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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 ones" seems a bit presumptuous, a tad cocky, and probably inappropriate within the environment of general humility associated with the prayer space. Which is what leads to the conventional presumption that the "holy ones" being referenced here are the angels, the heavenly hosts, whose daily praise of God ("Kadosh, kadosh....") we described just moments earlier, prior to the Shema.

But when we repeat the Amidah as a community, the chazzan, without warning, suddenly and dramatically departs from the Amidah's script, and announces - as a pilot might when announcing that we are going to Hawaii instead of San Diego - that "WE, we(!) will sanctify Your name here in the world, just as they sanctify it in the highest heavens..." Stunningly, the "holy ones" are suddenly us!

But what about all the aforementioned concerns about presumptuousness and spiritual hubris? Clearly, something is different when we are The People.

Whichever understanding of human holiness we choose, when we are speaking as individuals we avoid claiming that we've achieved it. Whether holiness is the capacity to effectively resist sinful temptation (Rashi), or the commitment to enjoy our material indulgences within a healthy spiritual framework (Ramban), or to adopt the perspective in which we are not the hub of the wheel rather a spoke of God's wheel (Heschel), we know that we are striving, but would never declare ourselves arrived.

But when we stand and speak not as individuals rather as the spiritual-historical collective of Israel that is thousands of years old and hundreds of layers deep, we do not hesitate to declare our holiness. Not because we believe that - even in the aggregate - we have already arrived. But because we believe that we must and will get there. That the destiny we chose at Sinai, and over and over again throughout history, mustn't and won't go unfulfilled. We won't let it. So, when we reach the repetition's third blessing, we do declare ourselves "holy", as a way of affirming our conviction that though we may each individually fall short of our strivings, our people will make it to the finish.

Right there in the repetition, every day, we preserve and advance our self-fulfilling prophecy.

Mon, November 18 2019 20 Cheshvan 5780