A meditation linking God’s four-letter name – YHVH (yud-hey-vav-hey) – with the human body/soul can help focus on God’s presence and power in our lives. I have relied on this meditation since Rabbi David Shneyer taught it to me some years ago. The variation presented here, incorporates a teaching from the prophet Micah on what […]

The close of Psalm 27 —

קַוֵּה, אֶל-יְהוָה: חֲזַק, וְיַאֲמֵץ לִבֶּךָ; וְקַוֵּה, אֶל-יְהוָה.

Hope in the LORD; strengthen yourself, let your heart take courage, and hope in the Lord [Psalm 27:14]

— is often cited as a motivational aphorism, particularly for the penitential season. This is its role in this meditation for Elul, for example.

Psalms 27:14 is employed in the Babylonian Talmud as a proof-text for appropriate attitude in prayer. The passage includes a discussion on prayer and hope, including — like the question Langston Hughes asks in “Harlem” — what happens to hope deferred.

Psalms 27:14 stands out in that it uses the second person (command) form, while the previous 13 verses are in the first person: “God is My light…whom should I fear?” etc. This raises the question: Whose heart is to hope?
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My God, help me remember that “just as the hand can kill, so can
the tongue,” tweet, blog, or Congressional hearing….

Update from House Committee on Homeland Security — “On March 10, the Committee will convene the first in a series of hearings examining radicalization in the American Muslim community and the community’s response to it. Additional information about this hearing will be distributed in the coming days.”

(Jump to “Meditation for Early Spring 2011”)
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March 7, 2011, is the beginning of a new month in the Jewish calendar. The new moon, with its slim light, is traditionally understood as a time of some anxiety and of hope. Prayers recited just prior to the new moon ask that the new month bring increase in a variety of areas. “At the New Moon” is adapted from these prayers and asks specifically for increased understanding and unity across communities.
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Here’s a new PDF prayer supplement, “At the New Moon,” brought to you by “Rosh Hodesh Elul DC,” a loosely formed group of men and women in solidarity with Women of the Wall. (Print back-to-back and fold.) “In Solidarity/For Understanding” was developed in support of Women of the Wall by Virginia Avniel Spatz, based on […]

Below is a kavanah [meditation/intention], inspired by Women of the Wall, for prayers at the new moon. Please share for individual or congregational use on Rosh Hodesh, at the announcement of the new month or at another appropriate time.*
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Or: Don’t think of a Green Hippo!

Recently, the leader of Fabrangen West‘s Birkot Ha-Shachar/Psukei D’Zimra [Morning Blessings and Verses of Song] introduced the service by asking that we consider the pshat [literal meaning] of the prayers. She mentioned a common tendency to hear (or speak) a negative edge to even the most positive sounding statements.

Everyone present seemed to recognize the tendency we were being asked to avoid. I think most of us have witnessed — if not played both roles, at various points in our lives — exchanges that goes something like this:

“That’s a nice shirt [lovely street, informative graphic].”
“What’s wrong with these pants [this neighborhood, the rest of the report]?”

Moreover, one participant explained a parallel version to her young son: “You know how ‘thanks for cleaning your room,’ might also mean, ‘How come you don’t do that more often?’ even if the mom doesn’t say that?”

And after more than a week of struggling with record- and back-breaking snowfalls, I know some of us were following “How wonderful are your works!” with a muttered, “Wonderful, sure! But don’t ‘Your works’ come in smaller packages?” Conversely, one is reminded of Tevye’s plaintive, “I know you look after all our needs… but would it spoil some vast eternal plan, if I were a wealthy man?”

Pshat Prayer

So, I thought the assignment to focus on the various expressions of thanks and praise in the service, trying to avoid hearing or speaking any hidden negatives, seemed appropriate. A reasonable, even simple, request.

And, with that kavanah [intention], I’m pretty sure that I managed relatively unadulterated gratitude for the first blessing: “Blessed are You, Adonai, Our God, Ruler of the Universe, You have given me understanding to see differences clearly, as between day and night.”

But, then I must have entered some sort of don’t-think-of-a-green-hippo state, as we continued reciting blessings:

“…she-asani b’tzalmo” [made in Your image] — “in Your image, with unlimited potential”* — “Well, really, I’m doing as much as I can right now!”

“…bat chorin” [free] — “free, with the ability to choose”* — “You got a problem with my choices?”

“…pokeiach ivrim” [open the eyes of the blind] — “…providing sight and insight”* — “I do SO recognize other people’s perspectives.”

…and on it went. I was failing seriously at this “pshat prayer.” It was an interesting, if somewhat disturbing, experimental result for me — but it wasn’t exactly the (simple) thanks our service leader had urged.

* We use Siddur Eit Ratzon, so these English formulations are Joseph Rosenstein’s.

Obliged to Thank

Then we came to the verse that begins “L’fichach anachnu chayyvim, l’hodot l’cha…” It’s usually translated as something like, “Therefore we are obliged to (acknowledge and) thank You…” (e.g., Sim Shalom, Metsuda, My People’s Prayerbook**).

Therefore we are obliged.…”That explains it,” I thought: Feeling obligated just isn’t consistent with simple anything — including thanks — for me, anyway. So, regardless of prayerbook contents — BTW, Kol Haneshamah and Mishkan T’filah,** e.g., don’t include this verse or the related paragraphs — maybe the awareness of obligation was making (simple) thanks impossible for me.

With this newly confused kavanah — aiming for simple thanks, which is maybe not possible in a relationship which involves obligation…and what relationship doesn’t? — I continued in the prayerbook:

L’fichach anachnu chayyavim [Because of all the blessings we receive, we are]
l’hodot l’cha, [obliged to acknowlege Your presence in our lives,]
ul’shabbeichacha ul’faercha, [to extol and to honor You,]
ul’vareich u’lkaddeish [to bless and to sanctify You,]
v’lateit shevach v’hodayah lishmecha
[and to give praise and gratitude to You.]
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