Share a Prayer: Private Prayer in a Public Context

We all know that prayer is both a communal and an individual experience. Our tradition is replete with volumes of prayers that have been composed and codified throughout our history. Psalms and other Biblical sources are thousands of years old, yet they still have the power to sustain our liturgical yearnings and help us to reach out to The Holy One. Interestingly, though most of our prayers are couched in the plural – pertaining to the entire community, baked into our formal liturgy are opportunities for individual, personal prayer.

The first place to look for such private prayer opportunities is the very opening pages of most prayer books that begin with the morning service. Originally intend to be recited at home; these prayers were transferred to the synagogue to serve as private mediations which would help prepare the worshipper for the public worship to come. In October 2010 I wrote:

“Those who are familiar with the Siddur (prayer book) will note that even before the formal service begins there is a collection of personal prayers and reflections that can be offered. ‘Elohai Neshama – My God the soul that You implanted with in me…,’ the passionate prayer dating back to Talmudic Times (Berachot 60b) is a perfect example of such a prayer. The text reflects the notion that at night-timeis that part of God that is inside each and every one of us. Elohai Neshama gives us the opportunity to express gratitude to God and to remind ourselves of our connectedness to our Creator and to each other.”

Here is a stirring setting called Elokai Neshama by one of the greatest and best know Hazzanim of all times; Moshe Koussevitzky. Taken form an album entitled; Moshe Koussevitzky Earliest Recordings; a compilation of material originally recorded in Europe, this record was copyright 1967 by the Collectors Guild. The recording is part of a magnificent collection of Jewish Music Located at Florida Atlantic University, the Judaica Sound Archives.
Here is a link to the text in Hebrew and English.

Following the recitation of the Amidah, (see below), is a liturgical compilation known as Tachanun. Tachanun is a section of personal petitions and supplications that are inserted in the weekday morning and afternoon service. So intense is the recitation of Tachanun that we rest our heads on our forearms and say part of the Tachanun in a hunched-over submissive posture. Based on biblical president, our sages felt that since we are at a time in the service when we are most focused on our relationship with the Almighty, we should expand this intense period of concentrated prayer and introspection by adding Tachanun.

On Monday and Thursday mornings we extend the Tachanun with additional supplications. However, Tachanun is not recited on happy occasions such as Purim or Hanukah in the presence of a bride or groom or when a Brit Milah  (Bris) is about to take place. Remarkably, this set of supplications is also omitted in the presence of a mourner and on Tisha B’Av, our day to grieve for the fallen Jerusalem Temple, so as to not too greatly increase our sadness.

Personal prayers by such great liturgical sages as Sa’adia Gaon and Rav Amram as well as some poignant psalms are found in this plaintive collection. These prayers ask God to help us personally through whatever difficult times we may be currently experiencing.

We ask that God “assuage our fears, establish the works of our hands, heal our wounds and save us from our tormentors.” Even in our deepest time of despair we appreciate the ability to place ourselves in God’s hands.

Some of the other themes related to in Tachanun include, the value of a good friend, guidance in avoiding evil or temptation. Sephardi congregations often include the confessional as part of Tachanun.
All versions of this supplication include the prayer Shomer Yisrael – guardian of Israel which, as Rabbi Reuven Hammer notes, reflects the trepidation of the medieval European Jewish community. Tachanun concludes with the declaration, “alone we are helpless”; we rely on God for compassion and guidance. Here is a recording, again from the FAU archives, of Hazzan Israel Rand singing a popular setting of Shomer Israel.

Above I made reference to the Amidah the a formal series of 7-19 blessings that form the core of every synagogue service. Certainly an entire Blog post could be devoted to this quintessential prayer. We begin the Amidah with a most extraordinary process. It is customary to take three steps backwards and then three steps forward while reciting the phrase, “Adonai S’fatai Tiftach…Lord open my lips so that my mouth can find the proper words to address You.”(Ps 51:17) According to the great liturgical scholar Ismar Elbogin, this phrase was introduced by the sage Rabbi Yochannan in the 3rd century. The purpose of this ritual is to symbolically separate ourselves from the rest of the congregation enter into a private audience with the Holy One. In essence, at least three times a day we have the opportunity to have individual “face time” with our Creator.

This private conversation with God is guided by the age-old Blessings of the Amidah – some of which date back to the time of the Ancient Jerusalem Temple. Built into the process of reciting the Amidah, however, are specific opportunities for individualized prayer. Chief among these personal prayers is that contained within the eighth Blessing, the Prayer for healing. Our Siddur, contains a formula into which the names of those for whom we pray can be inserted. Moreover, the version found in both the Sim Shalom Siddur for Shabbat and Festivals and the Weekday Sim Shalom contain an extra line asking the Holy One also support the caregivers of those who we mentioned.

Similarly, the sixteenth blessing, “Shomeia Tephila – The One who listens to prayer”, is also a traditional point at which to insert a personal petition. Rabbi Hammer cites the Talmud (Avodah Zara 8a) for the origin of this custom. Not only can any heart-felt supplication be inserted at this point but prayers for comfort on the national days of sorrow are customarily included here as well. Thus prayers for Tisha B’Av, mourning the destruction of the Holy Jerusalem Temple and Yom Ha Shoah, the commemoration of the Holocaust are added to the Shomeia Tephila prayer. Interestingly, Hineni, the personal plea of the prayer leader on the High Holidays, ends with the same concluding phrase.

Just as the opening phrase of the Amidah is based on a psalm as instituted by Rabbi Yochanan, the concluding passage also contains a verse from a Psalm (19:15) “may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart …” Preceding this is a moving personal mediation –“Elohai N’tzor L’shoni Me’ra – May God keep my tongue from evil.” This prayer is cited in the Talmud by the sage Mar Ben Ravia.

Although several permutations of this concluding meditation have existed in different liturgical traditions, offering some personal thoughts is an essential part of the process of the individual recitation of the Amida. At the conclusion of the Elohai N’tzor, with the words “Oseh Shalom,” we take three steps backwards and bow to the left and the right symbolizing the conclusion of our formal chat with God. Perhaps our sages felt that since we began by asking Divine guidance for our words, we should conclude our conversation with The Holy One with the hope that our language continues in this sanctified vein.
Here is a link to the text in Hebrew and English.

The provision of opportunities for individual prayer in the context of public worship reminds us of the nature of our relationship with God. We are connected to The Holy One on a personal level at all times, even when experiencing the power of communal prayer. It is clear that God is at the same time within us and part of the community at large; the more that we seek God, the closer we feel to God and the deeper our connection to our community through the Almighty.

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Share a Prayer: Ochila La El

Hi

Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our daily, Shabbat or Holyday 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.

Unique to the High Holiday liturgy are personal prayers designated to be recited solely by the Hazzan as Shaliach Tzibur (Prayer emissary of the congregation) to the Almighty. While the best know of these personal petitions is Hineni, the prayer during which the Hazzan, with great trepidation and awe approaches the Bima from the midst of the sanctuary, other such prayers can be found in the Shacharit (morning) and Musaph (additional) services.

It is during the Musaph service that we find the brief but moving personal petition known as “Ochila La El, I shall put my hope in God.” Ismar Elbogen, the unparalleled scholar of Jewish Liturgy, places the origin of this anonymous prayer in the time of the Amoraim, (approx. 210-500 C.E.) the magnificent scholars of the Talmud. Elbogen characterizes this time as a period of great liturgical creativity.

Through the text Ochila La El, and its ancient plaintive melody, the Hazzan passionately expresses a yearning for the ability to communicate the feeling of being in the presence of the Divine Countenance through the Hazzan’s chanting of liturgy. The Hazzan prays for the gift of “Manei Lashon – Eloquence of speech.” As Rabbi Nosson Scherman, the editor of the Artscroll Machzor, points out, the text of the prayers are prescribed by the Machzor but the Hazzan must use the eloquent language of Jewish Music resonating from the depths of the Hazzan’s soul to express the innermost meaning of the words.

I have often said that my mission as a Hazzan is not only to be the representative of the congregation in prayer to the Almighty but also to be the representative of the prayers to the congregational family. Ochila La El, provides insight into how the Hazzan approaches this task; “Ma’archei Lev” (the function of the Heart) – a deep and abiding love for our Jewish Musical and Liturgical Heritage and for the members of the congregational family the Hazzan serves.

It is this mission, this resonance of the soul that guides the Hazzan on and off the Bima. Whether teaching a Bar or Bat Mitzvah student or sitting on the floor with religious school students and sharing thoughts together about our prayers or opening up an adult’s eyes to the beautiful world of Torah reading, or writing articles about liturgy, or comforting an ill or bereaved individual or family or even singing the “Dinosaur Song” on a Friday morning with the Early Childhood Center students, it is with “Ma’archei Lev,” this deep and abiding love that the Hazzan approaches every facet of his role in the community.

The bottom line of Ochila La El  is “Y’hiyu L’Ratzon Imrei Phi… May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable unto You my Rock and my Redeemer.”  As your Hazzan, “Ochila La El”; I pray to God that I May succeed in transmitting the true Ma’archei Lev – the meditation of my heart, the Nesahma (soul) of our sacred heritage through my chanting of the liturgy and through all that I do. May God hear the supplications of all that approach the Almighty with sincerity and grant all of us a year of blessing.

I wish all a G’mar Hatima Tova – may you be sealed in the book of life for a year of health, peace and prosperity.

Take care,

Hazzan Michael Krausman

Here is a link to the text in Hebrew and English.

Share a Prayer: El Melech Yoshev

Hi

Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our daily, Shabbat or High 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.

The official liturgical kickoff of the High Holy Day season is the Selichot service. Selichot is a poignant collection of prayers of repentance and supplication that is recited for a week preceding Rosh Hashanah in the Ashkenazi community and for an entire month by the Sephardim. In most Ashkenazi synagogues, the beginning of the period of Selichot is marked by a special late night service held on the Saturday evening preceding Rosh Hashanah. Selichot prayers facilitate the worshipper’s ability to acknowledge those areas in which improvement may be required and embark on a path that leads to forgiveness or Teshuvah.

Although many of these prayers originate from earlier times, some as far back as the time of the Mishna, the first collection of Selichot, can be found in the Siddur of the great Ninth Century sage, Rav Amram. Rabbi Abraham Rosenfeld, who served for many years as a Hazzan is a noted complier and editor of prayer books. In the introductory section to his comprehensive, annotated compendium of Selichot prayers first published in England in 1956, Rabbi Rosenfeld indicates that although some of these moving supplications date as far back as the seventh century of the Common Era, the service compiled by Rav Amram is very close to the Selichot service we still perform in modern times.

The various types of poetry which make up the Selichot service; some have repeated refrains; some are alphabetical acrostics, are comprised of biblical verses stitched together by some gifted liturgical poets. These writers include Sa’adia Gaon (882-9420) and Rav Amram Gaon (821-875) who also authored texts that appear in our Machzor (High Holiday prayer book.) Also included in the Selichot service is the Vidui or confessional and portions of Tachanun – prayers of supplication. Serving as a refrain between all of this prayer and poetry is the recitation of the Thirteen Attributes of God introduced by the prayer “El Melech Yoshev Al Kisei Rachamim, God is the Monarch who sits on a thrown of mercy.”

El Melech Yoshev is first found in the siddur of the 9th century liturgical pioneer, Rav Amnon Gaon as noted above. As the introductory verse suggests, this composition depicts God as a merciful, compassionate ruler who forgives our sins and mitigates the severity of the punishment we really deserve. The image is evoked of Moses as he conferred with God in on Mount Sinai. Moses asked how he, as a human, could approach our Creator. The answer can be found in El Melech Yoshev. God instructed us to recite [and model] His attributes. Just as the best way to honor our physical parents is to practice and follow their qualities, principals and values; our divine parent requires that we strive for holiness by being guided by Gods characteristics. Mercy, compassion, justice, slowness to anger, performance of acts of loving kindness and the pursuit of truth are examples from the litany of divine qualities that are recited throughout our services. Moses learned that not only is this emulation the best way to serve the Lord but also the path which can lead to developing a personal relationship with God.

As we prepare for and experience the Holy Days, we can be mindful of the fact that since there are many ways to communicate with the Almighty, possessing a tremendous knowledge of the prayer service, while being a goal towards which we should strive, is not an absolute requirement. By participating in the silent meditation or humming a melody along with the Hazzan or choir, or by offering sincere personal prayers, one can be a vital part of the communal offering of prayer. Most importantly, as we to enter the Holy Day Season, we must bear in mind the lesson learned and transmitted by Moses as described in the El Melech Yoshev Prayer: striving to reach closer to the Almighty by emulating Gods Holy attributes is the essential way to approach God.

Here is a link to the text in Hebrew and English.

Here is a  modern setting of  El Melech Yoshev by Joshua Lind (1890-1973),  Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi, one of the most talented and influential Hazzanim of our era. He is joined by New London Children’s Choir and Schola Hebraeica conducted by Neil Levin. This piece is available on the recording entitled, Introducing The World Of American Jewish Music (Milken Archive of American Jewish Music.)

 [audio http://dl.dropbox.com/u/141011/sharedmusic/eyomfiles/El_Melekh_Yoshev.mp3]

I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at cantor@sinaihollywood.org.

 

To learn more, please check my Ehazzan Blog and subscribe to my Tephila Tips Podcast: https://ehazzan.wordpress.com/

Take care,

Hazzan Michael Krausman


Share a Prayer: Havdala

Hi

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.

More so than any other nation, the Jewish People sanctifies time; even more so than objects, places or spaces. A wise professor once observed that the reason for this phenomenon is that while objects can be confiscated or stolen and places can be captured or destroyed, time is immutable – no matter where we find our selves, no can ever take time away from us. Thus Shabbat, that 25 hour period of time beginning with candle lighting eighteen minutes before sunset on Friday evening, is sanctified, guarded, revered and celebrated by Jews no matter where in the world they are, no matter what their station in life.

When Shabbat draws to a close and the ordinary, mundane days of the week begin to approach, feelings ranging from sadness to trepidation threaten to darken the joyous and peaceful disposition of the Sabbath. In order to soothe our feelings and ease the transition from the sacred time of Shabbat to the ordinary time represented by the rest of the week, our sages ordained the Havdala (differentiation) ceremony. Thus in Jewish homes and synagogues around the world, people gather together as darkness fills the sky on Saturday evening. Illuminated by the glow of a multi-wicked candle we raise a cup of wine, smell fragrant spices and bid a bittersweet farewell to Shabbat.

Although the obligation to say the Havdala is codified around the first century C.E. in the Talmud (Berachot 33a), tradition ascribes the original mandate of this ceremony to the Men of the Great Assembly who ruled and adjudicated the Jewish people from 410-310 B.C.E. Ismar Elbogen, the highly respected scholar of Jewish liturgy traces the roots of Havdala to a custom practiced by ancient sages. These scholars would gather for a festive meal just as Shabbat was drawing to a close. After sundown, the first fires of the week would be kindled and vessels containing hot coals on which incense was burning would be passed among the participants. Of Corse blessings would be said over the fragrant incense and, at the grace after meals, a prayer noting the transition from Shabbat to the weekdays would be included. At some point, the Havdala blessings were separated from the meal and became a distinct ceremony.

The Talmud, as noted above, mandates the recitation of two forms of the Havdala, in order to properly mark the transition out of Shabbat. The first Havdala blessing is said in the context of the prayer for wisdom as part of the Amidah for Saturday evening. A formal Havdala ceremony utilizing spices, a multi-wicked candle and a cup of wine, comprises the second form of Havdala. A.Z. Idelsohn, the renowned musicologist and expert on Jewish liturgy notes that texts of Havdala prayer can be found in the earliest know prayer books, the 9th Century Seder Rav Amram and the 12th Century Machzor Vitry.

Havdala in its full form consists of two distinct sections, an introductory paragraph and a series of Blessings. Concentrating on the notion of comfort and support, the introductory paragraph is comprised of verses from the Psalms, the Prophets and the book of Ester. This beautiful poetry provides a measure of comfort and assurance as the week with all of its uncertainly and travails approachs. “Behold, God is my salvation I will trust in God and not be afraid…” (Isaiah 12:2) is the first verse of this soothing paragraph. The notion of salvation is furthered by the phrase, “Ushaftem Mayim B’Sason… may you joyously draw waters from the wells of deliverance.” Rabbi Ruven Hammer, the brilliant commentator on our Siddur points out the power of the imagery of water as a source of life and hope – especially poignant at this point in the service. These words also form the text of a classic Hebrew folk song and dance. A phrase based on a verse from the book of Ester, “La Y’hudim Hayita Orah V’ Simcha V’Kar, [ken t’yeh lanu], and the Jews enjoyed light and gladness, joy and honor” is a central part of this introductory section. It is customary for the congregation to recite this phrase first and then have it repeated by the leader. Interestingly, this form of repetition is also employed on Purim when this verse is read form the Megilah.

Four blessings make up the main portion of Havdala; wine, spices, light and Havdala (differentiation). As we transition from Shabbat, these items are part of the daily routine that shapes the work week but they also have deep significance and meaning. From Brit Milah (Bris) to weddings to Shabbat to Festivals, wine is the vehicle though which we sanctify Jewish occasions. Perhaps, as one commentator suggested, the reason for this is that wine is like Jewish tradition, the older it gets, the better quality and value it has.

According to tradition, each Jewish soul is joined by an additional soul, a “Neshama Y’teira” for Shabbat, thereby doubling our potential for joy and fulfillment on the Sabbath. The ancient Machzor Vitry explains that as we inhale the fragrant spices the gloom of the departure of this extra soul together with the end of Shabbat is mitigated; our sadness is slightly diminished.

Light was very first item God created. As we conclude the Shabbat ordained by God as a means of resting from creation we kindle the flames of a candle as our first act of creation for the week. This reminds us that as we begin our week of labor and creativity we are partners with God in the continuing process of creation and in the effort to perfect the world under Gods dominion. The many wicks of the candle also represent the many forms of light God created and our responsibility to be a “light unto all of the nations.” As we say the blessing over the candle, we make use of the light by cupping our hands and pointing our fingernails toward the glow. In this way we can see in our own hand the distinction between light and shadow.

The final blessing is the Blessing of Havdala. As Jews we are command to distinguish between that which is Holy, i.e. unique, special, one of a kind, and that which is ordinary or common. This blessing gives some wonderful examples of such distinctions:Israel versus other nations, light versus darkness and Shabbat versus the six days of the work week. In conclusion the blessing thanks the Almighty for distinguishing between the sacred and the ordinary.

After the candle is extinguished in the wine, it is traditional to sing the hymn, “Hamvdil Ben Kodesh l’chol, who distinguishes between the sacred and the ordinary.” The song asks that our descendants and prosperity be increased as the sands of the beach and as the stars in the sky. It is also customary to sing Eliyahu Ha Navi, Elijah the prophet. It has long been held that the redemption we yearn for will come after Shabbat and be heralded by the arrival of the great prophet Elijah. Finally we all sing and bless each other with “Shavuah Tov – a good week.”

Coming together as a community in sincere solidarity to say farewell to Shabbat in this poignant matter is a profound experience. With the exception of CampRamah, there is no better place to experience this most moving and meaningful ceremony than at TempleSinai. We gather in a circle of camaraderie and intone the magnificent setting of the Havdala blessings by Debbie Friedman as the radiant light of the candle reflects in the blissful faces of the people of all ages who sing together with robust enthusiasm. At the conclusion of the Havdala, after having embraced each other and wishing one another a hearty “Shavuah Tov – a good week” we are lead in spirited Israeli dancing by students who attend Camp Ramah Darom and other Jewish summer camps. There are no accurate words to articulate the level of beauty, peace, excitement, pride and joy that all who attend Havdala experience. Perhaps the best way to capture the feeling is the notion that for that moment we truly feel as though we are partners with the Creator of the Universe in making the world a better place – at least in our tiny corner anyway.

Please join us on Shabbat afternoon (times vary according to sundown, check the synagogue email or office for details.) You and your entire family will be treated to a brief Mincha (afternoon) service, a yummy Seuda Shlishi (third Shabbat meal) and, following an extremely quick Ma’ariv (evening service) the most meaningful moment of the week – Havdala.

Here is a link to the text in Hebrew and English.

Here is a link to Havdala at Camp Ramah Darom

I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at cantor@sinaihollywood.org.

To learn more please check my Ehazzan Blog

Take care,

Hazzan Michael Krausman

Share a Prayer: Echad Mi Yodeia

Hi

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 we get closer to Pesach I wanted to take a quick look at one more item from the Hagadah. One of the best known selections from the Seder Service is Echad Mi Yodeia: Who Knows One? This clever piece of poetry is in effect a Jewish Trivia Game that challenges the participants to match a significant Jewish concept with every number from one to thirteen. Each verse then recaps all of the previous answers.

Quoting the Encyclopedia Judaica, the website Jewish Reflections .org  notes that this song is based on a secular German folksong from the 15th century, “Guter freund ich frage dich – Good friend I ask you.” Echad Mi Yodeia first appears in the Ashkenazi Hagadah in the 16th Century.

There are a multitude of melodies that exist for this very popular song which is often sung, not only in Hebrew but also in the vernacular. Thus there are Yiddish, Ladino and of course English versions that abound. One of the most interesting arrangements is found in a collection of Seder melodies produced by David Levine, George Kirby, Hankus Nefsky, Rebecca Shrimpton & Theodore Bikel. This clever arrangement combines the Yiddish, Ladino and Hebrew version into one. Click Here to Listen

Our Rabbinical Assembly Hagadah, The Feast of Freedom; points out that while it is indeed fun to sing Echad Mi Yodea, the poetry also has significant meaning. Coming at the end of the Seder, this song hints at the reason for the redemption from Egypt: the perpetuation of our society as founded by our patriarchs and matriarchs, our meaningful life cycle events and of all of the other significant elements of our beautiful and ancient heritage.

For me, the final line of each verse of this song, which comes about as we are about to wrap up the Seder experience, loudly proclaims the “bottom line” and essential foundation of all that we do and all that we stand for as Jews – “One is God in Heaven and the on Earth.”

Here is the text in Hebrew and English.

Here is a link to a piece discussing some of the other elements of the Pesach liturgy.

I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at cantor@sinaihollywood.org.

To learn more please check my Ehazzan Blog  Also please subscribe to my Tephila Tips Podcast:https://ehazzan.wordpress.com/

Take care,

Best wishes for a Zissen (sweet) Pesach.

Hazzan Michael Krausman

Share a Prayer: Ahavah Rabbah

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.

Immediately preceding the recitation of the morning Shema is a beautiful and inspirational blessing beginning with the phrase “Ahavah Rabbah: deep is your love for us…” This is the second of the two mandated blessings that introduce the Shema and is technically know as Birkat Ha Torah: the blessing of the Torah. The notion of this Bracha is that the almighty chose the Jewish people from all other nations and gave us His Torah as a sign of His great love; this is juxtaposed with the beginning of the Shema which commands us to love God.

Rabbi Reuven Hammer in his outstanding commentary on our Siddur points out that not only does Ahavah Rabbah praise God for His “boundless understanding and mercy” it also thanks the Creator for giving us the capacity to understand the teachings of the Torah so that we can perform the mitzvoth (commandments). As I often have noted, it is through the wisdom and commandments contained in the Torah we can find a path that leads us closer to God.

The parallel blessing which introduces the Shema of the evening service begins with the words, “Ahavat Olam – eternal love.”  Rabbi Irwin Kula in his compelling Book Yearnings, points out that in the morning we ask for, Ahavah Rabbah, a great deal of love – it’s a new day and we are refreshed and ready to go. At night, however, after a long day, we ask for Ahavat Olam which Rabbi Kula translates as “unconditional love.” After all of the trials and stress of the day that has concluded, unconditional love is what we really need.

At the conclusion of Ahavat Olam, beginning with the phrase V’havieinu L’Shalom: “Bring us safely from the four corners of the earth…” it is customary to gather the Tzitzit (fringes) from the four corners of the Tallit (prayer shawl) and hold them in preparation for the Shema. This action has a practical purpose since the third section of the Shema which is to follow, (Bamidbar [Numbers] 15:37-41) commands us to wear Tzitzit-the fringes placed on the corners of the Tallit (prayer shawl) to remind us of the Mitzvot (commandments.)  It is customary to hold the Tzitzit during the Shema and kiss them as we say the word “Tzitzit”.  Also, by gathering together our Tzitzit we symbolize our hope for redemption; a time when people from all across the world will be free to gather together and worship in a State of Israel blessed with peace.

Ahavah Rabbah is a wonderful prayer and a most fitting introduction to the Shema – the mission statement of the Jewish People. Not only do we express appreciation for God’s boundless love for us, but we give thanks for the wisdom of Torah which draws us closer to God and we articulate our hope for a time when all can come together as one, in order to recite the Shema with a united voice in a world of Peace.

Click here for 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 cantor@sinaihollywood.org.

Share a Prayer: Yehi Ratzon, May we may be saved from sources of evil and malice



Hi

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 the past we have looked at the preliminary prayers that introduce the morning service. We have also talked about the meditation which concludes the individual recitation of the Amidah. Yehi Ratzon is the nexus between these two prayers. In both cases, the way we act, speak and how we relate to others and how others relate to us seems to have a profound impact.

This stirring supplication was actually designed to serve as an alternative meditation to conclude the silent Amidah by the great second century sage, RabbiYehudaHaNasi (Judah the prince) the redactor of the primary collection of rabbinic law and lore know as the Mishna and key player in the development of our system of Jewish law. While the original prayer, as detailed in the Talmud (Berachot16b), was written in the plural form as is most of our sacred liturgy, our sages transformed Rabbi Yehdah’s beautiful prayer into a singular supplication when they included it in this early section of the Siddur.

Yehi Ratzon is a petition that asks that we may be saved from sources of evil and malice throughout the day. Beginning with the wish that we do not ourselves act with arrogance, the prayer continues with the hope that we be spared from, among others, mean spirited neighbors, false accusations and decrees, “ruthless opponents” the powers of destruction and, most interestingly, from a “Chaver Rah” – from an evil friend.

Rabbi B.S. Jacobson in his comprehensive work on liturgy entitled The Weekday Siddur grapples with the concept of an evil friend. He quotes a secondary source which describes such an individual as:

“a person who harbors wicked thoughts …even though in his outward habits he may be pleasing and although he may be good to others – he detests robbery and violence, for instance, and acts virtuously  – nevertheless since he harbors evil thoughts in his heart , one must keep away.”

Rabbi Jacobson cites the Tur, a medieval law code which indicates that, as is also mentioned in our Siddur Sim Shalom it is customary to add our own personal petitions and supplications at this point of the service. One has to wonder at the reason for including Rabbi Yehuda’s Yehi Razton and such personal prayers as we may add on our own at this point at the very beginning of the morning service. Perhaps it is to teach us that the precursor to exploring and deepening our relationship with God is to examine our relationships with our fellow human beings who, after all, are created in Gods image. Are we sources of evil? Are we affected by sources of malice such as the chaver rah? How do we act towards others? How we expect others to relate to us? That is to say, in order to make it through the day, we must avoid negativity so that we may see ourselves as sincere partners with God in the process of Tikun Olam – of repairing the world and making it a better place for God’s creations.

Here is a 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 cantor@sinaihollywood.org.


Take care,

Hazzan Michael Krausman