Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our daily, Shabbat or Holy Day Prayer Service. Often during the course of the service we encounter some real gems that we don’t have time to reflect upon; this will give us an opportunity to select one prayer and take a closer look at it.
As the Hebrew month of Nissan quickly approaches, we all, like it or not, turn our thoughts toward the festival of Pesach. Central to the celebration of Passover is the Seder – the ritual meal that we gather for on the fist two nights of the festival. Based on the biblical commandment to tell our children about the events of the Exodus from Egypt, (Ex.13:8) the Seder is the quintessential experiential Jewish educational program. Naturally, in order to conduct a proper Seder, we need the guidance provided by a special Passover Prayer Book, the Hagadah (lit. telling.)
Not surprisingly there are hundreds of editions of the Hagadah (could all Jews be expected to agree on one text?) The earliest mention of a formalized liturgical ritual for Pesach can be found in the Mishna, a collection of Rabbinic deliberations on the laws of the Torah that were codified by the great sage Rabbi Judah Ha Naisi in 200 c.e. Gotthard Deutsch and Joseph Jacobs writing in the Jewish Encyclopedia note that the Mishna contains some of the sections of the Seder that we still employ today. These include: the Ma Nishtana (four questions), the recitation of the Psalms of the Hallel and R. Gamaliel’s famous admonition, “One who has not said these three words on Passover has not done his duty: ‘Pesach,’ ‘Matzah’ [unleavened bread], and ‘Maror’[bitterherbs].”
Rav Amram Gaon, who headed the Babylonian Academy of Sura between 856-876 CE. is credited with compiling one of the earliest editions of the Hagadah. With the exception of some of the concluding hymns and songs, Amram’s is the closest to the standard Ashkenazi Hagadah that we use today. Naturally, many communities throughout the ages have added texts, songs and hymns that are relevant to their own particular experience and culture.
One of my favorite additions to the Ashkenazi Hagadah is the hymn Ki Lo Naeh– “It is proper to praise Him.” Comprised of eight stanzas, with the title as a refrain after each verse, this song is an alphabetical acrostic; it runs the entire span of the Hebrew alphabet. Noam Zion and David Dishon, authors of the magnificent, highly recommended, Family Participation Haggadah, attribute the authorship of Ki Lo Nae to a German Poet named Jacob. First appearing in the Seder service in the 12th century, this poem is similar in theme to the hymn which generally follows, entitled Adir Hu (He is Mighty). It is possible that originally one hymn was intended for the first Seder and the other for the second Seder. The Feast of Freedom; the Rabbinical Assembly Haggadh, suggests that the notion behind this genre of poetry is that we humans lack the capacity and vocabulary to adequately praise God or to fully comprehend the scope of God’s Divine attributes. Therefore, we heap multiple synonymous expressions of praise – spanning our entire alphabet, in a feeble attempt to describe the Ineffable using our petty, inadequate human language.
There are numerous melodies that exist to Ki Lo Naeh. My favorite tune and the one we sing at our Seder is by the great star of stage, screen and pulpit; Hazzan Moishe Oysher. Here is a recoding of Moishe singing Ki Lo Naeh, this is part of his Passover Seder Album.
While it is certainly fun to sing these delightful melodies and to try to get through the complicated Hebrew texts – especially after eating a huge meal and drinking four cups of wine, I believe they actually serve a higher purpose. We transmit our heritage from one generation to the next in the form of memories. Indeed, the entire Seder ritual is designed to employ all four senses in generating these cherished memories. By making the experience of the Seder fun, meaningful, and enjoyable, we wrap these important elements of our tradition and culture in a package of joyous memories that will help to ensure that they will be retained, protected, cherished and safely transmitted to future generations to come.
I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.