In some communities it is customary to spend a few minutes of learning in memory of the person for whom shloshim is being observed. This is most appropriate in the case of my Mom, Lil Krausman (Z.L.) who always enjoyed an opportunity to learn something new about Judaism. Today I thought I would share one of my favorite prayers with you as the notions embodied in the prayer very much describe the type of person my mom was and some of the values for which she stood.
This prayer is not one that is commonly said, in fact at no time is it ever read aloud during the service and most people in attendance at the time it is found in the service, have no idea that it is being recited at that time. The prayer we are going to look at is part of Tachanun a section of personal petitions and supplications that are inserted in the weekday morning and afternoon service following the Amidah. So intense is the recitation of Tachanun that we rest our foreheads on our arms and say part of the Tachanun in a hunched posture. Our sages felt that at a time in the service when we are most focused on the process of prayer and our relationship with the Almighty –we actually are to feel as though we are having a personal audience with God during the Amidah, we should expand this intense period of concentrated prayer ad introspection by adding Tachanun. On Monday and Thursday mornings we extend the Tachanun with additional supplications. One such supplication is the text I wish to focus on today.
This inspirational prayer is attributed to Rav Amram Gaon, the 9th Century scholar and head of the famed Babylonian rabbinic academy of Sura. As you may know, after the destruction of the Temple and the subsequent exile in the year 70 c.e., Babylonia was the main center of Jewish law and culture – most of what we know of as Judaism is based on the Babylonian Talmud derived and expanded upon at the great Babylonian Academies of Jewish Scholarship. Rav Amram Ben Sheshna became the Gaon or head of the Great Academy of Sura in the middle of the 9th Century. His responsa on numerous topics of Jewish law were valued by Jewish Communities all over the world. His most famous work by far however, is the Siddur of Rav Amram, which came about as a result of a query from the Jews of Spain. Rav Amram compiled a cycle of prayers for the entire year including extensive instructions and essays on the laws of Prayer. This was in fact the first known prayer book and formed the basis of latter works for communities from Spain to Germany, influencing such famous scholars as Saadia Gaon of Span and, the famous biblical commentator Rashi. Ironically although originally intend for the Jews of Spain, the Siddur of Rav Amram had much more influence on the formation of the Ashkenazi prayer book than most Sephardic prayer books.
May it be Your will, Adonai our God and God of our ancestors, that You grant us a good heart and a generous spirit, humility and modesty, and good companions. May Your name not be profaned through us. May we not become a source of gossip or derision. May our future not end in failure nor our hopes languish in despair. May we not be dependent upon the gifts of others for such gifts are meager and the embarrassment they cause is great. Grant us a share in Your Torah with all who do Your will. Save us from all harsh decrees; with Your abundant love help Your messiah and Your people. Avinu Malkenu, turn us not away from You empty-handed. Answer our prayers, not for our sake, but to honor Your name by Your love and Your faithfulness. Be gracious to a people who declare that You are One. Affirming twice each day, with love: ”Hear, o Israel: Adonai is our God, Adonai alone.”
This eloquent prayer manages to out line what really counts in life an to define what is truly important for an individual who wishes to be considered a true mentch, a decent, dependable, honest human being. These wonderful qualities were so clearly found in my mom. Let’s look at some of the elements of Saadia’s petition.
Lev Tov, a good heart in Yiddish we would consider this section to describe a Gutte Neshama; a good soul. The description continues to add the attributes of a generous spirit, humility and modesty. This description truly encapsulated my mother.
Haver Tov, a good friend. One learns that far more valuable than all the riches or assets in the universe is having good friends. In times of need, in times of joy, when you really need someone to trust in or depend apon, you always thank God for a good friend. This is certainly the case it takes one to know one, in order to have good friends you have to be one your self, my Mom was always a steadfast, devoted friend.
May we not be dependant on the gifts of others. Although there is noting wrong with accepting help when you need it, Judaism teaches that even the poorest of individuals must give Tzedakah, charity. This helps to mitigate the indignity and possible embarrassment of having to rely on the assistance of others. My mom was adamant on this issue, even when she was almost entirely incapacitated, she did her best not to rely on others for help.
Grant us a share in Torah with all who do your will. Being part of a community of people who share the values described in the Torah and a sincere desire to serve God is indeed a great blessing. The support, validation, camaraderie and sense of well being derived from such a community is invaluable. Many of those who steadfastly maintain this Minyan at Temple Sinai fall into this category. From the Shul to Sisterhood to Hadassah, my mother was not only actively involved but took on many leadership roles as well.
A people who declare that You are One. Affirming twice each day, with love: ”Hear, o Israel: Adonai is our God, Adonai alone. ”The bottom line of Rav Amram’s stirring prayer is no matter what happens, we can maintain a loving relationship with God. We are the ones whom God has chosen and we declare that love through the recitation of the Shema twice each day. As long as we are able to do so, to say the Shema and profess our devotion to God, we will derive comfort, support and strength in the knowledge that God is on our side. Through out my mother’s horrible ordeal she endured pain, isolation, humiliation, fear and suffering yet she never lost her faith.
May we all be granted what we sincerely seek through the beautiful, heartfelt prayer of Rav Amram Gaon. May the memory of my mom, Liba bat Yitzchak v’pessel, serve as a source of blessing and inspiration to us all. Amen