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: 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: 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- 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

Share a Prayer: Hashkiveinu

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.

One of the most poignant prayers in our liturgy is Hashkiveinu – “cause us to lie down in peace.” Nestled between the prayer for redemption and the prayer extolling God’s eternal reign over the world, Hashkiveinu, is one of the mandated blessings that surround the recitation of the Shema during the evening service.

Hashkiveinu contains a list of petitions including one asking God to protect us from perils that may come during the night. In ancient times, nighttime and sleep were fraught with mystery and danger. Not only was one susceptible to evil individuals, such as bandits and robbers, but it was believed that when one slept, the soul retuned to heaven (perhaps for some warranty servicing or maintenance) hopefully to be retuned in the morning. Furthermore, the night was a time for evil spirits and other daemons to roam about. This can be further understood by looking at the traditional prayers upon retiring, of which Hashkiveinu is also a part. One of the bedtime prayers asks God to send mighty angels bearing swords to protect us as we sleep.

Ismar Elbogen, the authoritative source on the subject of the history and origin of our liturgy, traces the source of Hashkiveinu to the Talmudic tractate of Brachot (4b) which outlines the cycle of daily and holiday prayer. Rav Amram, the 9th century sage who produced the first known Siddur has a text of Hashkiveinu that is similar in structure to our own. Interestingly two possible Hatimot or concluding passages can be found for this prayer; one closer to the Babylonian rite and the second closer to the ancient Palestinian. The framers of our liturgy solved this dilemma by employing the conclusion: “Shomer Amo Yisral La’Ad; Who guards His people Israel for ever” in the weekday version of Hashkiveinu. On Shabbat and festivals the ending phrase is “Ha Porese Sukat Aleinu V’Al kol Amo Yisrael, V’Al Yerushalaim; Who spreads the Tabenacle of peace over us and over allIsrael and overJerusalem.”

At first glance it may seem strange to include a list of petitions at in the midst of the prayers surrounding the Shema. After all, the Hashkiveinu is so close to the Amidah, a collection of 7-19 blessings and appeals that is the core of each formal service. Elbogen points out that before the destruction of the Second Temple (70 C.E.) the evening service was considered optional and did not contain the Amidah. Thus Hashkiveinu,  became the formal prayer request at night as it is centered around the fears and concerns associated with darkness. Even today, the question of the need for a formal evening service has resulted in the practice of only reciting the evening Amidah individually as opposed to the Amidah of the Morning and of the Afternoon, of which both contain a public as well as individual components.

The Talmud, as noted above, refers to the Hashkiveinu as the “Long Redemption.” This connection to the prayer for redemption: Gal Yisrael; “who redeems Israel,” is underscored by B.S. Jacobson in his definitive work on the daily prayer book. Jacobson cites a Midrash  (Rabbinic Parable) which relates that when the Children of Israel were instructed to remain indoors as the Angel of Death slew the first born of Egypt, they recited a prayer asking for a peaceful sleep, for protection from adversaries and for guidance in their comings and goings – this became the precursor of our  Hashkiveinu  prayer.

Because of the beauty of the Hashkiveinu and the richness of its contents, may artists have been moved to set this prayer to music. From the earliest Jewish composers to Lenard Bernstein to Debbie Freedman there are innumerable versions of Hashkiveinu. This is a link to a setting by Israel Alter, a composer who has had profound influence on the music of the modern Synagogue. The singer is Hazzan Louis Danto, one of the finest artists to ever grace the Bima.

[audio http://dl.dropbox.com/u/141011/cbmtogo/Haskeivienudanto.mp3]

 Hashkiveinu is certainly a moving and richly meaningful prayer. Indeed, this prayer articulates many of the basic yearnings we express to our Creator in a succinct and eloquent fashion: protection from the perils of the night, the blessing of a restful sleep (this may be a special one for parents of young kids), removal of adversaries and other obstacles that impede our lives, guidance to help us stay on a good and productive path in our lives and peace and security for Israel, are but a few. Above all, Hashkiveinu asks God to spread over us a Sukkah of Peace and shelter us under God’s Wings so that we may always be  able to feel God’s Devine presence with us where ever we go, no matter what happens, day or night.

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.

To learn more please check my Ehazzan Blog

Take care,

Hazzan Michael Krausman

Share A Prayer: In Times of Tragedy

This Post is dedicated to the memory of Andrew Silvershein a 16 year old Ramah Darom Camper who died tragically in a white water rafting accident on Sunday June 19 2011.  Our hearts go out to Andrew’s family and the entire Ramah Darom mishpacha.

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.

Responding to tragic news is one of the most difficult challenges a person can face. What do I say? How do I articulate my feelings? As with so many other situations, Jewish tradition provides the vocabulary to at least begin the conversation. Interestingly, Judaism mandates the following Bracha (Blessing) upon hearing of the death of a dear one:

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha Olam, Dayan Ha Emet: Blessed are You Our God, Ruler of the Universe who is the true Judge.”

At first glance, it may seem strange to utter a blessing at such a heartbreaking moment; why would one possibly think to express gratitude? In fact, the actual purpose of saying any Bracha (Blessing) is to acknowledge and reach out to God’s presence at a particular moment. When we say a blessing over bread, we become cognizant of God’s presence with us as we enjoy the bread God provided. Similarly, in this horrible instance, through uttering a Blessing we seek God’s presence to help us cope with the desperate situation in which we find our loved ones and ourselves. Additionally, by acknowledging God’s righteousness at a time when we might lose our faith, we are reminded that, as Rabbi Harold Kushner has said, “God is on our side, God is not on the side of illness or death.”

There are several other sources of comfort one can turn to at a moment of tragedy. This morning as I was praying, a segment of the Tachanun , a selection of personal petitions and supplications that are inserted in the weekday morning and afternoon service following the Amidah, spoke to me in a unique way. Crafted from verses from various Psalms (see below) the prayer is part of the first section of Tachanun:

“Remember Your compassion Adonai, and Your kindness, for they endure forever. Adonai will answer us in time of trouble;
the God of Jacob will uplift us. Adonai, redeem us – Sovereign, answer us when we call. Avinu Malkeinu [our Parent /our Monarch], respond to us graciously though we lack merit. Be kind to us for Your name’s sake. Hear our pleas; remember the covenant with ancestors and save us for You are merciful.”

As I have mentioned in past writings, for generations, we have turned in times of tribulation to the book of Psalms, a collection of 150 exquisite liturgical poems attributed to the biblical King David. Among the most touching Psalms are Psalm 121, “I turn my eyes to the mountains, from where will my help come,” Psalm 130, “… From out of the depths I called You Adonai…” and Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want…”  Rabbi Harold Kushner, to whom I referred above, is the author of an exceptionally insightful and comforting book on Psalm 23 entitled The Lord is My Sheppard.

Psalm 23 is the subject of numerous classical and modern settings. Gam Ki Elech, (click on link to listen) “Even though I pass through the shadow of the valley of death…” is a strikingly powerful setting by Elliot Kranzler, who is both a psychiatrist and a Jewish Recording Artist. This setting is found on his CD Ki Ata Imadi, as well as on a wonderful collection of songs of comfort entitled;  The World is a Narrow Bridge .

Of course texts relating to tragedy are not limited to ancient times. Many modern authors and poets have written meaningful, relevant and poignant prayers. Here is a Prayer by Rabbi Naomi Levy, a gifted and sensitive spiritual leader and author.

A Prayer When a Loved One’s Life Is Cut Short by Tragedy

I can’t believe I will never see your sweet face again. I am shattered. I keep thinking I’ll wake up from this cruel nightmare. But day after day I find myself alone with my pain and my tears. I wish I could make sense of the senselessness of your death. I wish I could understand God’s silence. I wish I could have done something to save you, to protect you from harm. I feel so helpless and so alone. I pray that you are at peace now, far away from this world’s horror. Your life ended in tragedy, but that’s not how I will remember you. I will remember your smile, your wisdom, your touch. I will remember your laughter, your kindness, your generosity, your determination, your love. I know that you wouldn’t want me to sink into despair. You always taught me to live up to the best in myself. And that’s what I will try to do. I will strive to search for the goodness in every soul, and to live up to the goodness inside my own soul.

Levy, Naomi (2007). Talking to God: Personal Prayers for Times of Joy, Sadness, Struggle, and Celebration (p. 214). Knopf. Kindle Edition.

Coming to the end of this I find that I still lack the words to express the deep sadness in my soul or my heartfelt sympathy for a family and friends that have suffered a tragic loss. I am, however, somewhat comforted by the fact that my connection to God to the Jewish community and to our sacred tradition gives me a place to start. I pray that those who are personally affected by the horror of a devastating loss will find strength in these connections or at least will somehow find in them the ability to begin the conversation that will lead to a measure of comfort and peace.

Here is a link to the Psalm texts 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