Morning: Blessing, with Echo of Gunshots

How lovely are these tents!
not far from housing that has seen better days
and housing that has seen too many awful ones.

I love the place of Your house, reached through streets
collecting cigarette butts, the odd chicken wing, echoes of homicide.

Through Your abundant love, I enter Your house,
where these peaceful walls remind us: “If I am for myself alone, what am I?”
while a few miles away homes reel from gunshots and mourning,
makeshift memorials of teddy bears and candles pooled with tears and rain.
Meetings and vigils and “let this be the last.”

My prayer seeks a favorable time –
Does joy come in the morning, where weeping has not tarried for the night?
Can we dance together, if we have not yet joined in lament?

You answer with your saving truth:
Your glory’s dwelling-place spans mountain top and pit.
We are shaken and we stand firm.
Remove our sackcloth and dress us to praise You, Source of Healing and Help.

— Virginia Spatz, August 21, 2015

See Mah Tovu [How lovely are your tents] and Psalm 30 in the early morning prayers

…weeping may tarry for the night, but joy cometh in the morning.
…When I was carefree, I thought, “I shall never be shaken.”…
LORD, when I enjoyed your favor, You made me stand firm as a mighty mountain; when You hid Your face, I was terrified….
You turned my lament into dancing;
You removed my sackcloth and girded me with joy

See also, “Prayer Warm Up” and handout on Psalm 30

Prayer Warm-up: From Self to Community

Part of the early morning warm-up for prayers — along with awareness of our blessings and awakening body, soul, and mind — is moving from what Mishkan T’filah [Reform prayerbook] calls “self-fulfillment” to “social imperatives of community.” And that means beginning to move through the individual joys and concerns that we brought with us to a communal awareness — of each other and the world beyond these walls.

…To me it’s a little ironic that Mishkan T’filah editors discuss this in the introduction but don’t include my favorite way to accomplish this — the psalms — in the prayerbook proper….

Psalm 30 in particular, on the handout (Psalms Handout; see below), is a great vehicle for moving through our personal laments and dancing, shaken-ness and solidity, as we become aware of participating in thousands of years and millions upon millions of voices crying out and healing, praising without ceasing.

In this season of Elul, Psalm 27 is also recited, asking God to help us feel the divine presence as we seek to return to ourselves, as individuals and as a People in the new year.

And, finally, I repeat a teaching I learned earlier this summer about the nearness of all we need — like the water right in front of the deer in Psalm 42 — and how it is, even still, for us to experience what sustains us. We do, after all, have to become vulnerable, if only for moment.

Note: Please note that Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb’s first name contains a typo on this handout, PsalmsAugust22. My apologies.

See also, “Morning: Blessing, with Echo of Gunshots.”

Prayer in the Midst of Bullets and Bombs

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Decades ago, Yehuda Amichai wrote about the diameter of a bomb — thirty centimeters, with circles of pain outward from its center. (English here).

Similarly, every bullet leaves pain in circles rippling outward.

We also know that kindness has a ripple effect,
and many people think prayer works this way, too.

The 20th Century rabbi Max Kadushin asks us to notice that the Amidah (“Standing prayer,” the central prayer of a Jewish service) begins with one opening blessing formula and then proceeds with a series of prayers that use only a closing formula.

…Jewish blessings are frequently structured with an opening and closing formula book-ending the content. The unusual structure of the Amidah, he says, creates a “cascade of blessing,” growing from the first blessing outward….

If everyone on the outer edges of pain ripples
sends blessings inward,
a lot of healing energy
will wend its way toward those most in need…
with most of us in a position
to both send and receive.

Max Kadushin. Worship and Ethics: A Study in Rabbinic Judaism. (NY: Bloch, 1963)


Treona Kelty is founder of Beautiful U Yes U, see also Facebook.
This photo is from their office this summer.

Praying with Voices of Grief and Struggle

Jewish memorial prayers ask that souls of the departed be bound up among the living. The living help in this process by doing acts of tzedakah – translated as charity, righteousness, or justice – in the name of their departed loved ones. In that spirit, and inspired by my “die-in” experience on December 8, I offer the following prayer:

May the souls of
Sean Bell
Alan Blueford
Dale Graham
Gregory Chavis
Archie Elliot
Clinton Allen
Maurice Donald
Oscar Grant
Ramarley Graham
John Crawford III
and others lost to police violence
find eternal shelter and rest.

May each personal and communal act of remembrance
bring further solace to their mothers and others who loved these individuals in life.

May the myriad acts of protest for justice
conducted in their names
bind their souls more deeply among the living.

May each die-in act,
symbolically embodying the last moments of the departed,
bind their deaths more tightly into our national consciousness
and collective commitment to change.

As the souls of
Sean Bell
Alan Blueford
Dale Graham
Gregory Chavis
Archie Elliot
Clinton Allen
Maurice Donald
Oscar Grant
Ramarley Graham
John Crawford III
and so many others,
our brothers, our teachers,
rest in eternal Light.
May we continue to find
illumination in their everlasting brightness.
And let us say: Amen.

Maybe: Janis Joplin, the Chantels, and Jonah

“Maybe” is not always comfortable in a world that values black and white, in or out, yes or no. But the Book of Jonah, recited on Yom Kippur afternoon, suggests that coming to terms with “maybe” is a key lesson of these days between “it is written” and “it is sealed.” And two musical approaches to “Maybe” help illuminate Jonah’s struggles with concept.
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Is this 1959 or 2014? Prayers for a Change

BarbieDC4MBDC Tefillin Barbie would love to focus on her passions of Jewish text and gender studies. But — don’t let that frozen smile fool you — she’s got other pressing concerns as well.

She finds, in fact, that concern for the racial tensions exploding in Ferguson, MO, and around the country dominate her prayers.

For example, upon donning tefillin in the morning (Koren Saks translation; Barbie’s own meditations):

From Your wisdom, God most high, grant me [wisdom], and from Your understanding, give me understanding.
Help me understand how our country remains so divided and how to help promote a better vision and a more just reality.

May Your loving-kindness be greatly upon me, and in Your might may my enemies and those who rise against me be subdued.
I pray in the spirit of the Talmudic great, Beruriah, who scolded her husband, Rabbi Meir for praying that “sinners be no more,” insisting instead that he should instead pray that the sins that should be no more. (See Berakhot 10a; Midrash Psalms 118)

Pour Your godly oil on the seven branches of the menora so that Your good flows down upon Your creatures.
There are so many areas of the globe in need of attention, but may our collective actions bring more divine flow to Ferguson, MO, and other spots in need of extra oiling.

You open Your hand and satisfy every living thing with Your favor.
May these straps, donned in prayer, remind me to keep my hands on productive, positive work for a better world and keep my mind away from panic, hatred, or despair.

Aramaic, Arabic and Jewish Names of God


This post was updated, 8/28/18, correcting an error in the section on Aramaic names for God. HaMakom [The Place] and Ribbono Shel Olam [Master of the Universe] are Hebrew. (Thanks to Norman Shore for pointing out the mistake; only took me 18 months to make the correction!)

יתגדל ויתקדש שמה רבא

In a previous post, I mentioned that kaddish is not filled with God’s names, as are many of Jewish prayers, but about God’s name. Consider, e.g., the Amidah — Judaism’s central tefilah [prayer], which speaks directly to God, using the four-letter name [YHVH] and second-person address [masc. sing. “you”]; it begs, for instance, “May YOUR greatness and YOUR holiness be realized… [תתגדל ותתקדש].” In contrast, the kaddish speaks in the third-person, and asks, as it’s often translated, “May HIS great name be magnified and sanctified [יתגדל ויתקדש שמה רבא].”

In trying to make this point, I accidentally gave the impression that I meant that Aramaic, as a language and/or as employed by the Rabbis, had no name for God. This is far from the truth (see below) and not what I meant. But the misunderstanding led to an interesting discussion at Temple Micah’s recent Siddur Study session.

In many translations of kaddish, “רבא (rabba),” which appears in the first line and in the congregational response, is rendered “great,” as in “[God’s] great name.” But one participant argued that “rabba” could be read as a noun, rather than an adjective.

Here is the way that “rab” is translated in the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon:

rb, rbˀ (raḇ, rabbā) n.m.
chief; teacher
rb (raḇ, rabbā) adj.
great, big

The final aleph makes “rab” (“chief” or “teacher,” here) into “the chief” or “the teacher.” So, if rabba is read, not as “great” but as “The Teacher” or “The Chief,” this could be a name of God. It would parallel, he argues, “Rab” as “Lord” in Arabic.

Here, as one of many examples, is the first appearance of Rab, usually rendered “Lord,” in the Quran:

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Alhamdu lillahi rabbi alAAalameen
[All] praise is [due] to Allah , Lord of the worlds
— Sura 1:2, from this great interactive study tool

This change of reading of “Rabba” does not alter the pervasive third-person nature of the kaddish. But it does provide food for thought and reminds us of the close associations, or entanglements, in neighboring conceptions of God.

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