Blessing Authors Creation

בָּרוּךְ שְׁמוֹ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם הָאֵל אָב הָרַחֲמָן הַמְהֻלָּל בְּפֶה עַמּוֹ מְשֻׁבָּח וּמְפֹאָר בִּלְשׁוֹן חֲסִידָיו וַעֲבָדָיו וּבְשִׁירֵי דָוִד עַבְדֶּךָ

…Blessing authored creation. A blessing: You Are G!d. Our G!d. My G!d. Universal Monarch. The G!d. Source of mercy, your people speak praise, your pious servants use glorious language and the songs of Your Servant David. (Morning Meditations)

The Hebrew pi’yut (hymn) barukh sh’amar begins with a series of phrases which poetically use barukh “bless” to establish precisely how each day is created. The py’tan (liturgical poet) ends these assertions with the phrase barukh shmo, literally “His Name: Blessing”. The poetic theme relates directly to the opening words of Torah bréshit bara elo’him “it began when G!d Created”, thus “Blessing authored creation”, and the Siddur immediately continues with the formal blessing which begins each day. In doing so, however, the Siddur leads us to understand that human language continues the work of creation. The Hebrew

וּמְפֹאָר בִּלְשׁוֹן חֲסִידָיו וַעֲבָדָיו

um’fo’ar bil’shon hasid’ahv v’ahv’adahv

can be understood to mean “glory from upon my tongue, piety is kindness (hesed) and service”. King David’s songs in Tehilim (Psalms) begin mizmor shir , and each of the six songs deal with kindness as a  specific devotion and service. Blessing creates loving interpersonal relationships based on devotion and service. Creation continues on account of this, not in spite of it.

Forgiveness is compassion

סְלַח לָֽנוּ, אָבִֽינוּ, כִּי חָטָֽאנוּ, מְחַל לָֽנוּ, מַלְכֵּֽנוּ, כִּי פָשָֽׁעְנוּ, כִּי אֵל טוֹב וְסַלָּח אָֽתָּה. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, חַנּוּן הַמַּרְבֶּה לִסְלֹֽחַ

Pardon us, dear G!d: we transgress. Forgive us, our Monarch: with intent we offend. But You Forgive and we benefit. A blessing: You Are G!d. Forgivess is an act of Your Compassion. (Amida)

Every bracha (benediction) begins with the same three Hebrew words:

barukh atah yhvh

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ

Rabbi Jacob Emden (1697-1776) demonstrated that barukh is a noun rather than the past tense of a verb; “blessing” is correct. The common translation of “blessed are You” is absurd: G!d Blesses me, and surely I am not to bless G!d. When barukh is a noun I am lead to know that You Are G!d, for even (or especially) among the pious it is common to enter prayer as ish daht (mindful) rather than ish torah (soulful). Every bracha is less a cognitive experience than a spiritual one, and this blessing especially.

Return vs Settle

וְאָשוּב אֵלֶיךָ בִּתְשוּבָה שְלֵמָה

I will return to You completely. (Rabénu Bachya’s personal prayer)

Rabénu Bachya’s poetry doubles the use of the verb shuv — שוּב — which expresses the idea of both “return” and “settle” (shav). The Hebrew word t’shuva — תּשוּבה — is correctly interpreted as “repent”, but more precisely it means “return to a settled state”. Rabénu Bachya was medieval Jewry’s foremost ethicist. His ethical insight requires complete return; returning to G!d is one thing, returning completely another. How does one return completely? By returning also to people we affect: in the Image of G!d were they created…

וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ, בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ: זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה, בָּרָא אֹתָם

Gratitude & Confession

אוֹדֶה לאֵל לֵבַב חוֹקֵר בְּדָן יַחַד כּוֹכְבֵי בֹקֵר — מבּוֹא לסידוּר קוֹל המקוֹם

Gratitude to G!d, Who Searches (and Judges) the heart once the stars rise each morning.

The Hebrew word oe’deh — אוֹדֶה — poetically connotes thankfulness, from the verb le’hit’va’deh — לְהִתְוַדֶה — “to confess” or “to give thanks”; the verb le’hit’ahd’ut — לְהִתְאַדוֹת — is quite similar, it means “to vaporize”, and I marvel at how Hebrew teaches me.

Telling someone I am grateful requires me to subdue — to “vaporize” — my ego. A confession? Do I not vaporize a resentment, perhaps, or any pesha or chet? I think I do.

Jacob or Israel?

יז וַיַּעֲמִידֶ֤הָ לְיַֽעֲקֹב֙ לְחֹ֔ק ׀׀ לְיִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בְּרִ֥ית עוֹלָֽם: — דברי הימים א: טז, יז

It stands for Ya’aqov as law | For Israel it is an eternal covenant.

The version of Divré Ha’Yamim (Chronicles) on the Mechon-Mamre website — http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt25a16.htm — presents this section of Chronicles as liturgical poetry written in parallel columns. Jacob and Israel are the same person. Yet for Ya’aqov “it” stands as law while for Israel “it” is an eternal covenant? What does this mean?

The call —

וַיַּעֲמִידֶ֤הָ לְיַֽעֲקֹב֙ לְחֹ֔ק

It stands for Ya’aqov as law

The response —

לְיִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בְּרִ֥ית עוֹלָֽם

For Israel it is an eternal covenant

Jewish tradition assigns Chronicles to Ketuvim “scripture” rather than to Navi’im “the prophets”. Were Chronicles sought for historical perspective it would be assigned to the library of prophetic books, for historical perspective is the special province of the prophetic books. Chronicles is a liturgy of Israel, as indeed are all of the books listed in the library of 11 scriptural books:

Poetic (3) Tehilim, Mishlé — משלי — and I’yov — איוֹב
Lectional (5) Shir Ha’Shirim — שִיר הַשִירִים ; Rut — רוּת ; É’kha — איכה ; Qohelet — קהלת; and Estér — אסתר
Theological (3) Dani’él — דניאל; Ezra — עזרא; and Divré Ha’Yamim — דברי הימים

Finding the right words

אוֹדֶה לאֵל לֵבַב חוֹקֵר בְּרָן יַחַד כּוֹכְבֵי בֹקֵר

I thank G!d, the Searcher of all hearts and praise G!d together with the stars of the dawn.

This remarkable prayer is collected by Rabbi Abraham Twersky in his book Living Each Day. The Rav cites it as “introduction to morning service”, but I have never seen such an introduction. The prayer is not found in my Nusakh Sfard siddurim, but there are many versions of Nusakh Sfard.

Something fascinating happened to me because of this prayer: I read it incorrectly. In copying and interpreting the prayer I transcribed b’dahn — בְּדָן — rather than b’rahn — בְּרָן — and I was thus interpreting the wrong word, something I was completely unaware of until I showed Living Each Day to my wife, who told me I had read it incorrectly.

I thought Rav Twersky interpreted “praise” for b’dahn and I was forced into an investigation of Hebrew such that I have rarely encountered before: neither my grammars nor my lexicons or dictionaries list “praise” as an interpretation of b’dahn; the interpretation “praise” is, however, sensible for b’rahn. Interpreting the wrong word forced me to learn better Hebrew!

The Hebrew ahv’dahn — אבדן — means “loss”. Praise requires a loss of ego, and thus the interpretation of praise is cogent ivrit ruchanit “spiritual Hebrew”. I stand on the shoulders of giants: Rav Hutner, ahlahv ha’shalom, was once asked why modeh — מוֹדה — meant both “grateful” and “confess”. He replied “gratitude is a confession that I couldn’t do it without you”.

Rav Hutner’s logic applies perfectly in this context. Why does b’dahn mean both “in judgement” and “praise”? Because praise is a judgement that I couldn’t do it without you.

I’m grateful to Rav Twersky for improving my ivrit ruchanit. I could not have done it without him.

Reminding G!d

עֲשֵׂה עִמָּנוּ צְדָקָה וָחֶֽסֶד וְהוֹשִׁיעֵֽנוּ — תפילות יומיות, נוּסח ספרד

As for us? Rescue us! Act charitably and kindly. (Daily Siddur, Nusakh Sfard)

Astounding. Do we actually need to remind G!d to be charitable and kind? Ridiculous! It is easier, however, to remind G!d than to remind ourselves. Perhaps we will remind ourselves because we remind G!d.

A dove in the wilderness

יוֹנָתִ֞י בְּחַגְוֵ֣י הַסֶּ֗לַע בְּסֵ֨תֶר֙ הַמַּדְרֵגָ֔ה הַרְאִ֨ינִי֙ אֶת־מַרְאַ֔יִךְ הַשְׁמִיעִ֖ינִי אֶת־קוֹלֵ֑ךְ כִּי־קוֹלֵ֥ךְ עָרֵ֖ב וּמַרְאֵ֥יךְ נָאוֶֽה: — שיר השירים ב, יד

My dove? A circle within the boulder, a secret within the step, my vision from the mirror, what I hear of your voice — your voice? A wilderness, when dawn is a multitude and the mirror is desire.

The Hebrew for dove — יוֹן — within Shir Ha’Shirim refers to G!d, not to love. In its natural habitat everywhere on the known Earth, the dove is a simile for Ha’Shem. The Hebrew ah’rév — ערב — literally means “wilderness”, but here I decode it as when dawn (ער) is a multitude (רב): it is always dawn somewhere on Earth. Mystics understand cirlce within the stone to refer to Moshe, whom G!d Placed in the cleft of a rock when passing by —

וְהָיָה בַּעֲבֹר כְּבֹדִי, וְשַׂמְתִּיךָ בְּנִקְרַת הַצּוּר; וְשַׂכֹּתִי כַפִּי עָלֶיךָ, עַד-עָבְרִי

And as My Glory passes I Will place you within a gouge of
the rock. It will be as if My Hand covers you until I Pass by.

Every step is a mystery, for one does not know what’s around the corner, though ma’dréga — מדרגה — refers less to footsteps — צעדים — than it does to advancing along a stairwell — חדר מדרגות — e.g., it defines moving up a level rather than moving across the same level. One can walk down a stairwell, of course, but I do not understand there to be any such thing as a “lower madréga”.

Crime or Sin?

כ וּבָ֤א לְצִיּוֹן֙ גּוֹאֵ֔ל וּלְשָׁבֵ֥י פֶ֖שַׁע בְּיַֽעֲקֹ֑ב נְאֻ֖ם יְהֹוָֽה: — ישעיה נט, כ

To Tzion comes a redeemer. Repent from crime, Jacob, is G!d’s Word. (Isaiah 59:20)

Jacob is a poetic description of Israel’s kingdom, and our prophetic storyteller is unhappy with Jacob. Isaiah has said that a redeemer will emerge, not that the redeemer will. This makes a pun: a redeemer (go’él) will emerge — or profanity will pollute (go’ahl).

It is not clear, whether in standard interpretation or mine, to whom a redeemer will come. Most interpretations suggest “to those in Jacob who turn from transgression”, to paraphrase (and modernise) the old Jewish Publication Society translation. I’m less definite: “Repent from crime, Jacob”. It’s not clear to me that Jacob will be redeemed: perhaps it is those affected by Jacob’s go’ahl.

What is clear to me, though, is that the choice is Jacob’s only until such time as it is G!d’s.

Religious Lunacy

כִּי אֵין בָּֽנוּ מַעֲשִׂים — תפילות יומיות, נוּסח ספרד

For are these deeds not ours to act upon?! (Daily Siddur, Nusakh Sfard)

I subscribe to the perspective that religion is for those afraid of going to Hell — and spirituality is for those who have been to Hell!

The Talmud Bavli (Sotah 21b) records an interesting act that would horrify most of us: a woman bathing in the river calls for help. A nearby “religious” man heard her plea but refused to save her because it’s immodest for a man to gaze upon a naked woman. The Talmud Yerushalmi (Sota 3:4) records similar but different perspectives. A “religious” man sees a child drowning and waits to rescue the child until after he has removed his tefilin — or, a  “religious” man refuses to save a girl from being raped because he does not want to commit murder.

The Talmuds call this man “chasid shoteh” — חסיד שוֹטה — literally, “stupidly pious”. In modern Hebrew, it means “religious lunatic”. I prefer the modern Hebrew idea.

There is no Hebrew word for “religion”. The closest word, “daht” — דת — is actually a Persian loan-word and means something close to edict; it bears no relation whatever to the similar-sounding Hebrew word “da’at” — דעת — know.