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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 juxtaposition?

Surely it has something to do with the fact that the story of the redemption from Egypt climaxed in an experience that laid the necessary groundwork for the practice of prayer. When we emerged unscathed and dry from the sea, we - for the very first time - expressed our trust in God (ויאמינו בה'), the kind of trust without which, prayer is inconceivable. For why would anyone bare his soul before a God whom he did not believe cared about his troubles and needs? Through revisiting the climax of the Exodus story, we become heartened to enter prayer.

But there is another layer here as well. For the amidah is not solely an encounter between God and the historical nation of Israel. It is also an encounter between God and me. Between God and you. It's an intimate encounter, a personal encounter. This is the reason that we whisper the amidah. It must then be that redemption has some kind of individual, personal resonance as well.

And indeed, the term גאולה appears in very personal contexts, both in Tanach (think of Yaakov's המלאך הגואל אותי ), and in our liturgy. On the Yamim Noraim we declare repeatedly that we all believe that God גואל ממות ופודה משחת, redeems us from death and ransoms us from hell (Koren translation). And in the Yamim Noarim context, we are clearly relating these words to our fate as individuals. But we need to ask, "What exactly is it that we are believing? What do we mean when we say that God redeems us from death?"

What we mean, is that when we live in the right way, in God's way, we live a life that death cannot vanquish, a life that will not disappear when we do, a life that will never be as never having been. This is a life characterized by loving and caring, repairing and building, contributing to the world and sanctifying it. A life that whose contours are shaped continuously and consistently by God's commanding whisper. Through His insistent and eternal instruction, God redeems us from death, ransoms us from nothingness.

And so, as we approach the amidah, as we draw near to the curtain of the chamber of mutual whispering, we remind ourselves afresh that we are approaching God whose great gift to us is personal redemption, God whose words to us must never be lost in the flow of our words to Him. And after we remember this, we close the curtain behind us, and begin.

God, open my lips and my mouth will speak Your praises.


~Rav Yosef

Mon, July 13 2020 21 Tammuz 5780