December 6, 2013

God’s Favor, God’s Prayer

Berakhot 7a discusses the topic of God’s prayer:

R. Johanan says in the name of R. Jose: How do we know that the Holy One, blessed be He, says prayers? Because it says: Even them will I bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer (Isaiah 56:7; more below). It is not said, ‘their prayer’, but ‘My prayer’ [תְּפִלָּתִי]; hence [you learn] that the Holy One, blessed be He, says prayers.

What does He pray? — R. Zutra b. Tobi said in the name of Rab: ‘May it be My will that My mercy may suppress My anger, and that My mercy may prevail over My [other] attributes, so that I may deal with My children in the attribute of mercy and, on their behalf, stop short of the limit of strict justice.’…

Isaiah 56:7
וַהֲבִיאוֹתִים אֶל-הַר קָדְשִׁי, וְשִׂמַּחְתִּים בְּבֵית תְּפִלָּתִי–עוֹלֹתֵיהֶם וְזִבְחֵיהֶם לְרָצוֹן, עַל-מִזְבְּחִי: כִּי בֵיתִי, בֵּית-תְּפִלָּה יִקָּרֵא לְכָל-הָעַמִּים
Even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be acceptable upon Mine altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
–“Old” JPS translation (borrowed from Mechon-Mamre)


God’s Prayer

As commentary to the Avodah [worship] blessing of the Amidah (AKA “Rtzei [find favor]”), My People’s Prayer Book cites a teaching from the 20th Century chasid, Rabbi Kalynomos Kalmish Shapira of Piesetzna. The teaching links the above passage from Berakhot to Genesis 28:11, in which Jacob “came upon (vayifga) the place (makom) and spent the night there because the sun had set.”

The noun “makom [place]” is one of God’s names. The verb “vayifga [to come upon]” also appears in Jer. 7:16, where it is translated as a type of prayer:

וְאַתָּה אַל-תִּתְפַּלֵּל בְּעַד-הָעָם הַזֶּה, וְאַל-תִּשָּׂא בַעֲדָם רִנָּה וּתְפִלָּה
:[v’al tifga-bi]וְאַל-תִּפְגַּע-בִּי–
: כִּי-אֵינֶנִּי שֹׁמֵעַ, אֹתָךְ.
Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to Me; for I will not hear thee.
–“Old” JPS translation (borrowed from Mechon Mamre

Re-reading Genesis 28:11 and substituting these translations yields three ways to understand the verse:

(1) Jacob prayed;
(2) Jacob encountered God in his own act of prayer; and
(3) Jacob encountered God in the midst of God’s prayer!
In this way, suggests the Piesetzner, God and Jew, as it were, pray together, finding one another in each other’s prayers….

…we do not seek to nullify our will (simply nullifying your prayerful request or need would only be another way of reinforcing its importance), nor do we seek to alter God’s will. We seek literally to unite our prayer and our will with God’s. Thus the innermost desire of the worshiper is revealed as a yearning to be with God, just as the innermost desire of God is to be with us. And this is the meaning of prayer.
— Kushner and Polen (“Chasidic and Mystical Perspectives”),
pp. 155, 160 in My People’s Prayer Book, vol. 2, The Amidah

For more on the Rtzei/Avodah blessing and a link to the appropriate on-line preview pages from My People’s Prayer Book, see “Good-bye, part 1”.

More notes on this and other blessings in the Amidah coming soon.


My House of Prayer — House of My Prayer

Isaiah 56:7 is often recited/sung after “Shema Koleinu” [“listen to our voice”] during Selichot [forgiveness] prayers and the high holidays. Here are some links to a musical version that seems to me consistent with this idea of uniting God’s will and our own:

a beautiful instrumental from Zemirot Database

An MP3 of the alto part from a choir-sharing site
— please note you can listen or download WITHOUT clicking on ads; I can’t vouch for what happens if you DO click on ads

a choir rendition —

Isaiah 56:7
וַהֲבִיאוֹתִים אֶל-הַר קָדְשִׁי, וְשִׂמַּחְתִּים בְּבֵית תְּפִלָּתִי–עוֹלֹתֵיהֶם וְזִבְחֵיהֶם לְרָצוֹן, עַל-מִזְבְּחִי: כִּי בֵיתִי, בֵּית-תְּפִלָּה יִקָּרֵא לְכָל-הָעַמִּים
Even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be acceptable upon Mine altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
–“Old” JPS translation (borrowed from Mechon-Mamre)

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The National Blog Posting Month [NaBloPoMo] theme for December is “more/less.” I am participating in December, more or less.

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Berakhot, Breishit, contemporary midrash, God, Isaiah, liturgy, NaBloPoMo

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