Mah Tovu

We get not only spatial markers to prepare our entry into the place of prayer, but emotional compass points as well. Into this special place we are to bring with us yirah (“reverence”) and ahavah (“love”), as well as humility (through bowing) and blessing (in returning to God what we receive). In assuming these different postures, each placing us in a different relationship to God–as subject, peer, and benefactor–we prepare ourselves to enter the full experience of prayer, wherever it takes us….
— Ellen Frankel, p.53 My People’s Prayer Book

Additional comments on this prayer in My People’s Prayer Book.

From Marcia Falk’s Book of Blessings:

How good the dwellings
where we gather–

serene and vibrant
as the gardens, the rivers,
the aloes
and the cedar trees.

How good to sit together
in peace.
after Numbers 24:5-6, Psalm 133:1

— p.156 Marcia Falk, The Book of Blessings
(Boston: Beacon, 1999; originally published 1996)

Portion of the Week commentary by Sue Levi Elwell:

For a moment, Balaam sees a community as it can be: a society of mutual dependence and trust, a community where each person is treated with dignity, and he exclaims…
[discussion of Bamidbar/Numbers’ focus on war/power, compared with Isaiah 54:2 which focuses on an expanded tent: “do not spare canvass”]

An expanded tent in a gracious and open city reflects the utopian and achievable goal of moving beyond oppositional concepts of native/stranger, friend/foe, chosen/rejected, male/female.
Are we ready to open our tents and our hearts to those who wish to dream — and then to build sacred communities that not only tolerate diversity and difference but celebrate them?…When our dwelling places become sanctuaries for all seekers of peace and justice, when our homes welcome all who no longer objectify the other, then we can truthfully declare, Mah tovu — how good, how fair, are our tents.
— p.956, 957, Sue Levi Elwell in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary

Alternative Prayers found in Fanny Neuda’s 19th Century prayer book. The public domain text is available through Google Books. Below are a few excerpts from the translation by Dinah Berland in Hours of Devotion: Fanny Neuda’s Book of Prayers for Jewish Women. NY: Schocken 2007:

“On entering the synagogue”
I greet you, O holy, silent dwelling place…

Outside in the bustle and turmoil of the world,
Life with its burdens and obstacles rises like a wall
Between my heart and you, O God.
But as I enter these silent, still, and sacred halls
That wall disappears, and my soul rises toward you
Full of joy and enthusiasm, inspiring awe and devotion….
p. 3-4

“At morning I”
Almighty God, you bring morning light
Into the place of darkest night

All nature becomes a holy sanctuary, resounding
With the joyous hymns and exultant hallelujahs

May I spend this day in useful activity….

May I live this day with honesty and integrity,
Never forgetting that the purpose of every day
Is to elevate the soul, make each of us more whole…

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