, then, asks God to help us unify those instincts into one dedication to love and to fear God. It asks that we be able to serve God, in love and in fear, not only with our yetser ha-tov but also with our yetser ha-ra´. That is what it means to 'unify the heart' -- to make both dimensions of our heart, the good and the bad, serve God as one.

Another interpretation of the double heart: One can pray to have one's yetser ha-tov love God and one can pray to have one's yetser ha-ra´ fear God. In this way, one still has two hearts. They operate in different areas and yet, together, they form a functional unity.

Study for its own sake, clinging to the commandments and not to the many other goals of life, and unifying one's heart to love and fear God whether wholly or functionally -- these keep us from being ashamed, for shame is a feeling we have when we have done something that we know is deeply wrong. Shame is more than regret. Shame "covers our face." Shame makes us blush and hide. Eyes that sparkle from the study of sacred texts, commitment to sacred deeds, and a clear and unified heart keep us from shame.

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He grants us good kindnesses. [24]

How can a kindness not be good? Put another way: What would make a kindness "good" such that it is more than just a "kindness"? A moment's reflection will allow us to realize that good intentions are sometimes harmful. A person can want to do an act of kindness, but it turns out to be exactly the wrong thing to do. As the Psalmist puts it: "The Lord be with me concerning those who would help! I shall see to my enemies" (Ps. 118: 7). Or, as the popular saying has it: "God protect us from good intentions." Tough love is sometimes better than pity and mercy.

With God the matter is different, for God bestows upon us only kindnesses which are good. We praise God for that before we enter petitionary prayer.

King, Who helps, Who saves, and Who protects [24b]

The Avot (the first blessing) of the Amida concludes with the above phrase. Are these terms parallel or is there a sequence here? Perhaps the sequence is as follows: First, we bless God as King and then we define the King's functions.

A human king must first help his subjects; that is the minimum that he can do for them -- support them in time of need. If he is inclined to be more than helpful, a king should save his subjects from the serious crises that face them. Finally, if he is inclined to be more than saving, he must provide ongoing, active protection for them -- always, not just in time of need or serious crisis.

The liturgist seems, thus, to be saying that we acknowledge God as King and that God has three tasks which increase in importance: helping as needed, saving in time of serious crisis, and providing sustained protection. All are affirmed of God in this first blessing of the Amida, rooted as it is in history -- in the merit of our ancestors and in the messianic promise.

Grant us, from Your essence, knowledge, understanding, and commonsense. [25]

What is the difference between "knowledge," "understanding," and "commonsense"? Why are they in that order?

Knowledge is composed of facts, and the rules that govern them. We learn to know the world and life by confronting reality. Often we make mistakes, we analyze the facts, or the rules, wrongly. Correcting such errors is part of accumulating knowledge. We pray, first, for knowledge.

Understanding comes when the facts and rules arrange themselves into a deeper pattern. Pondering the facts and mulling over the rules helps us understand the world and life. This is particularly true of our relationship to our fellow human beings: We can have great stores of knowledge about them, but not really understand them. We need to know how to perceive and relate to the deeper pattern of their humanity. We pray, second, for understanding.

The most knowledgeable person, even the most understanding person, can be totally at a loss as to what to do if he or she does not have commonsense, for it is commonsense that enables us to use our knowledge and understanding wisely. It is commonsense that sets boundaries to our knowledge and to our understanding, and integrates them into our lives. We pray, therefore, finally, for commonsense.

Bring us back, in full repentance, to Your Presence. [26]

What is "full repentance"? Can repentance be partial?

Yes, repentance can be partial. In fact, most of our repentance is partial. We try, but we do not usually succeed fully; we succeed in part. Maimonides has defined full repentance as follows: [27] "What is complete repentance? It is the case of someone who has the opportunity to commit a sin he or she has committed, and has the ability to commit it [again], and yet separates from it and does not commit it because of having done repentance, not because of fear or because of lack of power. How? If a man commited a sin with a woman and, after a time, was alone together with her -- and he still loved her and still had his physical faculties -- in the same city in which he [first] sinned, but he separated himself and did not commit that sin, such a man is a master of complete repentance ( ba´al teshuva gemura )."[28]

Not many of us could stand this test. Nonetheless, we yearn, deep inside ourselves, for complete repentance from our sins and for the fullness of return to God. This is what we pray for, even if we doubt our ability to achieve it. [29]

Bless this year of ours like the good years .[30]

There are always good years and lean years, times when we have a lot of money and times when we are short. If one takes into consideration several generations, there may have been some truly exceptional years. This prayer for sustenance asks that God bless this year so that it be as good as the really good years.

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Give us our fair judgement .[31]

We do not ask for mercy. We do not ask for pity. Not in this prayer, though we certainly do that in other prayers. In this prayer, we ask for fair judgement. (Another translation might be: "Judge us in fairness.")

If we have done wrong, we expect to pay for it. We know we have sinned; all we ask is fair judgement and fair punishment. No eternal damnation; what sin could justify that? No excruciating torture; that would not be just. Fair judgement, fair punishment.

Another petitionary prayer asks for fair reward. [32]

All this is part of God's covenant with us. We are entitled to fair judgement and fair reward.

On the saints ... and on the soldiers of the Israel Defence Forces [32b]

This text reads: "May Your mercies be aroused upon the righteous, on the pious, on the elders of Your people Israel, on the remnant of its scribes, on the righteous converts, and upon us." Who are the "righteous ones"? In this day and age, we should include those who defend the Jewish people in its homeland. So, I add this phrase just before"on us."

We thank You ... for Your miracles that are with us each day, and for Your wonders and goodnesses that are with us at all times, evening, morning, and afternoon. [33]

What is the difference between a "miracle," a "wonder," and a "goodness" such that we thank God for each separately?

God's "miracles" are historical: the splitting of the Reed Sea, the revelation at Sinai, and so on. These miracles are, indeed, with us daily, for they are the formative moments of our identity as religious Jews. God's miracles make us who we are: the people chosen by God. Even modern historical miracles, like the establishment of the State of Israel, are formative moments in our religious identity. We are grateful to God for those moments in which we truly sense who, and where, we are.

God's "wonders" are natural; they are the wonders of creation: the leaves of fall, the flowers of spring, the rain and the dew, the grace of another human being, the blue sky, the beauty of creation. All point toward the Creator Who brought them into being and Who maintains them. We are grateful to God for the moments when we are aware of the God's wonders.

God's "goodnesses" are those moments when things just seem to go right for us. Sometimes, it is big things that go right: a job, a success, a moment of intimacy. Sometimes, it is little things that go right: prose which flows freely, a startlingly clear diagnosis, a "coincidence" which brings good "luck," a moment of friendship. We thank God for these favors, these moments of grace.

To thank God, modim in its second sense, [34] is to be grateful for God's miracles, God's wonders, and God's goodnesses.

The Good One ... the Merciful One ... [34b]

In the Modim (Acknowledgement and Thanks) prayer of the Amida, we pray: "The Good One (Heb., ha-tov), for Your compassion acts (Heb., rahamekha) have not ended; and the Compassionate One (Heb., veha-merahem) , for Your gracious acts (Heb., hasadekha) have not ceased -- we have always hoped for You."

These terms could be construed as parallel, indicating that God is considered good because God is compassionate, and that God is considered compassionate because God is gracious. Both God's goodness and compassion are reasons to "hope for" God.

However, the construction here is ABBC: good/compassion/compassionate/gracious, and the phrase may be intended as a progession. If so, the liturgist is saying that God is first gracious; that is, that God's unmerited love for us (Heb., hesed) is primary, that God's grace is the source of God's other qualities. The liturgist then teaches that God's unconditional love is the source of God's compassion, or mercy (Heb., rahamim); that is, that God's compassion derives from God's unconditional love. This means that God's mercy is secondary; it is an effect of grace. Finally, the liturgist teaches that God's compassion leads to God's goodness (Heb., tov); that is, that goodness, which is God's governance of the world, derives from God's compassion; it is an effect of an effect, a tertiary consequence. To put it briefly: goodness is a result of compassion, which is a result of gracious, unmerited love. God is to be "hoped for" precisely because God is gracious, then compassionate, and then good.

Zoharic kabbala agrees with this profound thought, for Hesed precedes Rahamim, which precedes Malkhut; or, put differently, Malkhut derives its force from Rahamim, which derives its force from Hesed.

Grant peace ... upon us and upon all Israel, Your people. [35]

Peace is a universal hope; everyone yearns for a time when "nation shall not lift up sword against nation and people will not learn war anymore." All people hope for a time when it will not be necessary to justify and defend one's very existence to others, when "each person will sit under his or her vine and her or his fig tree."

But this prayer is not for that. The orthodox liturgy prays for peace for the Jews and within the Jewish people: "upon us and upon all Israel, Your people. Bless us, our Father, all of us together with the light of Your Face for, with the light of Your Face, You have given us, Lord our God, a Torah of life.... May it be good in Your eyes to bless Your people, Israel, at all times and at all moments with Your peace. Blessed are You, Lord, Who blesses His people Israel with peace." [36] This prayer, then, is for peace among and for Jews. Behind it lies a theology that, if there is peace for and among Jews, there will be peace for everyone. National peace is the prerequisite for universal peace. [37]

Oh, One Who is appeased in mercy and One Who is reconciled by supplication! Be appeased and be reconciled to a poor generation, for there is no help. [38]

After we have argued with God about our merits and accepted our due punishment (see above, "Give us our fair judgement"), that is, after we have invoked the covenant, we cast ourselves on God's mercy. After we have confessed our sins and offered verses of supplication, we cast ourselves on God's pity. No arguing. No excuses. No pleading from a perceived strong position. Just mercy, pity.

When we have run out of arguments, we ask God to be appeased; not persuaded, but appeased. When we have exhausted our rational means, we ask God to be reconciled; not dissuaded from anger, but reconciled. For, ultimately, there is no help in the reasoned arguments of the covenant. In the end, there is no help in our paltry merits and deeds. There is only God's willingness to be appeased. There is only God's desire to be reconciled.

The next line of Tahanun reads: "Our Father, our King! Be gracious unto us and answer us. For we have no [worthy] deeds. Act with us in charity and grace, and redeem us." [39]

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Indeed, we do not know what to do, for our eyes are upon You. [40]

This is a fragment of a verse embedded in the Tahanun, the supplication prayers that follow the Amida on most weekdays. The original context (2 Chronicles 20: 1-30) is a pending battle between Jehoshafat, king of Judah and Jerusalem, and the hordes of Amon and Moab. The king gathers the people for prayer, two prophets are filled with the spirit of God and prophesy victory, the levites sing God's praises and, the following day, the troups go out to find that their enemies have been decimated, thus giving the forces of Jehoshafat a great victory without even having entered into battle. The fragment here comes from the prayer offered before the prophecies. The full verse (2 Chron. 20:12) reads: "Our God, will You not do judgement against them? For we do not have the strength [to stand] before this mighty horde that is come against us. Indeed, we do not know what to do, for our eyes are upon You."

The biblical quotation is appropriate for the Tahanun, for these supplicatory prayers are deep petition for God's mercy and help against enemies. Indeed, the Tahanun took much of its present form in the period after the crusades. While the biblical setting is lost on most modern readers, pre-modern users of the prayerbook were likely to have known this context of successful supplication.

But, what do the words mean: "We do not know what to do, for our eyes are upon You"? If our eyes are upon God, we should know what to do. If we are focused on God. we should know the correct direction in which to go. In classical biblical and rabbinic thinking, if we do not know what to do, it is because we have lost sight of God and God's ways.

One way to solve this problem is to translate the verse differently. Thus, most people translate: "We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You" -- hoping that You will tell us what to do to save ourselves. The problem with this solution is that one would expect the Hebrew to read "our eyes are toward You," not "upon You." [41]

Yet another way to solve this problem is to note that there are times when we are so filled with the immediate moment that we really do not know what to do. There are moments when we are so filled with that which is before us that we are speechless, stunned into non-movement. A moment of beauty, or a moment of terror; an flash of truth, or a inbreaking of love -- any of these can bring us to a kind of paralysis, an inability to act.

This is true of religious experience, too. A moment can be so filled with the presence of God that we are temporarily unable to act. An experience of God can be so intense that we do not know what to do, that we do not know what comes next. In the midst of the supplicatory prayers of Tahanun, we pray for such a moment. In the midst of trouble, we pray that God's presence be so intense that we not know what to do. Perhaps, this is the meaning of the fragment that has come into the prayerbook here.

Blessed be our God Who created us for His glory, Who separated us from those who err, and Who gave us His Torah. It is He Who will open our hearts to His Torah and it is He Who will put love of Him and fear of Him into our hearts to do His will and to worship Him with a complete heart so that we not strive for nothing or be born to futility. [42]

The Kedusha de-Sidra [43] occurs in the closing section of the morning service, in the introductory section of the Shabbat and holiday afternoon service, and in the introduction to the closing service on Yom Kippur. It opens with a verse that promises that the Torah will never depart from the lips of Israel and it proceeds to a Kedusha composed of the three key biblical verses from Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Psalms with the Aramaic translation (and interpretation) of each. After this, there are a series of verses, an inbreaking of rabbinic liturgy, and some closing verses. The lines cited here come from the rabbinic, liturgical section.

There are two motifs here. First, that it is God Who opens our hearts and puts love and fear of God into our hearts. It is not we who, by our efforts, do this. We try, sometimes we even try hard, to open our hearts to God. We make an effort, sometimes a great effort, to love and to fear God. But, in the end, there is so much to distract us: family, job, money, psychological problems, etc. In the end, too, how open to God can our hearts be? How open do we want them to be? How much love and fear of God do we really want to have in our lives? How much can we let God into our lives, even if part of us knows we want more? Being open to God, and loving and fearing God are not easy tasks. We are ambivalent and, even when we try, we do not always succeed. It is God, then, Who opens our hearts and puts love and fear of God into them.

Second, the purpose of religion is nicely summarized here: "so that we not strive for nothing or be born to futility." Young people sometimes ask, what is the purpose of life. But they are, in some sense, too young to ask that question. When one is middle-aged or older, one asks with greater poignancy, what is the purpose of life? Toward what have I been working over these past years, even decades? Why am I doing this work? This text, sandwiched in between verses at the end of the morning service, reminds us that there is a purpose to life and, that there is an opposite of purpose: nothingness and futility. This prayer reminds us that, when we are open to God, we are swimming in the stream of purpose; that, when we serve God in love and fear, we are breathing the air of meaning. And, conversely, when we are not open to God, we are striving after nothingness; that, when we are not acting in love and fear of God, we are working futilely.

All of us do a certain amount of flailing around in nothingness and futility; that is part of the human condition. But, all of us also have occasional moments of meaningfulness and transcendent purposiveness; this, too, is part of the human condition. The goal of religion is to offer us opportunities for the meaning; life gives us too many occasions for futility. And, as this prayer reminds us, it is not always we who direct ourselves to meaning. Sometimes meaning is given to us. We need only be open to, at least, that much.

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Indeed, in Your hand are the souls of the living and the dead, [He] in Whose hand is the soul of every living thing and the spirit of every human body. Into Your hand I commit my soul; You have redeemed me, Lord, the God of truth. [44]

These lines are composed of two verses, the first being from Job 12:10 and the second being from Ps. 31:6. They are cited as part of the last prayer before the Amida in the evening service recited by most communities. The prayer begins with verses and moves into a section of rabbinic liturgical Hebrew, into which these two verses are woven. Both verses deal with the theme of death (and truth [45]) and the soul. Both are a committing of oneself to God's care as evening approaches.

We do not control our lives. We think we do. We act as if we do. But, really, we do not control our lives. Just think of what has happened to you in the past three years. Could you have foretold what happened? What about the unexpected -- for better and for worse? Yes, we set goals and we work toward them. But, that is only part of the process of life. Much of life is unexpected: disease, death, depression, and serious failure; and good things, too: a late marriage, a child or a grandchild, a business success, recognition for one's work. To say "Indeed, in Your hand are the souls of the living" is to recognize that there is some Power which participates in our destiny, over which we have no control; it is to accept the presence of that mysterious Power in our lives. We may not understand it, but we accept it and commit our being into its hand.

We do not control death either. We make a big effort to do so through diet, exercise, and investment, through wills and instructions, and through just plain denial. But all that doesn't work. Each of us -- and each of our loved ones -- dies, and ceases his or her physical existence.

Where do we go after death? Who knows? Who can say? Jewish tradition teaches many things, some of them contradictory, about existence after death. [46] Most of Jewish religious tradition at least accepts the following analogy: If an embryo were asked about the world-to-come, it might rationally say, "There is no world-to-come. Life in this warm, comfortable sac is all there is. Who needs more? Breathing, what is that? Eating, what is that? Other beings, what is that?" But, the embryo would be wrong. There is a world-to-come for embryos; it is life in this world. By analogy, when we are asked life after death, we could be tempted to say rationally, "There is no world-to-come. Life is pretty good here. There is certainly no firm evidence of anything after this life." We would, if the analogy is holds, be wrong. There just might be an existence after this one, an existence we are no more capable of imagining than an embryo is capable of imagining life in this world. [47]

The Jewish religious tradition on life in the world-to-come begins with this analogy and asserts, 'Yes, there is a life after death, even though we do not know the details thereof.' To say, then, "Indeed, in Your hand are the souls of the living and the dead" is to affirm this belief. It is to accept that the Power that is present in our present lives is also present in our future lives, whatever that may entail. To say this prayer is to accept that life does not end with death. It is to say that life continues, somehow, encompassed by the presence of God.

It is my personal opinion that which characterizes life is power and moral responsibility. Thus, a child has little power but little responsibility. Teenagers have more power and, hence, more responsibility; growing up is realizing this. Adults have even more of both. Political leaders, doctors, and certain others have yet more power and, hence, yet more responsibility. The One with the most power is God, but God also has the most responsibility. It seems to me to be possible, even probable, that existence after death is part of this continuum; that, when we die, we have more power and also more responsibility than we have in this life, even though we cannot imagine how that is exercised. We will not have as much as God, but we will have more. There may even be a level of existence which has even more power and responsibility than the one after this. Why not? The continuum goes on until one reaches ultimate power and ultimate responsibility, not a position many of us would want to be in. Saying this prayer opens us up to that dimension of existence which is so far beyond us that we can only remain puzzled, and yet comforted. [48]

When else would one use these verses? One might use them in any situation where one has done all one can and where the only thing left to do is to commit oneself into the care of that which is beyond us. Once, when I was quite sick and on the way to intensive care, I recited these verses. It was all that was left to do.

Blessed are You, Lord, the King Who Personally will always reign over us and over all His works for ever and ever. [49]

There is a tension in the biblical story of the Exodus. On the one hand we read, "And the Lord will pass through to strike Egypt" (Ex. 12:23) which indicates that God Godself carried out the tenth plague. This is supported by a later verse (Ex. 13:29), "And the Lord struck every firstborn in the land of Egypt." On the other hand, we read in the continuation of the same verse (Ex. 12:23), "and will see the blood on the threshold and on the two doorposts, and the Lord will pass over the opening and will not allow the Destroyer to come into your houses to strike" which indicates that it is the Destroyer who executed the tenth plague, not the Lord. The text of the Passover Haggada resolves this problem by creating a midrash on yet a third verse which, in turn, cites a fourth verse as support, as follows: "'And the Lord took us out of Egypt' (Dt. 26:8) -- Not by an angel, and not by a fiery being, and not by an agent. Rather, the Holy One, blessed be He, Personally as it says, 'And I shall pass through the land of Egypt on this night and I shall strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from humans to animals, and I shall do judgement against the gods of Egypt, I am the Lord' (Ex. 12:12)." The Haggada, thus, understands the fourfold use of "I" in Ex. 12:12 as probative -- it was the Lord, and not the Destroyer, who carried out the tenth and final plague.

The word from the Haggada that I have translated as "Personally" is, literally, "in His Glory," [50] The clear meaning is that it is God, Godself, not an agent, Who redeemed the Jewish people from Egypt. The word reappears in the blessing in the evening liturgy, teaching that it is God, Godself -- or God, Personally -- Who will rule over us and over all God has made, always and forever.

The thought is an important one: God's kingship is not remote. God is not an impersonal Force somewhere out beyond everything. God is not just the Power, the Energy, of the universe. Rather, when we recite this blessing, we affirm that God's kingship is personal, physically manifest among us; that God, personally, is involved in the lives of all that God has created. A good motif on which to enter the evening Amida.

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On the Fear of God [51]

 Fear of God is an ongoing attitude; it is not a momentary emotion. It is a biblical and rabbinic virtue. [52]

Fear of God is, first of all, fear of punishment. We experience this when we have done something we know deep inside ourselves is morally wrong. Everyone sins; that is, every person commits acts that are seriously wrong. Such acts have real social consequences. They disrupt our careers, destroy our human relationships, and undermine our self-image. They also desecrate the Name of God, casting a shadow over God and our service to God. We fear retribution for such acts. This fear is called yir'at ha-´onesh , "the fear of punishment."

When we sin, however, we are also seized by anxiety. We know that we have been untrue to our inner calling, that we have violated our highest vision of ourselves. When we sin, we know deep down inside that such acts are incompatible with the presence of God in our lives; they are "the other impulse" in us seeking expression. We become frightened by the sense that some ugly truth in us has already partially surfaced and we fear that it will permanently alienate us from the deeper truth of the God's presence. Put another way: we fear that, because of our sins, God will desert us; that God will allow our sinfulness so to alienate us from God that we will stay psychologically, morally, and existentially lost. Such fear is called yir'ah tata'ah, "lower fear."

Our fear of God, however, is mitigated by two factors, otherwise we would be terrorized into compulsive pacification of a tyrannical deity. First, we know that we have certain merits. Even in our most sinful moments, we remember that we have performed acts of loyalty and dedication to God and we have confidence that these deeds will mitigate God's judgement of us. We know, too, that we have a continuing commitment to God's presence and to the work God has asked us to do. In spite of our stumbling, we affirm this commitment and we trust the future it implies. We are as a ship that has gone off course but which will right itself by its own natural force when the storm has passed. This confidence in the deeper patterns of our being comforts us and enables us to live with our fear of God.

We also know from Scripture, the tradition, and our own experience of God that God is fair, indeed kind and loving. We, therefore, have faith that God will see our sinfulness as a sidestep, a temporary digression from the more basic pattern of our faithfulness. We trust that God will understand. Even those sins within us which are compulsive, which repeat themselves without our being able to stop or eradicate them, we believe God will look upon with a compassionate eye. God, too, knows anger, frustration, and fear for God's creatures. God too "sins"; that is, God strays from the path of loving justice which is God's usual way. Because of this, God is compassionate. This knowledge, too, helps us live with our fear of God.

However, we must be careful not to let the mitigating factors so encompass the fear that the fear ceases to be fear and becomes an excuse for our own weakness. We must not let weakness justify our inadequacies.

Fear of God has another sense. It is a respect for the authority residual in the sacred tradition, in its scriptures, its rituals, its institutions, and in the ultimate Authority that lies behind religion. One may never idolize institutions, not even Scripture. But the authority of God is not detached from the concrete; it flows into the human-made. This, too, is yir'ah tata'ah, "lower fear."

Fear of God has, also, a fourth sense. It is a response to the awe one feels in the presence of the holy and the transcendent. We all experience God's present otherness and we all respond to it with a sense of our own inadequacy. Happiness requires that we hold ourselves open to this Presence and to the feelings of radical amazement, awe, unworthiness, and fear that the awareness of God calls forth. Such fear is called yir'ah ´ila'ah , "upper fear."

The liturgy puts it well: "One should always be God-fearing, in secret and in public." [53]

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 On Truth

 There are three kinds of truth (Hebrew, 'emet ).

First, there is intellectual truth. The world is not a figment of our imagination; it exists outside of us. Our perceptions and our deepest desires cannot change the world as it is. We learn the truths about the external world from physics, math, and the natural and social sciences. Even if these truths are subject to wide interpretation, we assume that there is an intellectual truth somewhere outside of us. We have faith that it exists and that it can be known. Intellectual truth is generated when what we know corresponds to the world which is external to us.

The liturgy puts this well: "One should admit the truth and speak truth in one's heart." [54] To "admit the truth," in this sense, is to recognize that there is an external reality, and to acknowlege its truthfulness even when it contradicts some of our dearly held beliefs about reality. This prayer is a call to intellectual integrity. We must mean what we say, and we must say what we mean. We must not say what we do not mean; that is not "admitting the truth and speaking it in one's heart."

There is another kind of truth which is knowledge about the external word which we cannot prove but which we accept as true. We learn these truths largely from history, the arts, and the humanities. They deal with love, beauty, goodness, and with their opposites, too. Such truths also come to us from the tradition: God's revelation on Sinai, God's redemption of the Jews from Egypt, and God's future redemption of God's people in the days of the messiah. These are truths, also external to us, where trust, loyalty, and insight count as much as externally verifiable facts. This is experiential truth.

Here, too, the liturgy puts it well: "It is true, stable, correct, enduring, and honest; [it is] faithful, beloved, precious, enchanting, and pleasing; [it is] awesome and powerful; [it is] set in form and accepted. This word is good and beautiful for us forever and ever.... for our ancestors, for us, for our children, for our descendents, and for all the generations of the seed of Israel, Your servant." [55]

Finally truth, esepcially in its form as "the truth," (Hebrew, ha-'emet ), means "the ultimate truth" or "mortality." Thus, the blessing upon witnessing a death or tearing one's garment at a funeral is: "Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, the Judge of the truth." [56] When we say this blessing, we acknowledge that God alone is the Judge of mortality, the ultimate Arbiter of life and death. To "admit the truth and speak it in one's heart," in this sense, is to admit our own mortality. It is to recognize that our lives and deeds are like expelled breath in the presence of the ultimate truth. This is existential truth.

The full text of the prayer taken from introductory service reads: "One should always be God-fearing, in secret and in public. One should admit the truth and speak truth in one's heart. And, on rising in the morning, one should say, 'Master of the worlds. It is not on [the basis of] our righteous deeds that we cast our entreaties before You, but on [the basis of] Your great mercies. What are we? What are our lives? What are our acts of kindness? What are our righteous deeds? What are our acts of salvation?'" This prayer teaches that one should fear God with the fear of punishment and with lower and upper fear; that one should admit the intellectual and experiential truths of the reality of the world in which we live; and that one should recognize the ultimate truth of our own mortality. It also teaches that one should do this always -- not sometimes but always -- in the privacy of our own minds and hearts, as well as publicly.

A big thought to meditate on every day: Do I know and acknowledge the intellectual, experiential, and existential truths within which I live? Do I really admit those truths that I don't want to know -- about myself, my family, and my aspirations in life? Sometimes I say certain truths publicly, but do I let them into my heart, do I really believe them? And, vice versa, sometimes I admit truths privately, but do I say them outloud, publicly? Finally, do I confront my own mortality, not in some abstract way but in terms of what such an admission might mean for my life, today?

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On Sin [57]

There are two moments in Jewish understanding in which the fate of the whole world hung in the balance. The first was after the sin of the golden calf: Moses went up on Mt. Sinai to seek forgiveness and God came down and taught him the proper prayer to say (the original "Lord's Prayer," so to speak). The full text reads as follows: "God came down in a cloud. H/he stood with H/him there. H/he called in the Name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and H/he called out: 'Lord, Lord -- God, Who loves compassionately and cherishes, Who is patient and overflows with lovingkindness and truth. He stores up lovingkindness for the thousands of generations. He forgives ´avon, pesha´, ve-hata'ah. He cleanses'" (Ex. 34:5-7). [58]

The second moment was during the annual atoning for the sins of the people and the sanctuary. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest went into the sanctuary, performed the daily sacrifices and then, over specially designated animals, he recited the confession of sins three times: once for himself and his household, once for the priests, and once for the people of Israel. The blood of two of these sacrificial animals was used to purify the sanctuary while the third animal, the goat upon whose head the sins of the people had been confessed, was sent to the desert and killed (the original "scapegoat"; Lev. 16). The text of the high priest's confessions is not given in the Bible but a disagreement about it is recorded in the Talmud (Yoma 36b) as follows:

How did he confess? [He said], " ´aviti, pasha´ti, ve-hata'ti " [over his animal and] over the scapegoat, as it says, "He shall confess over it all the ´avonot of the Israelites and all their pesha´im, even unto all their hata'ot" (Lev. 16:21). Similarly, Moses prayed, "He forgives ´avon, pesha´, ve-hata'ah" (Ex. 34:7). This is the opinion of Rabbi Me'ir. But the sages say: ´avonot are purposeful sins as it says ...; pesha´im are rebellious sins as it says ...; and hata'ot are inadvertent sins as it says.... [They add:] Since [according to Rabbi Me'ir] the high priest confessed the purposeful and rebellious sins [first], how can he then confess the inadvertent sins, [the latter, being much less serious, belong logically first]?! Rather, thus would the high priest recite confession: " hata'ti, ´aviti, pasha´ti , I/we have committed inadvertent sins, I/we have committed purposeful sins, and I/we have committed rebellious sins."

Two issues are at stake here: the meaning of the three terms, and the conflict between a Scriptural and a logical sequence for the sins within the actual text of the confession of the high priest. On the matter of the sequence, Scripture favors ´avon, pesha´, hata'ah (Ex. 34:7 and Lev. 16:21) while the rabbis favor the logical sequence, hata'ah, ´avon, pesha´ -- inadvertent, purposeful, and rebellious sins. The Talmud resolves this question in favor of logic, not Scripture, and it is that usage that was incorporated into the liturgy of the sacrificial service on Yom Kippur and which is still present in the conceptual substratum of one of the two recurring public confessions recited every Yom Kippur.

On the matter of the meaning of the terms, the typology of the rabbis prevailed again, the respective meanings being: hata'ah (alternate form, hata't ) = inadvertent sin, ´avon = intentional sin, and pesha´ = rebellious sin.

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On Forgiveness [59]

 There are three types of forgiveness.

In a civil contract, one party incurs a debt to, or obligation toward, or claim against another. In such a situation, the creditor can forgo the debt, waive the obligation, or relinquish the claim. The creditor can do this for no reason at all though, usually, the creditor has some grounds for being willing to forgo the debt. Similarly in the matter of sin. When one sins against another, one incurs an obligation to right the wrong one has committed. This is a debt toward the offended party borne by the offender. The more serious the wrong, the more serious the obligation to set it straight. In rabbinic thought, only the offending party can set the wrong aright and only the offended party can forgo the debt of the sin. This means that, if I have offend someone, it is my responsibility to do whatever it takes to set matters aright and, conversely, if someone has offended me, it is my responsibility to allow the offender to do teshuva, that is, to correct the wrong done to me. Teshuva is part of the structure of God's creation; hence, the sinner is obligated to do teshuva and the offended person is obligated to permit teshuva by the offender.

The most basic kind of forgiveness, then, is "forgoing the other's indebtedness" (Hebrew, mehila). If the offender has done teshuva by ceasing the offending activity, by making restitution where possible, by feeling remorse, by actually asking forgiveness of the offended person, and finally by confession before God; and, if she or he is sincere in his or her repentance, then and only then, the offended person should offer mehila; that is, the offended person should forgo the debt of the offender, relinquish her or his claim against the offender. This is not a reconciliation of heart or an embracing of the offender; it is simply reaching the conclusion that the offender no longers owes me anything for whatever it was that he or she did. Mehila is like a pardon granted to a criminal by the modern state. The crime remains; only the debt is forgiven.

The tradition, however, is quite clear that the offended person is not obliged to offer mehila if the offender is not sincere in his or her repentance and has not taken concrete steps to correct the wrong done. Maimonides is decisive on this subject: "The offended person is prohibited from being cruel in not offering mehila, for this is not the way of the seed of Israel. Rather, if the offender has [resolved all material claims and has] asked and begged for forgiveness once, even twice, and if the offended person knows that the other has done repentance for sin and feels remorse for what was done, the offended person should offer the sinner mehila." [60] Mehila is expected of the offended person but only if the sinner is actually repentant. Thus, a woman who has been battered by her husband, or abused by her father, is not obliged to grant such a person mehila unless he has, first, desisted from all abusive activity; second, reformed his character through analysis of sin, remorse, restitution, and confession; and third, actually asked for forgiveness several times. Only then, after ascertaining that he is sincere in his repentance, would a woman in such a situation be morally bound, though not legally obligated, to offer the offender mehila.

The principle that mehila ought to be granted only if deserved is the great Jewish "No" to easy forgiveness. It is core to the Jewish view of forgiveness, just as desisting from sin is core to the Jewish view of repentance. Without good grounds, the offended person should not forgo the indebtedness of the sinner; otherwise, the sinner may never truly repent and evil will be perpetuated. And, conversely, if there are good grounds to waive the debt or relinquish the claim, the offended person is morally bound to do so. This is the great Jewish "Yes" to the possibility of repentance for every sinner.

The second kind of forgiveness is "forgiveness" (Hebrew, seliha). It is an act of the heart. It is reaching a deeper understanding of the sinner. It is achieving an empathy for the troubledness of the other. Seliha, too, is not a reconciliation or an embracing of the offender; it is simply reaching the conclusion that the offender, too, is human, frail, and deserving of sympathy. It is closer to an act of mercy than to an act of grace. A woman abused by a man may never reach this level of forgiveness; she is not obliged, nor is it morally necessary for her, to do so though it is certainly desirable.

The third kind of forgiveness is "atonement" (Hebrew, kappara) or "purification" (Hebrew, tahora). This is a total wiping away of all sinfulness. It is an existential cleansing. Kappara is the ultimate form of forgiveness, but it is only granted by God. No human can "atone" the sin of another; no human can "purify" the spiritual pollution of another.

When we ask God for forgiveness, we ask for all three types: "God of forgiveness. Forgive us. Forgo our debts. Grant us atonement." [61]

The liturgy is not uniform or even completely clear in describing which types of sins go with which types of forgiveness. I would suggest that, for inadvertent sins ( hata'a), we ask forgiveness ( seliha); for purposeful sins ( ´avon), we ask forgoing of the debt they incur ( mehila); and for rebellious sins ( pesha´), we ask atonement ( kappara).

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"Praying Next to a Survivor" [62]
We recited confession
I was astounded
What was he confessing, and why?
Who was asking forgiveness from whom?
We recited the penitential prayers
I saw
the shadow that crossed his face
memories welling up from the depths.
"Therefore, put fear of You into all Your creatures" --
an anger hidden in his body
Why were they not afraid?
Why did He not put fear into them?
We recited the Shma
I was ashamed
Who am I to recite the Shma next to him?
What is my faith next to his?
"Our Father, our King" --
he has the advantage
Job, faithful servant
'How horrible are the terrible deeds You have set aside for those who fear You'
'An eye other than Yours has seen, O God.'
"Act for the sake of suckling infants who have not sinned" --
Were they my children?
Woe unto the eyes that saw such things.
I do not want to see; I cannot
He too does not want to see, but he is compelled
and I am compelled in his compulsion
My son ...
My daughter...
"If as children, if as servants" --
Lord, we really and truly only wanted to be good children, loyal servants
Even now,
"We are Your children, and You are our Father"
"We are Your servants, and You are our King"
Have mercy on us
Have pity
Heal us, and we shall be healed.
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 Rabbi David toured the exhibit of Judaica at the annual meeting of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. The exhibit was very rich with Torah crowns, mezuzahs, menorahs, Sabbath candlesticks, and jewlery with Jewish themes, as well as pictures, prints, and paintings with all manner of Jewish motifs. There were also architectural designs for synagogues, pews, holy arks, and even Torah scrolls, not to speak of row upon row of books dealing with Jewish tradition.

Rabbi David was impressed. He turned to the woman next to him and asked, "Tell me, was this beautiful exhibit open yesterday, on Shabbat?"

"Yes, certainly," she replied.

"And people were buying Torah crowns and mezuzahs on the holy Sabbath for use in their synagogues?"

"Of course."

"Master of the universe," exclaimed Rabbi David, "see how Your children love You. These wonderful souls could just as easily be in stores and shops buying and selling even though it is the holy Sabbath. Yet they come together of their own free will, on the holy day of the Shabbat, to build communities. And, in their zeal, they even purchase crowns to adorn Your holy Torah as it is carried around the synagogue. 'Who is like unto Your people, Israel; a nation unique in world!'"

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[*] This is a chapter of a forthcoming book, Drop in on God. Details on the book will be posted as soon as available.

[1] For the discussion of the nusah ha-tefilla, see chapter 2, especially the chart of the liturgy. The sections commented upon are listed according to their occurrence in the order of prayer.

[2] Hebrew: Adon ´uzeinu. Tsur misgabeinu. Magen yish´einu. Misgav ba´adeinu. / Elohei ´olam. Malkeinu. Tsur Ya´akov. Magen yish´einu. / Tsur hayyeinu. Magen yish´einu. Ata hu le-dor va-dor.

[3] Thus, "rock of our fortress" can be "our rock of fortress" or "our fortress-like rock"; "shield of our salvation" can be "our shield of salvation" or "our saving shield"; and "rock of our lives" can mean "our rock of life" or "our living rock." "Fortress for us" is a different construction.

[4] My construction of the grammar also has the advantage of keeping the term "fortress for us" in the same mode of understanding as the other terms.

[5] In strictly rationalist theology, both sets of terms would only be approximative, neither of them describing God as God really is.

[6] The term "king" also suggest protection but, being a political image and therefore subject to the vagaries of political life, it is a less unequivocal image of protectiveness.

[7] Note the integration of the verse from Psalms directly into the liturgy.

[8] During the public repetition of the Amida, the cantor recites this text but the congregation recites a different version which begins as follows: "We acknowledge You -- that You are Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, the God of all flesh, our Maker, the Maker of the creation."

[9] On this, see below, 000.

[10] This theme is also seen in the congregational form of this prayer (see note 000).

[11] Hebrew: kadosh, kadosh, kadosh, Hashem tseva'ot, melo' khol ha-'arets kevodo / Barukh kevod Hashem mi-mekomo.

[12] In theological parlance, these angelic pronouncements are called "doxologies" meaning 'words of praise' of God recited by the angels on high.

[13] The Hebrew clearly intends "the fulness of the earth is His Glory" and not "the earth is full of His Glory" which is how one of the earliest translations, the Aramaic Targum, understood it.

[14] This verse became a central part of the Christian mass known as the "Sanctus," after the Latin term for 'holy.'

[15] See D. Blumenthal, Understanding Jewish Mysticism, vol. 1 (Ktav Publishing, New York: 1978) 47-92 for a fuller presentation of the vision of Ezekiel and the Merkaba mystical tradition that grew out of it.

[16] The repetitiousness and rhyming of the text is typical of rabbinic Hebrew in general, and of rabbinic liturgy in particular. It creates a "flywheel" effect, drawing the one who recites it ever deeper into the rhythm of the liturgy and evoking a trance-like state. Some of the repetitions, here as elsewhere, are short alphabetic sequences which may indicate that the text at one time contained a full alphabetic sequence, which would have increased the flywheel effect.

[17] See above, 000.

[18] Hebrew: yimlokh Hashem le-´olam Elohayikh Zion le-dor va-dor; halleluya.

[19] See also below, 000.

[20] Note that the Aramaic midrash preserves the permission the angels give to one another to praise God but it interprets each of the occurrences of "holy" differently: once to say that God is holy in the heavens, once to say that God is holy on earth, and once to say that God is holy in time. There are other subtle differences between the original verses and the Aramaic interpretation thereof.

[21] Hebrew: ve-ha'er ´eineinu be-Torahtekha, ve-dabbeq libenu be-mitsvotekha, ve-yahed levaveinu le-'ahava ule-yir'ah et shmekha. Velo neivosh le-´olam va´ed. From the prayer on revelation preceding the Sh'ma..

[22] This metaphor was used by the late Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik when he described God as haunting him as he studied Torah (xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx).

[23] The usual translation "Enlighten our eyes" is not good because, insofar as it means anything, it indicates an intellectual perception, which is not at all what the image conveys.

[24] Hebrew: gomel hasadim tovim. From the first of the three introductory blessings of the Amida.

[24b] Hebrew: melekh `ozer u-moshi`a u-magen. From the first of the three introductory blessings of the Amida.

[25] Hebrew: honneinu mei-´itka de´a, bina, ve-haskeil. From the first petitionary prayer of the Amida.

[26] Hebrew: ve-hahazireinu be-teshuva sheleima lefanekha. From the second petitionary prayer of the Amida.

[27] Maimonides, Code of Law, "Laws of Repentance," 2:1. He calls this teshuva gemura (complete repentance) while the text of the Amida calls this teshuva sheleima (full repentance). I think they mean the same thing but have differentiated them in the translation.

[28] Maimonides, writing in the twelfth century, phrased this for men only. I presume he meant to include women too.

[29] For the brief insert into this prayer which turns it into a prayer of protest, see Facing, 296-97 for the text and 249-67 for the theology that supports such an insert, cited in chapter 6.

[30] Hebrew: u-varekh shenateinu ka-shanim ha-tovot. From the sixth petitionary prayer of the Amida.

[31] Hebrew: ve-tsadkeinu ba-mishpat. From the eighth petitionary prayer of the Amida.

[32] Hebrew: sakhar tov. From the tenth petitionary prayer of the Amida.

[32b] Hebrew: `al ha-tsaddikim ... ve-`al hayyalei tsva hagana le-yisrael.

[33] Hebrew: nodeh lekha ... ´al nissekha shebe-khol yom ´imanu, ve-´al nifl'otekha ve-tovotekha shebe-khol ´et, ´erev, va-voker, ve-tsahorayim. From the first of the last three prayers of the Amida.

[34] For modim in its first sense of confession of faith, see above, 000.

[34b] Hebrew, ha-tov ... ha-merahem. From the Modim prayer.

[35] Hebrew: sim shalom ... ´aleinu ve-´al kol Yisrael ´amekha. From the last prayer of the Amida.

[36] The liturgy for Minha and Ma´ariv is shorter: "May You grant abundant peace on Your people, Israel, forever for You are the King, Master of all peace. May it be ... Blessed ... His people Israel with peace."

[37] The Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist liturgies, unhappy with the nationalist assumption of this prayer, have changed the text. Thus, the Conservative prayerbook reads: "xxxxxxxxx." The Reconstructionist prayerbook reads: "xxxxxxxxxx." And the Reform prayerbook reads: "xxxxxxxxxxxxxx."

[38] Hebrew: mitratseh be-rahamim u-mitpayeis be-tahanunim, hitratseh ve-hitpayeis le-dor ´ani ki 'ein ´ozeir. From the Tahanun.

[39] This sentence is taken from the litany Avinu Malkenu, "Our Father, our King," which is added to Tahanun on fast days and during the Ten Days of Repentance. For the suggested line of protest prayer that comes between these two lines, see Facing, 296-97. For the other protest inserts into Avinu Malkenu, see Facing, 290-95.

[40] Hebrew: va-'anahnu lo' neda´ mah na´aseh, ki ´alekha ´eineinu. From the Tahanun.

[41] Hebrew: 'eilekha and not ´alekha, i.e., with an aleph and not an ayin.

[42] Hebrew of the closing phrase: lema´an lo' niga´ la-riq ve-lo' neileid la-behala.

[43] Also known by its first two words: u-va' le-Zion. For more on the Kedusha, see above, 000.

[44] Hebrew: 'asher be-yadkha nafshot ha-hayyim veha-meitim, 'asher be-yado nefesh kol hay ve-ruah kol besar 'ish. Be-yadkha 'afkid ruhi, padita 'oti, Hashem, El 'emet.

[45] On the connection of death and truth, see below.

[46] Simcha P. Raphael, Jewish Views on the Afterlife (Jason Aronson, Northvale, NJ: 1994) is a good place to begin for a survey of these teachings.

[47] Talmud, xxxxxxxxxx, may be the earliest Jewish source for this line of thinking.

[48] The concept of "fate" or "destiny" is no clearer than the concept of the world to come. The former may seem clearer because it is unencombered by certain religious doctrines but, since the religious view is itself very complex even contradictory, it is best to take it in its simplest form: that there exists a life after death and that we know very little, if anything, about that existence. In this form, fate and destiny are no clearer; indeed, since they are deliberately devoid of any concept of justice, or spiritual bliss, or caring, they are less insightful concepts.

[49] Hebrew: ha-melekh bi-khvodo tamid yimlokh ´aleinu le-´olam va´ed ve-´al kol ma´asav . Taken from the conclusion of the last blessing before the Amida of the evening service.

[50] Hebrew: bi-khvodo. There is a common variant for the Haggada text that reads: bi-khvodo uve-´atsmo, "in His Glory and in His Himself-ness" which was read by the medieval philosophers as, "in His physical manifestation and in His essence."

[51] Adapted from Facing, 70-73.

[52] In religious discourse, we distinguish between emotions and passions (which are intense emotions) on the one hand, and virtues, commitments, affections (in its technical sense), and onging attitudes on the other. The former are passing, temporary, even if intense; the latter are sustained, ongoing. The former are not always good or positive; the latter are standards of human moral living.

[53] Hebrew, le-´olam yehei adam y'rei shamayim ba-seiter uva-galui. From the introductory morning prayers.

[54] Hebrew, u-modeh ´al ha-'emet ve-doveir 'emet be-levavo. From the introductory morning prayers.

[55] Hebrew, ve-'emet, ve-yatsiv, ve-nakhon, ve-kayyam, ve-yashar; ve-ne'eman, ve-'ahuv, ve-haviv, ve-nehmad, ve-na´im; ve-nora', ve-'adir; u-metukan, u-mekubal. Ve-tov ve-yafeh ha-davar ha-zeh ´aleinu le-´olam va´ed.... ´al 'avoteinu, ve-´aleinu, ve-´al baneinu, ve-´al doroteinu, ve-´al kol dorot zera´ Yisrael ´avadekha. From the paragraph just after the Sh'ma.

[56] Hebrew, dayyan ha-'emet.

[57] Adapted from Facing, 139-40.

[58] The pronouns of the Exodus text allow either God or Moses as the antecedent. The rabbis, reading the subject as God, said that God came down, wrapped Godself in a prayershawl (Hebrew, talit ), sat down, and taught Moses this prayer (Exodus Rabba, xx:xx).

[59] Adapted from "Repentance and Forgiveness," Cross Currents (Spring 1998) 78-80; also available on my website.

[60] Maimonides, Code of Law, "Hilkhot Hovel u-Mazzik," 5:10.

[61] Hebrew, 'Eloha selihot: s'lah lanu, m'hal lanu, kapper lanu. From the ´Al Het form of the confession on Yom Kippur.

[62] Adapted from "I Prayed Next to a Survivor," (poem, Hebrew & English), Emory Studies on the Holocaust, vol. 2 (Emory University, Atlanta, GA: 1988) ii-iii; English reprinted in Peace Prayers, ed. C. Leadingham, et al. (Harper & Row, San Francisco: 1992) 57-8. Dedicated to Alex Gross, a survivor and friend, this poem was written after a Yom Kippur spent next to Alex . It is a commentary (midrash) on lines from the Yom Kippur liturgy. The lines which begin "How horrible" and "An eye" are a reversing of the meaning of Ps. 31:20 and Is. 64:3 respectively.

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