The Word

The Word

By Rabbi David Weizman

Have you ever been asked a question that left you speechless? That happens to me all the time, just because things take a few seconds to register. People tell me that I am supposed to say the words, “I’m thinking” so that the other person will know that I heard them. I’m working on that. The other day I watched an interview with Joe Kennedy III, and it happened to him too. He said, “I seem to be doing a lot of that lately,” coming up speechless. On the other hand, there are those who don’t miss a beat when asked a question or some event makes a big splash on social media. I wish I could be a little more like them, with the proper filters of course. We have a friend who always comes out with a prayer for the victims of the earthquake five minutes after it happens. I think he’s a prophet.

You know, back in the 70’s, it was more challenging to get your opinion out there, unless you were E.F. Hutton. But nowadays, it’s all about the followers. You can come up with some really kooky stuff or even the most mundane and meaningless YouTube gig, and the next thing you know, you have 50,000 followers. I could never take that kind of pressure, let alone keep up with the posting. My Instagram account has been dormant for about eight months. But lots of other people nowadays are getting the word around. Just in case you don’t want Neo-Nazis in the work force of your company, subscribe to “yesyoureracist” to see the guys on the right side of things in Charlottesville last Saturday. I didn’t see it yet, but there is probably an Instagram account that posts the photos of those counter-demonstrators, just in case you want to identify those bullies. What were they thinking, both sides, that they were going to have a nice little demonstration to express their opinions about some statue? I’m not so sure that you need all those guns and shields and helmets, we get the point with the torches: they’re coming for us. I think it took a lot of courage, actually, to counter the hate speech that our constitution so fully protects and upheld this past June in the Slants case. You can say whatever you want, but you can’t hit people with a flagpole in the head. OK, so maybe the police were not quick enough to step in.

Then there is this guy from Ohio, a Hitler groupie, who uses his car as a lethal weapon, and they are calling him “a domestic terrorist.” Does that mean that he is a separate case, like he came uninvited?

That is the whole point; he was invited. And so was that guy who shot those two Indian engineers, in Olathe, Kansas last February, and the guy who tried to intervene, oops. Because even though you’re allowed to say anything you want in this country, allowing words of hatred to go unanswered, validates the hatred, and that opens the possibilities for violence.

In Jewish law, we don’t have the Fifth Amendment. When the court asks you, did you transgress, you have to answer yes or no. If you say nothing, Shtika K’hoda’ah-Domya, silence means admission. The phrase is used in conversation as, silence means consent. There were a variety of people who stood up to those White Supremacists last Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia, who stood for their own cause, but they were also standing up for the Jewish people, because we are clearly a priority on the agenda; “The Jews Will Not Replace Us.” And we should stand up for them too, whoever is a target of discrimination and such extreme prejudice.

When we begin our communal prayer in the morning, we stand for the opening of Pesukei D’Zimra, the verses of song that praise God through the Psalms. The opening poem begins like this:

“Blessed is the One who spoke and the world came into being. Blessed is He.

We are the beings, made in the image of God, who imagine a concept, and assign it a word.

Baruch Omer v’Oseh, Blessed is the One who speaks, and that utterance comes into being.”

This is the power of the word. Let us use it for a blessing and not a curse.

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Shema – Hearing the Call in the Wild

Shema – Hearing the Call in the Wild

By Rabbi Danielle Upbin

 

There are many ways to pray and many ways to affirm the unity of God. While prayer is portable and can be done from just about anywhere, there is something magical about the backdrop of the mountain and the chorus of nature to uplift our spirit. With our ears more attuned in the natural world, our hearts can open to the words that have kept our people together for 3000 years: “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad/ Listen (hear this, pay attention), God is our God, God is One”.

To fulfill the words of Shema in the outdoors, we sometimes need to become very quiet. Our silence is an invitation to hear the voice of God more clearly, to feel the unity of Spirit, and to rest in the Oneness of it all.

This invitation to stop and listen occurs twice daily in Jewish prayer. The Shema is liturgically proscribed during the morning and evening services, as the biblical verse states: “when you rise up and when you go to sleep” /“u’v’shoch’becha u’v’kumecha” (Deuteronomy 6:7). The prayer has been described as the foundation of Jewish life because it conveys the primary belief that God is One. This was a new belief for our ancestors who dwelled among their ancient Near Eastern neighbors who believed in multiple gods or Animism.

In perusing Rabbi Isaiah Wolgemuth’s book, Guide to Jewish Prayer, I came across a passage that lends itself to the power of Shema, particularly, how the words are experienced in nature.

The author cites the Torah commentator, Avudrahom, who suggests that the word “Shema” itself contains a reference to several fundamental concepts in Judaism:

Shema (shin, mem, ayin) is an acrostic Se’u Marom Eynechem (lift up your eyes), which we should do Shacharit, Mincha and Aravit (morning, afternoon and evening).  The message is that Shadai Melech Elyon (God is the Supreme King). If you do this,  you will accept Ol Malchut Shamayim (acceptance of God’s sovereignty forever.) (P. 94)

I have been spending some time in nature over this summer at Camp Ramah in the North Georgia mountains. Joyful activities, as loud as they can sometimes be, are part of the spirit of Jewish summer camp. There are times, however, in Jewish life, when the human chorus gets quiet. At camp, the quiet is like a “rest note” in a grand symphony, creating a sacred silence that cedes to the crescendo of nature. Jewishly speaking, that “rest note” is sustained through the words of prayer, particularly in the Shema – the prayer that calls us to listen. Shema in the sacred mountain community, turns our full attention, not only to the glory of our surroundings, but also to the One who called it in to being.

This past week, I encountered two profound “Shema Moments” connected to this teaching. The first one occurred during Kabbalat Shabbat, a special service to welcome the Sabbath attended by 700 camp residents.  A phenomenon occurred. As we started to pray in the covered sports pavilion, a torrential rain hammered down on the tin roof above us, insistent and percussive, it drowned out our communal prayer. We tried to meet the power of nature by rising to our feet, clapping our hands, and singing on the top of our lungs. But how could we compete? Kol Adonai BaKoach – “the voice of God roars in might”. Ironically, we had just recited those words in Psalm 29 as part of our worship. On that night, these words meant something new. We realized that our collective voice had the power of one of those raindrops.

The rain continued for over an hour and eventually the whole camp lost electricity. In that moment, God’s voice was heard loud and clear, even awe-inspiring. In a way, it was silencing. With our eyes raised to the heavens, we knew that we couldn’t drown out the rain, but we could use the experience to create sacred memories while trying. By the time we reached the words of the Shema in the evening prayer, the pavilion was getting darker and the rain was getting louder.  By then, however, every voice was lifted in unity and pride.

Sometimes we can’t help but hear the voice of God. Other times, though, it calls to us softly and we have to quiet ourselves to listen. A few days later, I attended a morning service with a smaller group of campers who were gathered by the lake. While we waited for some participants to finish their silent prayer, a counselor prompted the group to close our eyes and listen to our surroundings.  On this clear, cool clear morning, we turned our full attention to what we heard: bird calls, leaves swooshing in a breeze, the babble of the distant creek, fish flopping around in the lake, buzzing insects – on that morning, the voice of God was a whisper in the mountainside.

While the words of the Shema are only proscribed twice a day, the invitation to listen is always available to us. Wherever we find ourselves in the chorus of nature, be it in the crescendo or the rest note, the thunder or the whisper, may our hearts and ears open to let the Voice in. May the serenity and the challenge of nature continue to inspire us and renew our spirits for generations to come.

 

 

 

“On a Wing and a Prayer”

 

“On a Wing and a Prayer”

By Rabbi Danielle Upbin

 

Generally, I enjoy travel – once I am on the way, that is. Preparing to leave, however, is another story.

A flag is raised by my packing routine: pack, shop for last minute items, repack, assemble a year’s supply of toiletries (even for just the weekend), and secure a triage bag for unexpected ailments. If the packing detail involves children – add an arsenal of car activities, electronic devices, accompanying paraphernalia, and another three hours of preparation.

Once the onerous task of packing has been completed, the “departure routine” begins: “Did you shut off the water? Unplug the electronics? Take out the trash? Set the alarm?” Add a few more last minute items to my bags and we are on our way. Even when I am traveling alone, the scaled down process can still be daunting.

The Jewish law codes stipulate that the “Traveler’s Prayer”, also known as the Wayfarer’s Prayer, (Tefillat Ha’Derech) can only be recited once one has already embarked on the journey (Shulchan Aruch 110:7). Some of us, however, need a version to be recited much earlier.  Be that as it may, the Traveler’s Prayer has accompanied the Jewish people on their journey for centuries.

One of the earliest iterations of this prayer can be found in the Torah: “Blessed shall you be in your comings and blessed shall you be in your goings.” (Deuteronomy 28:10). The Biblical exegete, Abravanel, states that this blessing refers to “safety in travel to and from the city, a common theme in descriptions of blessing and prosperity” (JPS Torah Commentary on Deuteronomy, p.259). Similarly, Isaiah 55:12 states: “For you shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace…”  In greeting one another, one often recites, “Shalom aleichem!”/ aleichem shalom!” – “May peace be upon you!”, or when departing, “bo’achem l’shalom, tzayt’chem l’shalom-  “Go in peace and come in peace”, a familiar blessing from the Sabbath table hymn.

The rabbis of the Talmud were also concerned with the ordeals of travel, as discussed in Tractate Brachot 29b:

Rabbi Jacob also said in the name of Rabbi Hisda: Whoever sets forth on a journey should say the prayer for a journey. What is it? — ‘May it be Your will, O Lord my God, to lead me forth in peace, and direct my steps in peace and uphold me in peace, and deliver me from the hand of every enemy and ambush by the way, and send a blessing on the works of my hands, and cause me to find grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see me. Blessed are You, O God, who hearkens unto prayer’.

 ואמר רבי יעקב אמר רב חסדא: כל היוצא לדרך צריך להתפלל תפלת הדרך. מאי תפלת הדרך? יהי רצון מלפניך ה’ אלהי שתוליכני לשלום ותצעידני לשלום ותסמכני לשלום, ותצילני מכף כל אויב ואורב בדרך, ותשלח ברכה במעשי ידי, ותתנני לחן לחסד ולרחמים בעיניך ובעיני כל רואי, ברוך אתה ה’ שומע תפלה

Over time, the blessing was expanded upon and varied from culture to culture. The overall theme, however, remains – a plea to deliver the travelers safely to their destination, protect them from peril along the way, and when applicable, return them home in peace.

In modern times, the prayer has made its way on to amulets, keychains, pendants, and even luggage tags. Recently, the PJ Library sent out an endearing Tefillat Ha’derech project for children to learn about the traditional version of the prayer as well as prompt cards to create personalized wishes for safe travels.

Indeed, upon reflection, there are many modern hazards from which we need protection. Outside factors such as traffic accidents, road rage, overzealous TSA agents, or lost luggage can easily unhinge us.  Internal pitfalls such as anxiety, impatience and anger can be just as damaging. Our response to these triggers will “make or break” a happy trail. The Traveler’s Prayer reminds us that we have a responsibility to ourselves, as well as to our fellow passengers, to create a peaceful passage for all. It is good to remember that when our flight is delayed, the ticket agent isn’t to blame, no matter how loud we yell at her.  When we are stuck in traffic under the blistering sun on an interstate road, we can groove to the opening scene of “La La Land.” Who knows, maybe everyone will dance on their car rooftops. There is always the “high road”, as it were.

Where ever our journeys take us this summer: May we and those with whom we share the ride, be accompanied by the ancient blessing of our people. May we be protected in body, mind and spirit, ready to trail blaze, see new sites or be refreshed and enlightened. May we go in peace and return in peace with all of our wits (and luggage) intact!

English Text of the Traveler’s Prayer: May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You lead us toward peace, guide our footsteps toward peace, and make us reach our desired destination for life, gladness, and peace. May You rescue us from the hand of every foe, ambush along the way, and from all manner of punishments that assemble to come to earth. May You send blessing in our handiwork, and grant us grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us. May You hear the sound of our humble request because You are God Who hears prayer requests. Blessed are You, Lord, Who hears prayer. (Translation from MyJewishLearning.com)

 

 

“Soakin’ It Up”

“Soakin’ It Up”

By Rabbi Danielle Upbin

On our first day of studies at the Seminary, one of the professors adjured us to make the most of our experience and to study as much as possible while we had this glorious uninterrupted opportunity. To remind us of this advice, he addressed the group with the following blessing:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּֽנוּ לַעֲסוֹק בְּדִבְרֵי תוֹרָה

 

Baruch Ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Ha’olam,  Asher Kid’shanu B’mitzvotav V’Tziva’nu  La’asok B’divrei Torah.

 

Blessed are You, Adonai, Ruler of the Universe, Who has commanded us to be involved with words of Torah.

La’asok is typically translated as “to occupy, to involve, or be busy with”.  But the professor’s twist on the classic translation made a deeper impression. He explained to us that when we say “la’asok b’divrei Torah,” each morning in prayer, it is a reminder to “soak it all up” – not only words of Torah, but the whole experience of a vibrant Jewish life. When we soak it up, the feeling of Torah permeates all of our activities, our actions and interactions.  The words become part of us and part of all that we do.

The plea to “soak it up” has resonated with me throughout the years.  But, I found this blessing is more than just a play on words.  Most of the time, when we recite a blessing for a commanded activity, the blessing is immediately followed by the action associated with it. For instance, lighting the Hanukkah candles, waiving the Lulav and Etrog, or partaking in a meal. The blessing and tandem action are in close proximity in order to sustain the continuity of intention (kavanah).  However, the blessing for Torah study is unique in this regard. One can recite the blessing early in the morning and literally not attend to a single word of text until late at night. Yet, the blessing still holds for that entire time.  An explanation is offered:

The reason for this is that our activities during the day are not actually a distraction.  If a busy physician goes to synagogue in the morning, rushes home, sees patients, and then finally in the evening, sits down and learns Torah, ten hours might have lapsed between the blessing and the Torah study. But there was really no interruption at all, because healing the sick is a commandment in the Torah. Similarly, the blessing is valid for a business person who rushes from prayer in the morning to work all day and only sits down to study Torah in the evening. The purpose of making money is to support one’s family and to give to the poor…. Whatever your profession is, it is somehow connected to Torah. There is never an interruption. … All of our activities should ideally be directed toward one goal: following the teachings (i.e., being involved with the words of the Torah. (Rabbi Isaiah Wohlgemuth, Guide to Jewish Prayer, 30-31)

The goal of involving oneself with Torah is not limited to the attainment of book knowledge. The goal is to absorb and to elevate all of our actions (even our distractions) to the level of Torah. The Hebrew word Torah literally means “light” or “direction”. So when we thank God for the commandment to “soak it up”, we are directing our hearts to soak up the light and direction where ever we find it and where ever we create it. We pray that everything we do – our vocations, avocations, even our down time, will serve as meaningful and purposeful expressions of the light, wisdom and good we have absorbed through our study.

Enwrapped By The Divine Presence

TZIZIT: “ENWRAPPED BY THE DIVINE PRESENCE”

By Rabbi David Weizman

Imagine a pastoral scene in the rolling hills of Rumania, sometime in the early 1930’s. It is late spring and little Yankle is taking the sheep out to pasture. He has one of the lambs tethered behind him for safe keeping. The birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and the smell of new grass and wildflowers fill the air.  Suddenly he feels a tug. The lamb has just nibbled off one of the four fringes of his tallit katan. Yankle realizes his predicament and, with as much force as he can muster, yells Gevalt! Over and over again. You see, he learned in the Mishnah Berurah (8:1), that one is not permitted to walk more than four cubits (approximately six feet) without the arbah kanfos, the four fringes. Now he had only three. He was trapped in his own dalet amos up there on the hill.

Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg, known as Tzitz Eliezer after his book on Jewish law, rules that one must wear a tallit kattan even in extreme heat. I had a camper on a canoe trip in Algonquin Park one time, the only boy among eight girls, who paddled the canoe without a shirt, but left on the arbah kanfos to uphold this ruling by the Tzitz Eliezer.

The commandment for wearing the tzizit is derived from the Torah, Numbers 15:37-41, the passage we read as the third paragraph of the Shemah. It is specific to a four cornered garment, which in antiquity, was a common article of clothing. However, since we do not wear such clothing for many years, the prayer shawl became the instrument through which to fulfil the ­mitzvah of tzizit. The purpose of the fringes, as explained in the Torah passage, is to remind us of all of the commandments, and to live a life of holiness. Therefore, the custom of wearing a small tallit emerged so that one could wear the tzitit all day long. If you do so, and are planning to wear a tallit gadol for prayer, you need only to recite the blessing for the latter. As a meditation before donning the tallit we recite the opening verses from psalm 104: 1-2

My soul, bless Adonai, Adonai, my God, You are so greatly exalted.                                       

With beauty and splendor You are clothed, Enwrapped in light like a garment, You spread out the heavens like a curtain

 בָּֽרֲכִ֥י נַפְשִׁ֗י אֶת־יְה֫וָ֥ה יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱ֭לֹהַי גָּדַ֣לְתָּ מְּאֹ֑ד ה֖וֹד וְהָדָ֣ר לָבָֽשְׁתָּ: עֹ֣טֶה א֭וֹר כַּשַּׂלְמָ֑ה נוֹטֶ֣ה שָׁ֝מַ֗יִם כַּיְרִיעָֽה

Before putting on the tallit, the fringes are examined so that they are not tangled and that their length is at least one handbreath. The attarah, or the band that is placed either on your forehead or around the back of your neck is held facing you while the blessing is recited.

Blessed are You, Adonai, our God and Ruler of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to enwrap ourselves with tzitzit.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּֽנוּ לְהִתְעַטֵּף בַּצִּיצִת

Then the following intention is recited:

May it be Your will Adonai, my God and God of my ancestors,

To consider my fulfillment of the commandment of tzitzit before You,

As though I had fulfilled it in every detail, accurately and with full intent,

And the 613 commandments that it represents as well.

The numerical value of the Hebrew word, tzitzit equals 600. Add the eight threads and the five knots and you have 613, the number of commandments in the Torah.

The tallit, weather large or small, is wrapped around the head for a moment to meditate on the symbolism of the tzitzit, and to feel enwrapped by the wings of the Divine Presence. Then the tallit is hung into place over the shoulders.

In our congregation, we do not consider the tallit to be begged ish (men’s clothing) and that the mitzvah is applicable to both men and women who are of the age of majority. Therefore we encourage all to embrace this mitzvah, to acquire techielet, the blue thread, and to tie your own tzitzit with them, to wear them during tefilah, and even if it is not your tradition, to wear a tallit upon taking an aliyah l’Torah.

“Living in Our Element”: Connecting Body and Soul

“Living in Our Element”:  Connecting Body and Soul

Rabbi Danielle Upbin

 

In college, a favorite past time among my group of friends was drumming and singing Native American chants. I recall one in particular – “The Element Chant”: Earth my body, water my blood, air by breath and fire my spirit/ We are a circle with no beginning and never ending.

 

While the lyrics aren’t exactly plucked out of the Jewish tradition, they absolutely resonate with

a Jewish ideology that celebrates the blessing of both a healthy body and spirit.  Our tradition does not ask us to choose one over the other. It recognizes the value of a working body in tandem with an attuned soul. Actually, drumming and chanting together create a beautiful expression of this balance because they require an integrated engagement of body and spirit. But even without a drum, one can readily make the connection. In our morning prayers, the Siddur scripts an offering of gratitude.

 

The prayer, Asher Yatzar, found at the beginning of most prayer books, recognizes and celebrates the creaturely part of our existence – our “earth and water”. Some people lovingly refer to this prayer as “The Bathroom Prayer” because it references the glory of “unclogged pipes”. Some readers get a chuckle out of the mention of the “Throne of Glory” as well….  The prayer reminds us not to take our health for granted.  Every orifice and organ is there for a reason, so the prayer goes. Our tradition encourages us to pause during our morning personal rituals to reflect on the miracle of the body. Here is the prayer:

 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר יָצַר אֶת הָאָדָם בְּחָכְמָה, וּבָרָא בוֹ נְקָבִים נְקָבִים, חֲלוּלִים חֲלוּלִים. גָּלוּי וְיָדֽוּעַ לִפְנֵי כִסֵּא כְבוֹדֶֽךָ, שֶׁאִם יִפָּתֵֽחַ אֶחָד מֵהֶם, אוֹ יִסָּתֵם אֶחָד מֵהֶם, אִי אֶפְשַׁר לְהִתְקַיֵּם וְלַעֲמוֹד לְפָנֶֽיךָ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, רוֹפֵא כָל בָּשָׂר וּמַפְלִיא לַעֲשׂוֹת.

 

Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Me’lech Ha’olam, asher ya’tzar et a’adam b’chochma u’vara vo nekavim, nekavim, chalulim, chalulim, galu’i v’yadu’a lifnei kisei k’vodecha, she’im ye’fa’te’ach echad me’hem o ye’sa’tem echad me’hem, ee-efshar l’hitkayem la’amod le’fa’necha. Baruch Ata Adonai, Rof’ai kol basar u’maf’lee la’asot. 

 

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who fashioned humans with wisdom, and created within them many openings and many cavities. It is obvious and known before Your Throne of Glory, that if even one of them were to be opened (that is supposed to be closed) or if even one of them were to be blocked (that is supposed to be open), it would be impossible to be sustained and stand before You. Blessed are You, God, Who heals all bodies and acts wondrously.

 

The tandem prayer, “Elohai Neshama” – gives thanks for our pure soul – the “air and fire” animating our being. “My God, the soul You have given me is pure.”  Our breath is our soul-connection traced back to the Divine breath shared with Adam Ha’Rishon, the first human (Genesis 2:7) into whose being God first breathed life.

 

A word play in the Hebrew language makes this connection evident: In Hebrew, Neshama means Soul/Neshima means Breath.  Each morning, we affirm our appreciation of the gift of this SoulBreath and for ability to tap into the Divine spark within us. The prayer makes it clear that the soul is our essential, but only on loan for our limited run.  We are reminded that as long as we have this life sustaining energy within us, it is our duty to praise and thank the Spirit’s Creator.  Here are the words of the prayer:

 

אֱלֹהַי, נְשָׁמָה שֶׁנָּתַֽתָּ בִּי טְהוֹרָה הִיא. אַתָּה בְרָאתָהּ, אַתָּה יְצַרְתָּהּ, אַתָּה נְפַחְתָּהּ בִּי, וְאַתָּה מְשַׁמְּרָהּ בְּקִרְבִּי, וְאַתָּה עָתִיד לִטְּלָהּ מִמֶּֽנִּי, וּלְהַחֲזִירָהּ בִּי לֶעָתִיד לָבוֹא. כָּל זְמַן שֶׁהַנְּשָׁמָה בְקִרְבִּי, מוֹדֶה אֲנִי לְפָנֶֽיךָ, יְיָ אֱלֹהַי וֵאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתַי, רִבּוֹן כָּל הַמַּעֲשִׂים, אֲדוֹן כָּל הַנְּשָׁמוֹת. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, הַמַּחֲזִיר נְשָׁמוֹת לִפְגָרִים מֵתִים.

Elohai Neshama she’natata bee, tehora hee.

Ata b’rata, Ata yetzarta, Ata nefachta bee,

v’Ata m’shamra b’kirbee,

v’Ata atid l’tila mi’meni,

u’l’hachzira bee l’atid la’vo.

Kol z’man she’han’shama b’kirbi,

modeh ani l’fane’cha,

Adonai Elohai avo’tai, Ri’bon kol ha’ma’asim,

Adon kol haneshamot.

Baruch ata Adonai, h’amechazir neshamot lifgarim me’tim.

 

My God, the soul you have given me is pure. You made it, You created it, You placed it within me, and in the future, You will take it from me in order to return in to me in the time to come. All the time that my soul resides in me, I offer praise to You, my God and God of my ancestors, Ruler of all creation, Master of the souls. Blessed are You, Adonai, Who returns souls to lifeless bodies.

 

The power of this prayer hit me one morning when I happened upon a group of Jewish day school children in morning prayers, chanting first line over and over with fervent gusto –  clapping, dancing, and full of joy. It reminded me of those drum circles from my past. Proudly, I joined in, clearly in my “element” singing with all my kishkes –  body, soul, breath and spirit.

 

As we welcome each new day, may we be blessed with a healthy cognizance of our Whole Body/SoulBody connection. Let us commit to honoring the value of our health and the limitless of our spirit.

Holy Vessel

Nitilat Ya’dayim: “Holy Vessel”

By Rabbi David Weizman

 

Before Air B ‘n B, we had a house guest who was a chaplain in the Israel Defense Forces. In the morning he was surprised and pleased to find a becher by the kitchen sink. That is Yiddish for the hand washing cup that has two handles.

In Hebrew, the word for this cup is nat’lah, and the blessing that we recite over the ritual washing of the hands is called nitielat ya’dayim. We usually associate this ritual practice as something which we do before we eat a meal that begins with bread and the blessing of Ha’motze. However, this ritual washing is done at other times as well, like when you leave the cemetery, or before the Kohanim bless the congregation during prayer. The words of the blessing, nitielat ya’dayim, literally mean to raise the hands; symbolically, to higher state of holiness. So why do we perform this ritual in the morning?

Our Talmud teacher, Rabbi Ed Girshfield who hailed from Winnipeg, explained it in the following way. During the night, our predecessors believed that we experience a sort of partial death. And because of that, the shadim, the shadowy spirits would come and cover you like a willowy shroud. But with the first bit of light from the dawn and a slight stirring of the body, they would make their escape by way of the extremities, the hands and the fingers being the points of last departure. They would however, leave a bit of residue on the fingernails. And so was conceived the practice of keeping neggel wasser at the bedside, to wash of the nails as soon as possible upon waking. Those more brave souls make a break for the kitchen sink before you can say the word, go. The cup is taken in the left hand and the water poured over the right, once on the top and then the palm, then the left hand. Some repeat this process three times. The hands are dried with a towel and the blessing is recited.

Baruch Atah Adonai, Elohenu Melech Ha’olam, asher kidishanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu al nitielat ya’dayim.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, who rules the universe, instilling holiness within us through the performance of Your commandments, who has directed us to raise up our hands.

You may have noticed that the prayer, Modeh Ani, does not contain the name of God. Before we utter the Name, we make ourselves a holy vessel, and this is the real kavanah, the intention of the washing ritual. Through this purification, we become that cup, ready to be filled with the presence of God.

The Talmud teaches: kol berchah sh’ain bah hazkarat HaShem, ainah berchah (Berachot 12a). Every blessing must contain the Name of God. As we recite these blessings throughout the day, we bring the Presence into this world through our consciousness, so that everything we do is infused with holiness: my work I do in holiness, I talk to my friends b’kdushah, in holiness; I eat my food b’kedushah. Everything I do is meant to raise me up as an agent, and a conduit for the Divine Presence. Not only are we the vessel, but it’s as though we are the water as well.