Sign In Forgot Password

prayer ping #38 what'd we do now?!?

Rav Yosef

The Amidah contains no shortage of paragraphs and phrases that we only insert when appropriate (on Chanukah, during the rainy season, etc.) Wouldn't it make sense for the Amidah's sixth blessing to be in that same category? The Siddur should say something like, "If you have sinned since the last time you davened, or don't yet feel adequately forgiven for a prior sin, include the paragraph "Forgive us our Father..." But if you're good, then...Read more...

prayer ping #37 like a baby ni the womb

Rabbanit Alissa

Rav Simlai explains what life is like for a baby in the womb. He says that in the womb, the baby is taught all of Torah and that a light illuminates so that the baby can see from one end of the world to the other. At birth, the moment when the baby sees the light of the world, an angel comes and hits his/her mouth and the baby forgets everything he/she had learned in the womb. The indentation on our top lip remains as a physical...Read more...

prayer pings #36 the mind makes the world go round

Rabbanit Alissa

Before we pray, we thank God for making prayer possible.

We begin the second section of the Amidah (the bakashot/requests section) with אתה חונן. The Shulchan Aruch tells us that the reason this is the first of our requests in weekday davening is because what it asks for makes prayer (and life) possible. Practically, without it we could not say any of the brachot that follow. This thing is knowledge.

In אתה...Read more...

prayer ping #35 who you callin' holy??

Rav Yosef

You are Holy, and Your name is Holy. So far, so good. The unnamed object of this first line in the Amidah's third blessing is unquestionably God. But then what? And holy ones praise You daily. "Holy ones"? Who's that?

We are of course tempted - by our healthy sense of selves - to assign that appellation to ourselves. We're pretty holy, no? Upon second thought though, the idea of standing before God and declaring ourselves to be "holy...Read more...

prayer pings #34 bringing back the dead (amidah paragraph 2)

Rabbanit Alissa

In the second bracha of the Amidah, we speak of God's gevurah, His might. Chazal teach that the paradigm for God's gevurah is techiyat hameitim, the resurrection of the dead, and so we mention it five times in this bracha. Why is techiyat hameitim the paradigm of God's gevurah?

The Gemara in Masechet Taanit explains that there are three keys to unlock blessing that only God holds-- the key for rain, the key for a barren woman's womb,...Read more...

Prayer Ping #33 Getting to Know You (Amidah - paragraph 1)

Rav Yosef

When the sage Rabbi Eliezer was on his deathbed, his students came to visit him and they asked him to impart final words of wisdom. The dying sage shared several pieces of practical advice with them, and then added one word of spiritual instruction as well. "When you pray, know before Whom you stand". Now, by the days of Rabbi Eliezer, the opening paragraph of the Amidah had certainly already been composed. Yet one is tempted to think that...Read more...

prayer pings #32 before opening the curtain

R. Yochanan said, "Who is destined for the future world? One who mentions Redemption (גאולה) right before the Amida of Ma'ariv.

In our daily practice, we actually follow Rabbi Yochanan's guidance both at Ma'ariv and at Shacharit, as we retell the story of the Exodus before each of these Amidot. Indeed, the words that echo in our ears as we open the amida are Blessed are you God who redeemed Israel.

But why? Why this...Read more...

prayer pings #31 night and day

The obligation of saying Shema does not end with the Shema.

Chazal teach in Berachot 12a that in order for us to fulfill the obligation of Kriyat Shema we have to say the subsequent paragraph of אמת ויציב (in the morning) or אמת ואמונה (in the evening). They explain that this is based on the verse in Tehillim 92:3, לְהַגִּיד בַּבֹּקֶר חַסְדֶּךָ וֶאֱמוּנָתְךָ...Read more...

prayer pings #30 yom ha'atzmaut

The chapter of our liturgy that is most closely associated with Yom Ha'atzmaut is one which we sing every Shabbat and Yom Tov before we bentch, but whose words have special resonance today:                        שיר המעלות: בשוב ה' את שיבת ציון היינו כחולמים

Read more...

prayer pings #29 Daydream believer

Rashbam, the grandson of Rashi, wrote some pretty surprising stuff. For example, commenting on the words (Shmot 13:9), "and it shall be for a sign upon your hand and a remembrance between your eyes" - which Rashi insists refer to tefillin - Rashbam writes,

"According to the deep pshat, this means that [the Torah] should be something you always remember, as if it were written on your hand. And it shall be as a golden diadem, the sort...Read more...

prayer pings #28 Unconditional Love: Putting the Shema into Practice

Last time, we explored how the Shema became central to our lives and religion and why it is the foundation of our individual and communal resilience. Now, we will reflect on how we can put this understanding into practice.

The answer comes from the original text itself. As we know, immediately following the anthem of שמע ישראל ה' אלקינו ה' אחד (Devarim 6:4), the Torah tells us ואהבת את ה' אלקיך בכל...Read more...

prayer pings #27 the centrality of shema

The Shema is our anthem. We begin and end each day with it. We make sure that all of our children know it by heart. And in our finals moments of life, the Shema in the vidui prayer is the tefillah that escorts us out of this world and into Hashem's embrace.

How did the centrality of the Shema come to be?

Chazal famously teach that at Yaakov's deathbed he feared one of his children would not carry on his legacy of serving...Read more...

prayers pings #26 shameless

וְלא נֵבושׁ לְעולָם וָעֶד, "And may we not feel shame forever and ever". In Ahavah Rabbah, we say these words, praying that we know no shame. It is striking that this request is found in the paragraph that explains Hashem's great and unending love for us, His people. Why this reference to shame in the midst of what is otherwise a prayer to love and be loved?

I am reminded of the image my professor, Rabbi Dr....Read more...

prayer pings #25 it ain't no accident

Make love, not war.

So pleaded the unofficial slogan of the 1960's counter-culture. (Remember?) The phrase applied the verb "make" to both love and war, presuming both love-making and war-making to be conscious, "creative" decisions. Isaiah, we assume, would have articulated the slogan differently. For when Isaiah addressed Cyrus king of Persia, who would soon defeat Babylonia and permit the exiled Jews to return to Zion, he...Read more...

prayer pings #24 leftovers

Chazal conclude Pesukei DeZimra with the powerful chatimah of Yishtabach: הבוחר בשירי זמרה מלך קל חי העולמים, "[Blessed are You God] Who chooses musical songs of praise, King, God, Life-Giver of the world" (Artscroll p.82).

Out of all of the descriptions of praise we have used, why in this final moment do we refer to God as הבוחר בשירי זמרה, "He Who chooses musical songs"?

On the one...Read more...

prayer pings #23 the ineffable

The inadequacy of language. Experiences and feelings so stirring, so deep, so strong that they elicit primal sounds, but not words. Not because language is an insufficiently developed tool, but because the feelings we are feeling originate in a place outside the reach of human artifice.

Twice in a very short span, as the Psukai D'zimra of Shabbat reaches its glorious crescendo, we acknowledge - not sadly - the incapacity of language...Read more...

prayer pings #22

Shirat HaYam is not about retelling our story of redemption, and definitely not about mumbling familiar words as quickly as we can. Shirat HaYam is about actively reliving the moment when God saved us, such that it becomes the present. At the sea, we were fleeing not just from the Mitzrim, but also from the mindset of slavery-- the hopeless, defeated, and purposeless lives we had been living up until we stood at the edge of the sea. Because...Read more...

prayer pings #21

It was the first time that we, as a collective, "had faith in God". And we make a point of referring to it as Psukai D'zimra approaches its culmination. "And Israel saw the mighty hand that God brought upon Egypt, and they had faith in God". The relevance of referencing this moment at this juncture is self-evident. The premise of the prayer we are about to engage in is the faith that God is concerned for our welfare and is there to be called...Read more...

Prayer pings #20

Over the last few weeks I have been reading Portia Iverson's book Strange Son, in which she chronicles her work raising her autistic child Dov. Her work, in tandem with the medical investigation and research she does, provides fascinating and heartbreaking insights as to how the mind of an autistic person does - and doesn't - work. For example, you and I, when facing common situations which are populated by dozens of stimuli and numerous...Read more...

PRAYER PINGS #19

So this one is a little personal.

I love nature. I love the outdoors. Not just in a casual way. In a deep and breathtaking kind of way. Leaves and branches and insects. Birds and grass. Mountains and snow and air and sky. Creeks and even the smallest of waterfalls. I empty my lungs and inhale it. I drink it in with all of my senses. It makes make me smile and cry all at once. I'm in love.

So whoever it was who composed...Read more...

PRAYER PINGS #18

Sometimes we place our trust in people, and wind up disappointed. And sometimes we place our trust in God, and wind up disappointed. This is why Psalm 146, the one that follows Ashrai every morning, requires closer analysis.

The Psalm's third verse implores us to not rely on human beings, even upon נדיבים , meaning either "notables" or "generous ones". Why not? Not because people are generally unreliable, rather because people...Read more...

PRAYER PINGS #17

Maybe it has gotten harder to do than it used to be. Or maybe we're just not as good at it as Jews used to be. One way or the other, it's a hard task for us, one which demands a thoughtful and careful approach.

The Ashrai is the glorious centerpiece of the פסוקי דזמרא , the morning Psalms. And although its fourth verse is not typically the headline grabber, it does epitomize a challenge we...Read more...

PRAYER PING #16

The tefillah of יהי כבוד introduces the theme of God's Presence in the natural world. In the Tehillim that follow, which form the center of פסוקי דזמרא, we remind ourselves of God's hand as Creator and Artist of all of existence. And yet, nestled into these statements of awe is an esoteric and deeply poignant question.

In יהי כבוד we say, ה' שמך לעולם, ה' זכרך לדר ודר, "'Hashem' is Your...Read more...

PRAYER PING #15

It's hard to notice what's not there. Especially when it has so unassuming a presence to begin with. Which is why the great majority of us have spent little time wondering where Psalm 100, the Psalm of Thanksgiving, disappears to on Shabbat morning. But I'd suggest that it's actually something worth wondering about.

We should begin by asking the fundamental question: Why indeed is this staple of the daily פסוקי דזמרא...Read more...

PRAYER PING #14

Thank God and call out in God's name! Make God's deeds known among the nations and speak of God's wonders!

OK.

Search for God; continuously seek God's presence. Remember the wonders God once did, and the laws that emanated from His mouth. Remember God's covenant.

Now I'm confused.

The above are the consecutive verses that open the P'sukai D'zimra. They are enough to bend you into a theological pretzel. How do...Read more...

PRAYER PING #13

ברוך שאמר is the thesis of פסוקי דזמרא. It tells you what really matters and gives you a preview of what is to come. The first half of ברוך שאמר has nine expressions of gratitude and praise, while the second half serves as an introduction to the Tehillim that will follow (ובשירי דוד עבדך נהללך ה' אלקינו, 'With the songs of Your servant David [which we are about to say], we will praise You, O...Read more...

PRAYER PING #12

Before we plunge into the פסוקי דזמרא, the section comprised (mostly) of selections from the book of Psalms, it's worth taking a look at what we're doing in this section from 30,000 feet up.  While it is tempting to satisfy ourselves with Rav Simlai's comment in the Talmud that as a matter of simple protocol we must "speak the praises of God before praying [to Him]", let us instead follow the footsteps of our Sages who...Read more...

PRAYER PING #11

Don't blink. You'll miss the recitation of Korbanot.

The speed with which we all typically slice through this forlorn section, sandwiched between the morning brachot and the first kaddish, is eminently explicable if somewhat regrettable.  Explicable in that we're just no longer so into korbanot as a means of worship. It's been a millennium or two since we last did them, and prayer has really taken its place as the...Read more...

PRAYER PINGS #10

By instituting the morning beracha of מלביש ערומים (God Who clothes the naked) in Birkot HaShachar, Chazal cultivate an awareness of God's Presence in the most basic, seemingly mundane acts of life. In these two words, מלביש ערומים, which we see codified in Masechet Berachot 60b, we not only express gratitude to God for giving us the ability to clothe ourselves, but we also thank Him for being the One to clothe us. Why...Read more...

PRAYER PINGS #9

We invariably do it. And then just as invariably, we feel bad for having done it. When we encounter a human being who is markedly less fortunate than we are, in any one of numerous ways, we feel lucky and blessed to be who we are, and to have what we have. And although the pang of guilty conscience that follows - the one triggered by the realization that we are being self-centered at a moment when we ought be other-centered - is ultimately...Read more...

Thu, April 26 2018 11 Iyyar 5778