Share a prayer: Techinas (not the Middle Eastern dip)

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.

A pristine white tablecloth decked with the finest of dishes and shinning silverware adorns the dining room table. The iridescent glow of waxy white candles set in two lustrous ancient candlesticks reflects in the eyes of your mother as she waves two strong but gentle hands over the flickering yellow flames. After whispering the traditional blessing, a singular tear rolls down her cheek as she silently recites an age-old private Shabbat prayer.

It is quite likely that the private petition that was just offered comes from a collection of Yiddish Prayers for various occasions known as Techinas .Techinas, from the Hebrew word meaning “supplication”, date back to the early 17th century. They were composed specifically to be offered by women who, in many cases were not given the opportunity to learn the Hebrew Prayers recited by men in the synagogue. Rabbi Julian Sinclair of the Jewish Chronicle.com suggests these prayers stem from Yiddish translations of Tachanun – the selections of supplications that are part of the weekday services.

Spiritually, these personal petitions are connected to biblical women who are credited with the most sincere and selfless supplications in the Bible. Hagar, the alienated concubine of Abraham besought God to protect her son Ishmael after they were cast into the dessert. Similarly, Hannah, in the book of Samuel, is recorded to have offered a tearful, silent supplication to the Holy One asking for a child. Incidentally, both were rewarded for their passionate pleas, Hanna became the mother of Samuel the first of the prophets while Hagar was shown a well which sustained her and her young son Ismael.

Rivka Zakutinsky, a noted author and educator living in Brooklyn NY, is the editor of an excellent new collection of Techinas entitled, Techinas A Voice from The Heart. She relates that while numerous collections of Techinas were published, the earliest known book of Techinas entitled, Techinas U’Bakashos (Supplications and Appeals) was printed in Basel Switzerland in 1609. Zakutinsky also notes that the best known author of Techinas was the elusive Sara Bas Tovim who was born sometime in the later part of the 17th Century. A collection of Techinas referencing the weekday prayers, fast days and the High Holydays entitled Sheker Ha Chen, (Charm is Deceitful), a reference to the Eishet Chayil ( a woman of valor) passage from the book of proverbs which is read by a traditional husband to his wife on Friday eve, is attributed to Sara Bas Tovim. Sara also is credited with a collection of these personal supplications relating to commandments specifically directed to women such as lighting candles, separating challah and attending the Mikvah. This work is called Shalosh She’arim (three gates.)

Shas Teḥine Rav Peninim  published in New York in 1916, is another  popular gathering of Techinas. Like many of the collections of Techinas, it contains Techinas to be recited while “the men are at synagogue,” following child birth, for the welfare of family and, over the kindling of Sabbath candles.

A high tech compilation of Techinas, assembled by The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College can be found onlineTechina Prior to Immersion in the Mikveh, is an excellent example of these.

Techinas are so powerful that even our modern-day siddur includes the Techina, Got Fun Avrum (God of Abraham) a soulful supplication said at the immediately following Havdalah  (separation), the prayer that marks the conclusion of Shabbat. There is tradition which attributes this prayer to the great Hassidic Master, Levi Yizchak of Berdichev.Here is the English translation of this text from Siddur Sim Shalom:

“God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, protect Your people Israel in their need, as the holy beloved Shabbes takes its leave. May the good week come to us with health and life, good fortune and blessing, prosperity and dignity, graciousness and loving-kindness, sustenance and success, with all good blessings and with forgiveness of sin.  Omein.”

Here is the Yiddish Text:

gotfunavrum

Got Fun Avrum is so well know that it became the theme of a popular Yiddish Song in titled Zol Noch Zein Shabbis (May it still be Shabbat) by the great composer and arranger of Jewish Music, Sholom Secunda  Here is a video of this melody sung by the one of the greatest and best known Hazzim, Moishe Oysher. The song also contains the text of the prayer as cited above.

Techinas are a rich, meaningful and potent source for personal prayer.  Rivka Zakutinsky best sums up the power of these sacred Yiddish texts:

“[Techinas are] the voice which women have used to approach God and to Serve Him…For God to be present in our most intimate daily experience –to commune with Him in the most private, unstructured moment, and to know that HE is there and ready to answer – therein lies the Blessing.”

I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at mailto:hazzan@e-hazzan.com or leave a comment below.

Take care,

Hazzan Michael Krausman

Share a Prayer: Praying in the Vernacular

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.
In my last post I extolled the vital importance of praying in Hebrew. While it is true that, “for thousands of years Hebrew prayers, such as those drawn from the book of psalms and others, have resonated in our Jewish DNA providing comfort, compassion and inspiration” there is also room in our liturgical service for prayers written in the vernacular. In fact, codified in our Siddur, are prayers, such as the Kaddish that are written in Aramaic, an ancient language that, a one time, was the lingua franca of our people. Similarly, in some traditions, the standard prayers are interleaved with or translated into Ladino or Judeo Espanol – a language spoken by Jews who stem from locations such as the Balkan countries, parts of the Middle East and sections of Europe such as Spain and Portugal. Similarly, there are wonderful very old and brand new prayers written in English and other modern languages, created to supplement and enrich our services.
Aramaic is an archaic  cousin of Hebrew that stems from the ancient Near East. Texts written in Aramaic such as the biblical books of Ezra and Daniel, have been found dating back to the 5th Century B.C.E.  The Talmud, one of the primary texts of Rabbinic law as well as Biblical Translations and the mystical Kabbalistic text known as the Zohar also written in this ancient language, are still studied in their original form today. In our Siddur, the most significant prayer written in Aramaic, is the Kaddish.
Constructed around an ancient Aramaic translation of a passage from the Biblical book of Daniel, “Y’hei Shmei Rabbah m’vorach l’olam ol’olmei al maya….May His Great Name be blessed for ever and ever in to the world to come,” the Kaddish is one of the best know elements of our liturgy. Ismar Elbogen the great scholar of Jewish Liturgy, notes that the great sages of the early rabbinic period attached deep meaning to this biblical phrase and  invoked it at the mention of the Holy Name. Soon this expression began to be used in the context of a formal expression of faith in God’s eternal Kingdom that was customarily uttered at the end of a rabbinic discourse. Although at first, these expressions were improvised by each orator, the formula eventually became the standardized in the form of the Kaddish.
Elbogen notes that the earliest reference to the Kaddish appearing as part of the synagogue liturgy can be found in a Palestinian source dating back to the seventh century. Phrases like, “L‘eila minkol birchata … beyond all blessings, hymns and praises …,” make the Kaddish an ideal vehicle for expressing the greatness and holiness of God.  Similarly, the passage found in the full Kaddish beginning with, “Tikabel Tzlothon … accept our supplications and petitions …” is most meaningful in the context of the service. In the synagogue, the Kaddish serves to separate various  major and minor sections of the service. Thus we find a Half or “HatziKaddish as well as a full Kaddish. There is also a Kaddish D’Rabbanan or “scholar’s Kaddish” which is recited after a selection from rabbinic literature. The mourner’s Kaddish, which is also included at various points during the service, differs from the full Kaddish in that it omits the section asking that our prayers and supplications be acceptable. It is interesting to note that the last stanza of the Kaddish, Oseh Shalom, a petition for peace, is written in Hebrew.
Brich Shemei – “Blessed is the Name,” a prayer said before the ark when the Torah is removed, is another popular prayer written in Aramaic. Taken from the Kabalistic text known as the Zohar (see above) Brich Shemei praises God as master of the universe and asks for Devine favor in granting our prayers and petitions. Rabbi Reuven Hammer, author of Or Hadash, a Comentary on Siddur Sim Shalom points out that the Kabbalistic Mystics maintained that the gates of heaven were opened whenever the Torah was read so they saw  this is as an opportune moment to seek God’s favor.
The conclusion of Brich Shemei begins with the statement, “ Ana Avda D’Kudsha Brich Hu, I am the servant of the Holy One.” We affirm that we place our hope not in any mortal but only in God and the revelation of the Torah.  Bei Ana Racheitz,  “in God we  trust”  the last part of the prayer, is often sung together by the congregation. Here is a wonderful rendition of the Ana Avda D’Kudsha Brich Hu by master Hazzan Aaron Bensoussan taken from his CD, Joyus Chants, recorded with members of the Israeli Philharmonic.

Brich Shemei  is also an example as a prayer expressed in Ladino by many members of the Sephardi tradition in the form of “Bendicho Su Nombre.”  Ladino, like Yiddish its Ashkenazi counterpart, is enhanced by Hebrew expressions as well as by local phrases and idioms. There is a rich culture of music and poetry written in Judeo Espanol which still can be heard in many countries throughout the world. This is a link to the text of Bendicho Su Nombrei in Ladino and English published by the Eitz Chaim Sephardic Congregation of Indianapolis. Here is a video of this prayer performed by Hazzan Sylvain Elzam.


Ein Keloheinu, an extremely popular hymn sung at the end of the Shabbat morning service, is often sung in Hebrew with an instantaneous translation into Ladino by many Sephardi congregations. The text of this hymn which according to the Machzor Lev Shalem published by the Rabbinical assembly, dates back to the first millennium expounds on three different ways by which we refer to The Holy One; Our God, Our Lord, Our Sovereign and Our Savior. The mantra like repetition of phrases is typical of prayers of mystical origin. This is a setting of Ein Keloheinu sung by a delightful Turkish group called Los Pasharos Sepharadis.

Many Siddurim (prayer books) contain beautiful and inspirational poetry that, following the ancient tradition of the framers of our liturgy, expounds on the themes and motives of our sacred liturgy. Some of the most noteworthy writers and thinkers and poets of the past few generations have works published within  Siddurim  or in individual volumes  of contemporary prayer. Perhaps one of the most sensitive, compassionate, inspirational and enlightened modern American composers of Jewish Prayer is Rabbi Naomi Levy. One of the first women to be ordained as a Conservative Rabbi, Naomi Levy has written several books including a volume of English  prayers for various occasions called Talking to God .  Here is a heart rending prayer she wrote in response to  the tragedy of 9/11.

The Hebrew core of our traditional liturgy has sustained us throughout history, and around the globe. Yet in each generation, gifted, inspired poets have given voice to their connection with God and the liturgy through the medium of their native tongue. Whether through translating and interpreting the traditional text or by composing new elements of liturgy that speak to their contemporaries, these talented artists have contributed to the ever evolving and growing opus of our sacred liturgy; providing for the worshipper new pathways on which to seek a closer relationship with the Divine.
I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at mailto:hazzan@e-hazzan.comor leave a comment below.

Take care,

Hazzan Michael Krausman

Share a Prayer: Have a Cup of Coffee With God

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.

Perhaps the most perplexing problem affecting synagogue attendance today is lack of prayer literacy. Congregants who have great expertise in their professional field or who can attend a sports event and know all the plays and players feel uncomfortable in an environment where they are don’t understand the language and have no real clue what is taking place. Simply put, people who are used to being well-informed and confident tend to avoid situations where they may feel lost or unconnected.  Some Synagogues have responded to this challenge by seeking the lowest common denominator; either by substituting English readings for the Hebrew prayers or by greatly simplifying the service. Unfortunately, the casualty in this process of simplification is often the prayer service itself. For thousands of years Hebrew prayers, such as those drawn from the book of psalms and others, have resonated in our Jewish DNA; providing comfort, compassion and inspiration. Hebrew language prayer has sustained us not only through generations but across geographical boundaries as well.  Of course, the traditional Nusach – the prescribed musical language of prayer, has also provided a formidable chain that binds generation to generation and community to community.

The question becomes, then, how to tackle the problem of prayer literacy while retaining the quality and meaningfulness of the service. Instead of altering the prayer service, it may be more effective to attempt to change the prayer participant. While education maybe the most prudent approach, the real challenge is to avoid “preaching to the Choir.” That is to reach out to those who do not regularly attend the service and to convince them that it is safe and indeed beneficial, to come in to the Synagogue. It is to that end that the Have a Cup of Coffee with God service  was instituted.

Originally developed as a Learner’s Service for Camp Ramah Darom family camp in Georgia, the Have a Cup of Coffee with God Service is about to promoted to the main service for our congregation in Omaha Nebraska for a series of Shabbatot. At Camp Ramah, the response to this approach was so positive that what began as a Shabbat only experience became a daily occurrence. It is very exciting to see the effect this will have on a mainstream congregation in Omaha NE.

At is core, the “Have a Cup of Coffee with God” service has a unique, homemade siddur called L’Havin U’lhaskeil. (click here for sample page from this Siddur) Focusing on the salient sections of the prayer service, this siddur features transliteration, translation and commentary in addition to the Hebrew text. The room is set in a large circle for the service so that there is no front or back row and no Bema or stage to separate the participants from the clergy. During the Cup of Coffee Service, coffee etc. and cookies are available and all encouraged to enjoy the refreshments throughout the morning. As we progress through the liturgy, the basic meaning of many of the  prayers is explained and all are invited to ask questions or offer an opinion or explanation of their own at any time. In addition any actions associated with the prayer, from bending and bowing or gathering Tzitizit from the corners of the Tallit are clarified. The Cup of Coffee Service is enhanced by physical demonstrations such as using a tower of plastic blocks to illustrate the structure of the service or by combining the movements associated with praying into a two-minute aerobics class. In the past, augmenting the liturgy with Yoga, Tai Chi or meditation has added to the impact and spirituality of the Cup of Coffee service while at the same time opening congregants to the possibility of combining alternative approaches within the framework of the traditional service. The Have a Cup of Coffee with God Service ends with the Torah service so that, when offered as an alternative service, all can join together for Torah Reading and Musaph and conclude the prayers as one congregation.

The response to this approach to prayer has been extremely encouraging. When conducted on a monthly basis in my former congregation, those who were initially reluctant to attend a standard service attended the Cup of Coffee Service regularly. Of more importance, many who attended the Cup of Coffee service began to feel more comfortable in the standard service and increased the frequency of their attendance and the level of their participation. Transforming this service from an alternative service to the sole Shabbat Morning is a new evolution of this idea which is only possible with the encouragement and participation of our Rabbi, Steven Abraham. Surely all will benefit from the sharing of ideas, feelings and knowledge while maintaining our usual  sense of warmth and of unity on Shabbat morning.

Empowering members of our community to feel ownership in their liturgical heritage is key to increasing synagogue attendance and ensuring the future of the Jewish prayer service. Services such as Have a Cup of Coffee with God give the individuals who are part of our community the opportunity to gain knowledge about the service in a comfortable, non-judgmental, relaxed atmosphere. By offering the Have a Cup of Coffee with God service we provide the community the opportunity to not only examine the prayers in a new light but also to draw strength and understanding from one another in the context of a meaningful liturgical experience.

I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at hazzan@e-hazzan.com or leave a comment below.

Take care,

Hazzan Michael KrausmanImage

Share a Prayer: Sim Shalom; a Prayer for Peace

After several months of hiatus, I am pleased to submit this new edition of “Share a Prayer.” In the time since my last post, both personally and professionally,  I have experienced the gamut of feelings – from disappointment to despair, to discomfort to apprehension to anticipation to appreciation. I have, in the process, made a somewhat bumpy journey from Hollywood FL to Omaha NE in order to join my wonderful new congregational family at Beth El Synagogue. Now that things are starting to “normalize,” I hope to continue to post on my E-Hazzan blog with some regularity. So, that having been said, I will begin as I did in the beginning:  

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.

Perhaps more so than any other supplication, prayers for peace remain foremost in the hearts of those who seek to communicate with their creator. Not only does the core of every formal prayer service contain prayers for peace, but even the Kaddish, an Aramaic elegy that is often recited by mourners, concludes with requests for peace in both Aramaic and Hebrew. In fact, as Dr. Joseph Lowin, noted author and scholar points out in his book of insights into Hebrew language, Hebrewspeak, “Peace is such a fundamental value in Jewish Culture that the capital of the Jews, Jerusalem [city of Peace] is named for peace.”

It is noteworthy that the Hebrew word for peace, “Shalom” is derived from the same root as the word “Shalem” or “complete.” Peace, then, according to the Jewish understanding, is much more than the absence of war, strife or conflict. Shalom conveys a notion of completeness or wholeness; a state in which there is no sense of yearning for that which is missing.

At the core of every formal prayer service is the Amida, a series of 7-19 blessings. The last blessing of every form of the Amida, weekday, Sabbath or Holy day, is always, the prayer for peace. In the Morning and Additional (Musaph) services the prayer for peace is preceded by the Three Part Priestley Benediction or Birkat Kohanim: “May Adonai bless you, and keep you; May Adonai make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. May Adonai lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” This blessing, originally recited in Biblical times by Aaron the high priest, (Numbers 6:24-26) began to be offered as part of the liturgy during the time of the Holy Temple of Jerusalem. In some communities it is customary to have the Kohanim, the descendants of Aaron the High Priest, formally bless the congregation using the ancient Biblical text during morning services in the context of the public repetition of the Amida. While Sephardi rites have the priests offer the Formal Blessing on a daily basis, the Askenazi rite reserves the Formal Priestly Blessing for the Musaph (additional) service of the Pilgrimage Festivals and the High Holidays. This mysterious and moving ceremony evokes memories and traditions that originate hundreds of generations ago.

The idea of a standalone prayer for peace grew out of the last words of the Priestly Blessing, “… and give you peace.”  Thus, prayer for peace or Shalom concludes with the formula, “…Ha’mvorech et Amo Yisrael Ba Shalom, Who blesses His People of Israel with Peace.”  The text of the prayer for peace that precedes the concluding formula has a few variations.

During the morning and additional services the oldest form of the text beginning with the words “Sim Shalom, Grant Peace” is used. This reflects the fact that the prayer for peace originally flowed from the conclusion of the priestly blessing as noted above.  Ismar Elbogen a foremost authority on Jewish liturgy notes that the evening and afternoon version of the text of the prayer for peace beginning with the phrase, “Shalom Rav, a Great Peace…” is original to the Ashkenazi rite. Shalom Rav is not found until a 11th Century reference to the prayer by the Talmudic scholar and author of liturgical poetry, Eliakim of Speyer. During the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the paragraph, “B’seifer Haim, [inscribe us] in the book of life,” is appended to our prayer during all services. The concluding formula during this holy period is, “… Oseh Ha Shalom, Who makes peace” which, according to Elbogen, is the original concluding formula of the Prayer for Shalom.

An additional variation from the traditional form of the Prayer for Peace can be found in introduction into the text of the word “Ba’Olam, in the world.” This appearance is found in Siddur Sim Shalom, the Conservative prayer book published by the Rabbinical Assembly. Rabbi Rueven Hammer, a premier authority on Jewish Liturgy, in his commentary on the Conservative Siddur, explains that this addition was inspired by the works of the classic scholar and liturgical poet Sa’adia Gaon. The editors of the Siddur felt that rather than focusing on just the people of Israel as is in the case of the Priestly Blessing, their rendering of the prayer for Shalom should evoke the prophetic vision of universal peace.

Shalom, Peace is the most compelling and meaningful of all Blessings.  Machzor Lev Shalem, the new Rabbinical Assembly High Holiday Prayer Book, encapsulates the power of this Bracha in a beautiful and succinct fashion:

“When the blessing of shalom is lacking, however much we have of other blessings– wealth or power, fame or family, even health– these all appear as nothing. But when shalom is present, however little else we have somehow seems sufficient.
Shalom means “peace,” of course, but it means so much more as well: wholeness, fullness, and completion; integrity and perfection; healing, health, and harmony; utter tranquility; loving and being loved; consummation; forgiveness and reconciliation; totality of well-being.
And even all of these together do not spell out sufficiently the meaning of shalom. But though we cannot accurately translate or adequately define shalom, we can experience it.”
–HERSHEL J. MATT

Here is a beautiful setting of Sim Shalom by the renowned American composer Max Janskowi performed by one of the greatest Hazzanim of our time Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi together with the choral group Selah.

This video is from a live concert with the Zamir Chorale of Boston at Sanders Theatre, Cambridge, MA, June 3, 2007 of Jeff Klepper & Dan Freelander and their world famous setting of Shalom Rav.

Here is the text in Hebrew and English.

I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at hazzan@e-hazzan.com or leave a comment below.

May we always be recipients in abundance of the Blessing for Peace.

Take care,

Hazzan Michael Krausman

Featured Link: The Cantors Assembly, the largest body of Hazzanim in the world, is the professional organization of Cantors which serves the Jewish world.

Share a prayer Yitziv Pitgam: Special prayer for the Second Day of Shavuot

Prequel:

After the  experiencing the Exodus from Egypt, the Children of Israel were given seven weeks to prepare for the watershed moment in the development of our people, the giving of the Torah on Mt Sinai. Today, in commemoration of these biblical events, we meticulously count the Omer, the days and weeks from Pesach, the occasion marking our physical freedom to Shavuot, the festival celebrating our transformation from a band of escaped slaves into a holy nation.

Indeed, the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai constitutes not only a revelation of the Divine word, but a revolution in contemporary culture. The Book of Exodus (19:23-20:21) describes how the entire nation was present as the Torah was revealed. In fact, tradition maintains that not only did the generation that left Egypt witness the pyrotechnic revelation of the Law, but the soul of every Jew that would ever exist was present at Mt. Sinai. Rabbi Edwin Farber of North Miami Beach Florida, points out that this public revelation is unique among all contemporary cultures. Rather than having the most Sacred of all of our texts and writings reserved for an ecclesiastical elite, the Torah is open and available to each and every one of us.

Thus Moses began a chain of transmission of the teaching of Torah that links every generation from the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness,through Joshua, through the prophets, through the residents of ancient Israel , through Babylonia and throughout the diaspora to the present day and beyond.

In the Fifth Century B.C.E. Ezra, the leader of the community of exiles who returned to the Holy Land from Babylonia, instituted the public reading of the Torah on Sabbaths, festivals and market days. This public reading meant that all could have easy access to the teachings of their sacred heritage. Dr. Max Margolis, a renowned  Judaic scholar notes in The History of Bible Translations that the practice developed to alternate each line of the Hebrew Text of the Torah, with a translation into the vernacular language of Aramaic. The task of providing this simultaneous translation was often relegated to a professional called the M’Turgaman. At first the Rabbis were against the writing down  of these translations fearing  the  translator might color the meaning of the Biblical text with his interpretation. Moreover, the Rabbis insisted on a clear distinction  between the written text of the Torah and the “Oral Torah” consisting of legal, homiletic and exegetical material. Initially, some of the Targum  texts were codified but remained for a long time the personal property of a few individuals. Eventually, as Dr. Margolis notes, perhaps due to the waning of the skills of those who memorized text coupled with the sheer of volume of material, the Rabbis relented and allowed the “oral texts” to be preserved in written form.

Today, while the Bible has been translated and interpreted into a myriad of languages, the Targum, or Aramaic translation, remains an essential tool of Biblical exegesis. Targum Onkelus, an eponymous work attributed to a well know convert of Babylonian origin is the most popular Aramaic translation of the Torah  mostly because of its fidelity to the original texts. The authorship of Targum Jonatan, the Aramaic translation of the Books of the Prophets is attributed to the Jonathan son of Uzziel, one of the followers of the great Talmudic sage, Hillel.There are other Aramaic translations that are still available, these like translations into other languages, provide a valuable tool to the Biblical scholar – not only due to the insight of the translator, but also because the translation may suggest the existence of a variant original text on which the translation was based.

After having discussed  the importance of the Targum, we are ready,at last, for the subject of this writing,the Piyut or liturgical poem know as Yetziv Pitgam. Recited immediately following the chanting of the first verse of the Haftara of the second day of Shavuot, Yetziv Pitgam is a beautiful composition written in Aramaic, the language of the Targum. Thematically, Yetziv Pitgam is similar to Akdamut, the Aramaic panegyric performed immediately prior to the Torah reading on the first day of Shavuot; the inadequacy of human language to praise God, the beauty of creation and a plea for God’s support and salvation. Also similar to Akdamut, this poem is an acrostic of the name of its author, in this case Yaakov ben Meir Levi. There is some controversy as the identity of Yaakov Ben Meir. Ismar Elbogen, the celebrated authority on Jewish liturgy, identifies the Yaakov Ben Meir of our poem as the twelfth  century Talmudic  luminary Rabbenu Tam, a foremost scholar and arbiter of Jewish Law.  He was the grandson of the most well know of all Biblical and Rabbinic commentators, Rashi. Others such as the author of the Jewish Encyclopedia article on Rabbeinu Tam, claim that there was a different poet named Yaakov Ben Meir who was in fact the author of our poem.

The Piyut has a very strict metrical structure with the second and fourth word of each line rhyming and each line ending  with the syllable “een.” Yiziv Pigam is chanted according to a unique ancient melody that can be found in Chanting The Hebrew Bible by Joshua Jacobson. Here is  a link to a quick recording of Yetziv Pitgam I made on my iPhone.

Not only is it an inspirational liturgical poem, but the placement of Yetziv Pitgam is reminiscent of the ancient practice of interleaving the chanting of the biblical text with the Aramaic Targum as mentioned above. In fact as Rabbi Richard Wolpe notes Yitziv Pitgam pays tribute to Jonathan son of Uzziel, the author of the Targum on the Prophets:

“…explicit in the passage “Yehonatan gvar invetan” [for Jonathan, meekest of all men] where the translator is mentioned by name. … Yetziv Pitgam is in the language of the Targum because it serves as a poetic segue into the Targum.”

On Shavuot, when we are so mindful of the place of the Biblical text in our lives, we remember that our great scholarly ancestors built a vernacular translation into the process of reading the Bible so all could clearly understand its Holy message. As we gather in synagogues on Shavuot to celebrate the giving of the Torah, we are cognizant of the tradition that every Jewish Soul was present to receive the Torah personally. What a wonderful time to affirm this connection by learning to read the Torah according to the ancient art of cantillation or by embarking on a corse of Torah study!  Yetziv Pitgam reminds us in structure and in content that having a clear understanding of the language of the Torah enables us to comprehend the blueprint that provides the possibility of a close personal relationship with the God that loves us so much that He gave us our most precious possession, the Torah.

Hag Shavuot Sameiach 

Here is  link to the text in Hebrew and English

I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at hazzan@e-hazzan.com or leave a comment below.

Take care,

Hazzan Michael Krausman

Share a Prayer: Search for Hametz

Contrary to the common misconception, the primary mitzvah of Pesach is not to eat enough matzah to commit gastric suicide. Rather, we are commanded “V’ Higadita L’Vincha…you shall tell this story to your children.” Indeed, the Seder with all of its experiential components is the quintessential family education program, empowering parents to pass on our precious  heritage, replete with family history and customs, to the next generation. 

Before the Seder begins, however, there is a wonderful ceremony that not only, illustrates the concept of removal of Hametz (leavened products) in an experiential fashion, but  involves everyone in climax of Passover preparation. This ceremony is called Bidikat Hametz, the search for leaven. 

How do arrive at this point? On Pesach, the Torah commands us to avoid all contact with Hametz – any item which has been allowed to rise for more the 18 minutes. This includes  products containing yeast, Se’or –  items made with a sourdough process, grains that have been allowed to ferment and other similar products. Rabbinic tradition has understood this to mean we can not have benefit in any way or even posses these items or anything that may contain even the smallest trace or crumb of Hametz. So we dutifully scrub and clean every crevice of our homes lest we miss a tiny particle of Hametz and violate this injunction. Thus, it is traditional to shun the dishes,pots and pans etc. that we normally use and replace them all with  dedicated Passover dishes  and utensils. Despite all of our cleaning, however, we still would own the “non-Passover” kitchenware not to mention alcohol, fine china and other products that would be very expensive to replace if we had to dispose of them. There are great stories told by employees and residents of institutions in Israel that housed newly arrived immigrants from Ethiopia who were awakened in the middle of one of the nights leading up to Pesach by a cacophony of crashing dishes emanating  from the communal kitchen. They discovered to their shock and disbelief the their  Ethiopian brethren were “helping” the residents get rid of the non-Passover dishes by destroying them in preparation for the holiday.  

Fortunately, our sages alleviated  the need for such draconian measures( although my kids are always ready to smash dishes) by instituting a process known as Mecirat Hametz, which allows for the temporary sale to a Gentile of forbidden items that would cause too much of a financial hardship to us if we had to destroy them or eliminate them from our homes.A special bill of sale is drawn by which the Hametz reverts back to the original owners and the deposit is returned unless the buyer wishes to pay an exorbitant price based on the market value of all of the Hametz included in the original deal. 

As I noted above the Torah specifically states ” No Hametz shall be found in your homes…[or] within your borders.”(Ex. 12:19; 13:7) However none of us is perfect. It is possible that a microscopic particle of Hametz may remain for example, one Cheereo or morsel of Captain Crunch or a tiny crumb  may be stuck to the bottom of the fridge or somewhere similar. Therefore, our sages devised a formula by which we can declare any Hametz that we have unwittingly left  un-sanitized  null and void “as the dust of the earth.”  

Rabbi Joseph Elias writing in the Art Scroll Haggada explains that just evoking a formula seems a bit insincere, can we really just declare our homes devoid of Hametz? So, in order to insure that we  can honestly certify to the best of our knowledge that our homes are Hametz free, the search for Hametz  using the following process was instituted.    

We begin our search on the evening of the day before the first Seder. The text and detailed instructions can be found below or in any good Haggadah. You will need a candle to guide your search, a feather to sweep up Hametz a wooden spoon to receive the Hametz and a paper bag to collect the Hametz. This year we are following a custom of using the Lulav or Palm branch left from last sukkoth in place of the feather. It is customary to strategically hide morsels of Hametz, some use 10 as it has mystical significance, in your home. I often use breakfast cereal as it is easily to scoop and doesn’t cause too much collateral damage i.e. crumbs. In order to make it more exciting for the kids, I have them stay in a bedroom while I hide the morsels of Hametz. The children ideally take turns holding the spoon, feather, candle and bag although your mileage may vary, especially with the candle. 

After the Hametz has been hidden, (make sure you remember were it all is or you could be in for a nasty surprise in the middle of Pesach) we turn off all the lights, gather together  and recite the Blessing thanking God for making us holy with the Mitzvot and commanding us to remove ( i.e. burn) all Hametz. We then search throughout the house (I tend to confine the hiding places to the public parts of the home as opposed to the bedrooms just to be on the safe side) scooping up the offending pieces of Leaven and collecting them in the paper bag. After all the Hametz is in the bag, we add the feather, spoon and candle (extinguish the candle first) and recite the Hametz Nullification formula in Aramaic and or English. The excellent Feast of Freedom Hagadah  produced by the Rabbinical Assembly, notes that this text is first found in the writings of Rabbi Issac Ben Jacob Alfasi of Fez ( 1013-1103)

” all Hametz in my possession which I have not seen or removed, or of which I am unaware, is hereby nullified and ownerless as the dust of the earth.”

The bag of Hametz and the associated contaminated utensils are carefully set aside until morning. In the morning after breakfast but before the deadline for eating Hametz passes, usually about 2.5 hours before midday, all the Hametz is gathered together and burned. Usually a metal trash can will work for this purpose or an old Barbecue that you do not plan to use for Pesach. We complete the Hametz search and destroy mission with the following declaration, recited after the burning is finished, again in Aramaic and or Hebrew.

“All Hametz in my possession,whether I have seen it or not,whether I have removed it or not, is hereby nullified and ownerless as the dust of the earth.”

Of course we are familiar with the biblical origin of the requirement for eating Matza. The Israelites in their haste to leave Egypt did not allow sufficient time for the dough to rise and so they baked flat cakes of Matza instead of bread. But why the total obsession with Hametz? Perhaps this is a good topic of discussion for our family as we go through the Hametz eradication process. 

Rabbi Alex Israel  of the Pardes Yeshiva in Jerusalem suggests three possible reasons for the prohibition against Hametz. Whereas Egyptian worship involved the usage of leavened bread in the context of sacrificing to their various deities, the Torah, wanting to avoid any similarities between  the  idolatrous practices of the Egyptians and our service to God, permits only unleavened bread in the Israelite Sacraficial Services. Secondly, Rabbi Alexander cites a source that points out that leavened bread requires human technology, i.e. the introduction of yeast or sourdough to work. Since the Exodus was accomplished only by the Divine Hand of God with no human input, we eat Matza which is made with out the benefit of this human ingenuity. Rabbi Israel’s final point is based on the fact that while as mentioned above, with all other sacrifices there is a prohibition against any Hametz, the offering for Shavuot is an exception, it requires the inclusion of loaves of leavened  bread. Shavuot celebrates the receiving of the Torah on Mt Sinai, seven weeks after the Exodus from Egypt. The children of Israel, upon leaving Egypt, were a primitive group of escaped slaves. It was only after receiving the Torah that we grew  from a gang of former slaves  into a definitive nation with a direction and purpose under God. Therefore, Rabbi Israel teaches, we eat the plain bread of slaves on Peasch but eat the enhanced loaves of the bread of God’s chosen emancipated nation on Shavuot. 

Experiences such as the search for Hametz help to create the lasting memories that are the building blocks of family history. Like the Seder, it is a wonderful way to pass on our rich and beautiful heritage to the next generation in a concrete fashion. By including the search and burning of Hametz in our Passover tradition we are empowered to teach our  children about the fundamental  meaning of the holiday and are thereby enabled  to fulfill the primary mitzvah of Pesach –  “V’higadita L’vincha Ba Yom ha Hu, and you shall teach these lessons to your children on that day.”

Best wishes for a Zissen  (sweet) Pesach to all.

Click here for the text for the search for Hametz in Hebrew and English. Taken from Feast of Freedom Hagadah  produced by the Rabbinical Assembly,

For some interesting ideas on how to make your Seder even more appealing as well as some musical enhancements, click here.

I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at hazzan@e-hazzan.com or leave a comment below.

Take care,

Hazzan Michael Krausman

Share a prayer- Geulah; The Prayer for Redemption

Bridging the recitation of the morning Shema and the Amidah, a series of 7-19 blessings that constitute the core of each formal service,  is the blessing of Geulah – redemption. So powerful is the link between these quintessential prayers that the first word of the Geulah Blessing, “Emet“;  “it is true” is appended to the last line of the Shema, “Adonai Eloheichem; The Lord is your God” resulting in the  phrase, “The Lord is your God, in truth.” This new combination serves as a powerful affirmation of the truth of the Shema and by extension, the Torah from which the Shema is drawn. Similarly, at the other end of this sturdy bridge, tradition has forbidden any interruption between the concluding formula of the Geulah Blessing, “Baruch Atah Adonai,Ga’al Yisrael; Blessed are You  Adonai, the redeemer of Israel” and the opening blessing of the Amidah. This injunction is so strong that traditionally the prayer leader chants the concluding formula of Geulah in an undertone so as not to evoke a response of “Amen” from the congregation which may be perceived as an interruption.

Since part of our cultural DNA draws us to the narrative of the Exodus from Egypt as the  primary example of God’s saving power, it is natural for tradition to mandate the mention of this watershed moment in Jewish history in the context of any discussion of redemption. Our attention is drawn sharply to the redemptive power of the Almighty in this context by quoting from the Song of the Sea – an ode sung by the children of Israel as they miraculously crossed the Sea of Reads unscathed, while their Egyptian pursuers perished. “Mi Chamocha Ba Elim Adonai …. Who is like unto you amongst gods, Adonai?…”  Similarly, the Geulah prayer also refers to God’s sparing of the first born of Israel while the first born of Egypt was slain.

Interestingly, there are several elements of this prayer of redemption that are thematically connected to either the Shema at one end or the Amidah at the other end. Such connections serve to fortify the bridge between these two vital components of our service. Rabbi Reuven Hammer the outstanding commentator on our Siddur, notes some of these elements. Referring to God in the Geula Blessing as, Malkeinu, our King, for example, brings to mind the first paragraph of the Shema which is know as Kabbalat Ol Malchut Shamim; acceptance of the Sovereignty of God. Similarly, by using the passage, “Ein Elohim Zulatecha; there is no god other than Our God,” a quotation form King David in the biblical book of 2nd Samuel, the author of our prayer suggests an overriding theme of the Shema; the Oneness of God.

On the other hand, the notion of giving us credit because of the Merit of our ancestors, the opening theme of the Amidah, is reflected by the prayer for redemption by reffering  to God  as “Goaleinu V’goel Avoteinu; our redeemer and redeemer of our ancestors.” This notion is also very strongly expressed  in the opening phrase of the concluding section of this prayer, “Ezrat avoteinu Ata Hu L’Olam;You are the eternal help of our ancestors – the the shield and savior to their children in every generation.”

Geula, the prayer for redemption invites each of us to re-live the exhilarating experience of our ancestors as they crossed the Red Sea. Rabbi Hammer cites a beautiful Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 22:3) which summarizes the power of the Geula Prayer – the Prayer for Redemption  which serves to transport the worshipper from the Faith Affirming Biblical passages of the Shema to the personal “face time with God” that is afforded by the Amidah.

“Because of their faith [i.e. the children of Israel] they were privileged to recite the Song[of the Sea] and the presence of God rested on them. Therefore one should join the prayer for redemption to the Amidah, just as they recited the Song immediately after the splitting of he Sea and their attainment of faith. And just as they thus purified their heats before reciting the Song, so must we purify our hearts before reciting the Amidah.”

In jewish Liturgy there is a principle that the M’ein or essence of the prayer must be reiterated at the conclusion of the prayer. This is accomplished in Geulah by the passage, Tzur Yisreal; Rock of Israel. The  Almighty God who’s private chamber we are about to enter is clearly identified to us: “Goaleinu, Adonai Tz’vaot Shemo…, Our Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts is His Name, the Holy One of Israel.” We travel across this bridge, replete with a better understanding of the nature of this God for whom we yearn who “humbles the proud and raises the lowly, frees the captive and redeems the meek.” Imbued with the love and devotion we have drawn from the biblical passages of the Shema, fortified by the recollection of our eternal connection to God through our Ancestors and confident in God’s power of redemption, we are prepared to to pour out our hearts to our Creator through the words of the Amidah. Praised are You Adonai, Redeemer of the people Israel.

Here is  link to the prayer in Hebrew and in English.

Here is a link to a wonderful setting of Tzur Yisrael by the pioneering Jewish Rock Group, Safam.

[audio http://dl.dropbox.com/u/141011/Share%20a%20Prayer/04%20Tsur%20Yisrael.mp3]

I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at hazzan@e-hazzan.com or leave a comment below.

Take care,

Hazzan Michael Krausman