Some Early Morning Blessing Resources
offered with thoughts of Temple Micah’s upcoming siddur study group
Why open a prayer book?
The Art of Blessing the Day
Why open a prayer book:
“Sometimes you’re just too strung out to come up with your own personal prayers. Having the text in front of you kind of takes you by the hand and walks you over to something that matters more than whatever is getting you down.
— Jay Michaelson in Making Prayer Real by R. Mike Comins, Jewish Lights 2010 (see also Making Prayer Real website
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“The Art of Blessing the Day”
An excerpt from the eponymous 1999 book by Marge Piercy:
The blessing for the return of a favorite cat,
the blessing for love returned, for friends’
return, for money received unexpected,
the blessing for the rising of the bread,
the sun, the oppressed. I am not sentimental
about old men mumbling the Hebrew by rote
with no more feeling than one says gesundheit.
But the discipline of blessings is to taste
each moment, the bitter, the sour, the sweet
and the salty, and be glad for what does not
hurt. The art is in compressing attention
to each little and big blossom of the tree
of life, to let the tongue sing each fruit,
its savor, its aroma and its use.
— Marge Piercy. Entire poem on publisher’s page
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Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer teaches, regarding the early morning prayer, “Modah/eh ani…rabah emunatekha [Thank You, God for returning my soul to me…great is Your faith]”: What is this about God having “great faith”? Upon awakening, we note that God has just entrusted us with a new day…a whole day to help heal the world, wreak havoc in it, whatever we might choose to do with these precious hours. God is trusting us.
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In 1877, Rabbi Leopold Stein, a prominent figure in the Reform movement, published a 36-point catalog of religious ordinances for “present-day Israelites,” entitled “Torath-Chajim” [Living Torah]. This was one of the readings in Temple Micah‘s recent class on “‘Challenges’ in Contemporary Jewish Faith.”
Class reactions to Stein’s specific ordinances were varied. As were responses to his use of “law”: distinguishing between “divine laws of the Bible” and “rabbinical ordinances…which excessively weigh down and impede life,” on the one hand, and, on the other, labeling some “rabbinical institutions” as “sacred obligations to us in the ordering of our religious life and law.”
I was personally struck by two spots in Stein’s text where one form of “obligation” is seen to trump another:
Ordinance #19 of Torath-Chajim insists that “we have both the right and obligation” to set aside rules which make it impossible for a modern business person to observe Shabbat. Ordinance #20 states that it is “a sacred religious duty” to do away with second-day festival celebrations. While the idea of “sacred religious duty” could launch many volumes of discussion, my most powerful response was to wish I heard this phrase more often in contemporary Reform discourse. I particularly miss it when speaking — as Stein is doing — about variant understandings of such duties.
Some years ago, Jewish Lights published an anthology of Jewish mystery/detective fiction called Criminal Kabbalah (heartily recommended, BTW). The title is meant to be cute: the stories have nothing to do with kabbalist philosophy or practice. Soon, however — if proposed legislation in 13 of the United States becomes law — many publishers may find a market for true-life “Felonious Faith” tales.
Legislation just introduced in Tennessee would make the practice of Shariah a felony punishable by 15 years in jail, for example. Although Tennessee is the first state to propose criminalizing religious expression, attempts to ban religious and other “foreign” law, some specifically including halakhah, have been introduced in 12 other states. See Clergy Beyond Borders news/views blog for some useful links.
The outright attacks on religious pluralism and other troubling aspects of these proposed laws have been discussed elsewhere. At least as dangerous to pluralism, however, are the ignorance and prejudice demonstrated by official descriptions of religious law.