Pre-script: The 30 days of National Blog Posting Month are coming to a close, and Temple Micah‘s Siddur Study group is studying the closing blessings of the Amidah [standing] prayer. So a few (OK, quite a few) words on the first of Avodah [worship] blessing. (The version in Mishkan T’filah happens to consist of 30 words.)
The Avodah, or R’tzei (“Find favor”), blessing is the first of three “Good-bye” blessings of the Amidah, according to Elliot Dorff. Dorff, who offers “Theological Reflections” in My People’s Prayer Book, describes the Amidah’s structure this way:
The first three blessings identify the parties to the interaction of prayer, as if functioning effectively as a Jewish “Hello” to God. In a parallel way, these last three blessings say “Goodbye,” making sure that both God and we leave with the proper impression of each other and with the most important themes in our minds and hearts.
Dorff, p.154, 157 in My People’s Prayer Book
Note: My People’s Prayer Book, vol. 2: Amidah (Jewish Lights, 1998) offers full Hebrew and English text, with multiple commentaries. The on-line preview includes most of the relevant sections (pp.149ff).
From this Hello/Goodbye perspective, the difference between the weekday and Shabbat/Festival Amidah is particularly striking. While a 13-blessing progression comes between the “Hello” and the “Goodbye” on weekdays, there is but one message between the greetings on Shabbat and Festival days: Sanctification of the Day.
On any day, however, the central part of the dialogue with God — be it the one blessing or the longer, more varied conversation — is followed by a plea that our prayers “be acceptable.”
Meeting with God
The Mishnah and Gemara are full of concern about when, where and how prayer, sometimes viewed as a substitute for Temple sacrifice, is accepted. This concern is reflected in many halakhot [laws] of communal prayer and the timing of individual prayers. It’s also reflected in the words of our prayers: In the preliminary service, for example, we express the hope that our prayer come at the “right time [eit ratzon].” The Avodah blessing includes this theme as well.
In some ways the Avodah blessing reminds me of the “well, thank you for taking the time to see us…” point in a meeting between unequal parties. The requester(s) of the audience shift weight and tone of voice to initiate parting. They beg that the substance, just concluded, receive the attention it needs. Those departing may also express hope that the relationship continue.
In many business situations, the overall relationship matters more than the specifics of any meeting. Similarly in our meetings with God. Moreover, there’s a far less business-like aspect to our meeting with God: This is a not a relationship that we can afford to sever, and it can’t be replaced. So, the moment of preparing for departure is suffused with gratitude for the encounter, regret at the parting, and longing for future relationship.
The Avodah blessing is one of the spots in the prayerbook where denominational or philosophical differences are pronounced. The wording in orthodox siddurim asks God to “return the sacrifice to the Holy of Holies” and “accept fire-offerings….” This formulation reflects the concept of prayer as the substitute for Temple sacrifices. But such words “have been altered or even deleted in virtually every non-Orthodox prayer book of the past two centuries,” says David Ellenson (“How the Modern Prayer Book Evolved”) in My People’s Prayer Book.
Mishkan T’filah offers several versions, none mentioning sacrifice. The “Shabbat Morning I” version reads as follows in the English:
Find favor, [YHVH], our God, with Your people Israel
and accept their prayer in love.
May the worship of Your people Israel always be acceptable
God who is near to all who call, turn lovingly to Your servants
Pour out Your spirit upon us.
Let our eyes behold Your Loving return to Zion
Blessed are You, [YHVH], whose Presence returns to Zion.
p.254, Mishkan T’filah (URJ, 2007)
Marcia Falk’s The Book of Blessings takes an exceptional tack in its “worship” blessing. The unusual siddur, which avoids all personal address to God and stresses feminist liturgical choices, offers this Avodah blessing:
Let us restore Shekhinah to her place
in Israel and throughout the world,
and let us infuse all places
with her presence.
— p.160 in My People’s Prayer Book
Also see Book of Blessing
Joseph Rosenstein, who put together Siddur Eit Ratzon, cautions against any view that might suggest God is a “cosmic candy-machine.”
It is “always the right time to pray [Eit Ratzon],” Joe insists throughout the siddur. He offers this meditation at the close of the Amidah:
I remind myself that it is I,
not You who is leaving
For You are always present in my life.
— Siddur Eit Ratzon, p.73
See Source Materials for citations. Look for more on these topics in future posts.
רְצֵה, ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵֽינוּ, בְּעַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל וּבִתְפִלָּתָם, וְהָשֵׁב
אֶת הָעֲבוֹדָה לִדְבִיר בֵּיתֶֽךָ [וְאִשֵּׁי יִשְׂרָאֵל] וּתְפִלָּתָם
בְּאַהֲבָה תְקַבֵּל בְּרָצוֹן, וּתְהִי לְרָצוֹן תָּמִיד עֲבוֹדַת
יִשְׂרָאֵל עַמֶּֽךָ. וְתֶחֱזֶֽינָה עֵינֵֽינוּ בְּשׁוּבְךָ לְצִיּוֹן
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’, הַמַּחֲזִיר שְׁכִינָתוֹ לְצִיּוֹן.
R’tzei YHVH Eloheinu b’amcha yisrael uvit’filatam, v’hasheiv et ha-avodah lidvir beitecha [v’ishei yisrael] ut’filatam b’ahavah t’kabel b’ratzon, ut’hi l’ratzon tamid avodat yisrael amecha. V’techezenah eineinu b’shuvcha l’tziyon b’rachamim. Baruch Atah YHVH, hamachazir sh’chinato l’tziyon.
Accept, [YHVH] our God, your people Israel and their prayer. And
restore the worship to the inner sanctuary of Your house. [And the
fires (offerings) of Israel] and their prayer in love and favor
receive willingly. And may the worship of Your people Israel be ever
acceptable to You. And turn our eyes again to see Your return in mercy to Zion. Blessed are You, [YHVH], who restores the Shechinah to Zion.