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.
The recitation of the Shema, as I have mentioned in the past, is surrounded by a series of mandated blessings. Each morning we introduce the “Shema” section of the prayer service with a Blessing acknowledging God’s power of creation; especially focusing on the creation of light. This blessing of creation is a long blessing, meaning it is both introduced and concluded with the classic formula, “Baruch Atah Adonai, Blessed are you God.” Rabbi Rueven Hammer, author of the definitive commentary on our prayer book, Or Hadash, shows how this meaningful blessing can be divided into five subsections:
1. Yotzer Or (the creator of light) the introduction
2. Ha Meir L’Aretz (who illuminates the world) focusing on creation, especially on heavenly sources of light.
3. El Baruch Gadol Deiah (God of blessing) a poem dealing with creation, concentrating on the sun
4. T’tbarach Tzureinu (Our Blessed Rock) a Kedusha (sanctification) section describing the Holiness of God and the Divine beings that surround God
5. Yotzer ha M’Orot (the Creator of Sources of light) the Hatima (conclusion) summarizing the mighty deeds of God as a source of creation.
It is the on third section, El Baruch Gadol Deiah that I would like to focus today. El Baruch Gadol Deiah is a brief but elegant liturgical poem praising God as a source of light. Beginning with a 22 letter alphabetical acrostic, one stanza for each Hebrew letter, and concluding with a short extra section. On Shabbat, we substitute El Baruch Gadol Deiah with the poem, El Adon A Kol Ha Ma’asim, (God is the master of all that is created).
Dr. Raymond Scheindlin, a brilliant professor and author on the subject of Jewish liturgical poetry, traces the source of El Baruch Gadol Deiah to the post Talmudic period, somewhere around the 4th– 5th Century of the Common Era. During this time, several inspired authors penned many Piyutim (liturgical poems) to enhance and embellish the framework of our prayer service. This creativity, however, is by no means limited to that time period. For centuries, in many communities, poets and scholars have been inspired to write Piyutim. Among the most familiar in our tradition are L’Cha Dodi for Friday evening and U’Nitane Tokeph for the High Holidays.
El Baruch Gadol Deiah contains some beautiful imagery. The opening verse describes God out of infinite understating, fashioning the very rays of the sun into the “good” light that emanates from the heavens. We are also reminded in this poem of the opening passages of Genesis where God is surrounded and praised by the “Heavenly Hosts”, or servants, at the conclusion of the creation process. The poet acknowledges God for creating the sun and the moon – “reflecting God’s Glory” onto us on the earth.
El Baruch Gadol Deiah reminds us that each morning we are given a brand new opportunity to bask in the “Good Light” that radiates from God. Surrounded by the glow of God’s power, we have the possibility to be a partner in the ongoing process of creation. For those of us who take a moment in the morning to reconnect to God’s divine illumination, each day is an opportunity to see a world of possibilities in a new light.
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.
Hazzan Michael Krausman