Counting the omer in hope towards an unknown future: Shavuot in a time of pandemic

L’italiano segue l’inglese

As we count each evening from Pesach to Shavuot – forty-nine days or a week of weeks (hence the name Shavuot or Weeks) – we say a blessing with the ending “Who has commanded us concerning counting the Omer”.

Counting the Omer comes from the biblical narrative which tells us (Leviticus 23:10-16)

 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you and you reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf (omer) of the first grain you harvest.  He will wave the sheaf (omer) before God so it will be accepted on your behalf; the priest is to wave it on the day after the Sabbath. On the day you wave the sheaf, you must sacrifice as a burnt offering to God a year old lamb without defect, together with its grain offering of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with olive oil—a food offering presented to the Eternal a pleasing aroma—and its drink offering of a quarter of a hin of wine. You must not eat any bread, or roasted or new grain, until the very day you bring this offering to your God. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks.  Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath and then present an offering of new grain to the Eternal”.

From the barley harvest of Pesach to the wheat harvest of Shavuot we count the days. Biblical Jews were profoundly aware of the importance of these harvests – and the third harvest of the year at Sukkot, when the newly ripened first fruits would also be brought to the Temple. Regular rainfall could not be relied on, nor was there a large river to provide the necessary irrigation – the whole agricultural endeavour was fragile and everyone knew it. So the counting of the days as the barley harvest began at Pesach until the wheat was ready at Shavuot marked a time of both anxiety and hope. The formula – this is day X of the Omer, which is Y weeks and Z days of the Omer – focuses us each night on exactly where we are in the cycle – will the barley harvest be successfully concluded? Will the wheat be ripe and ready?

That period of anxiety and hope resonated profoundly for the rabbis who rebuilt and reoriented Judaism after the destruction of the Temple and our exile from the Land of Israel. The agricultural focus fell away and in its place we remembered the journey out of Egypt to Sinai – from our liberation from slavery to reaching a milestone towards redemption with the Covenant with God; from being frightened individuals chased out of a foreign land to becoming a people who would return to their own ancestral Land.

We are once again in a period of anxiety and hope. Our normal life and routines have largely vanished:  the ability to meet friends and hug them, to pop out to the shops without fear of terrible consequences, to get on a bus or a train or go to a cinema or restaurant – suddenly all these are freighted with danger. Many of us know of people who have become seriously ill, or who moved from enjoying their life to their life ending in a matter of a few short weeks. The anxiety seems endless – and yet there is also hope. We have found the hope, as did our ancestors, both in marking the passage of time as we watch the Spring arrive with its blossom and its greenery, and in growing sense of community as we begin to understand how connected we are to each other, and as we forge ever closer relationships with each other – albeit with appropriate social distancing.

Shavuot does not mark the end of anything –either agriculturally or theologically. It marks the beginning of the second major harvest of the year, or the giving and receiving of the Torah – something that can never be a single event but is in fact a process that continually unfolds. As Menachem Mendel of Kotzk said, “The Giving of the Torah took place in the month of Sivan, but the receiving of the Torah takes place every day.”

Maybe it is because it does not mark a clear and decisive event that Shavuot is often described as a “Cinderella festival”, one that it is hard to be enthusiastic about – apart from the cheesecakes and other delicacies. But in reality Shavuot is one of the major festivals of Judaism. Along with Pesach and Sukkot it was one of the three times Jews were meant to visit the Temple in Jerusalem in order to thank God for the foods that would sustain life. In its rabbinic guise it is the moment when the Israelites became a people; the moment when, meeting God, we accepted the Covenant for all time and all generations, we agreed to be God’s people and do God’s will. Shavuot celebrates and rehearses the foundational moment of Judaism – tradition tells us we were all at Sinai, all part of the Covenant acceptance.

This year we will not be able to meet in the synagogue and re-enact Sinai. There will be no greenery decorating the bimah and Ark to remind us that Sinai was filled with flowers when God and the people promised their faithfulness to each other. The drama of the liturgy will feel a little less so when mediated through our internet providers. But the message of Shavuot – of the recognition of the fragility of life, of the existential anxiety of human beings, of the fact we are all journeying together through difficult land towards a hoped for but unclear future – that message will be clearer than ever this year.

So let’s celebrate the Spring time, bless the fact that we reach another day, be grateful for the community in which we live and with whom we share this journey. And remember the leap of faith of both God and the Jewish people to stick with each other and travel into a hopeful future.

Contare l’Omer nella speranza verso un futuro sconosciuto: Shavuot in tempo di pandemia

Mentre contiamo ogni sera da Pesach a Shavuot, quarantanove giorni ovvero una settimana di settimane (da cui il nome Shavuot o Settimane), diciamo una benedizione con il finale “Che ci ha comandato riguardo al conteggio dell’Omer”.

Contare l’Omer deriva dalla narrazione biblica che, in Levitico 23: 10-16, ci dice:

“Parla ai figli di Israele e di’ loro:” Quando sarete entrati nel paese che sto per darvi e ne mieterete i prodotti del campo, dovrete portare al sacerdote, il manipolo che avrete mietuto per primo; questi agiterà il manipolo davanti all’Signore affinché vi renda graditi; nel giorno successivo e in quello di astensione dal lavoro lo agiterà il sacerdote. In un giorno in cui agiterete il manipolo offrirete un agnello senza difetti di un anno come olocausto in onore del Signore; e la sua offerta farinacea sarà costituita da due decime di Efà di fior di farina intrisa nell’olio come sacrificio da ardersi con il fuoco in onore del Signore affinché costituisca profumo gradito, e la sua libazione sarà costituita di vino, nella misura di un quarto di Hin. Non mangerete né pane né grano abbrustolito, né grano fresco del nuovo prodotto fino a quel giorno, fino a che cioè non avrete presentato il sacrifico destinato al vostro Dio; questa è la legge per tutti i tempi, per le vostre generazioni in tutte le vostre sedi. E conterete, a cominciare dal giorno successivo a quello di astensione dal lavoro, dal giorno cioè in cui porterete il manipolo che deve essere agitato, sette settimane, che siano complete: fino al giorno successivo alla settima settimana conterete cinquanta giorni, e presenterete un’offerta farinacea di nuovi prodotti in onore del Signore.”.

Dal raccolto dell’orzo di Pesach al raccolto del grano di Shavuot contiamo i giorni. Gli ebrei biblici erano profondamente consapevoli dell’importanza di questi raccolti, così come del terzo raccolto annuale a Sukkot, quando anche i primi frutti appena maturati sarebbero stati portati al Tempio. Non si poteva fare affidamento su piogge regolari, né c’era un grande fiume per fornire l’irrigazione necessaria: l’intero sforzo agricolo era fragile e tutti lo sapevano. Quindi, il conteggio dei giorni da quando iniziava la raccolta dell’orzo a Pesach fino a quando il grano non era pronto a Shavuot segnava un momento di ansia e speranza. La formula “questo è il giorno X dell’Omer, ovvero Y settimane e Z giorni dell’Omer” ci focalizza ogni notte esattamente sul punto a cui siamo nel ciclo: la raccolta dell’orzo sarà conclusa con successo? Il grano sarà maturo e pronto?

Quel periodo di ansia e speranza risuonò profondamente per i rabbini che ricostruirono e riorientarono l’ebraismo dopo la distruzione del Tempio e il nostro esilio dalla Terra di Israele. L’attenzione all’agricoltura è svanita e al suo posto abbiamo ricordato il viaggio dall’Egitto al Sinai: dalla nostra liberazione dalla schiavitù al raggiungimento di una pietra miliare verso la redenzione con l’Alleanza con Dio; dall’essere spaventati individui cacciati da una terra straniera al diventare un popolo che sarebbe tornato alla propria Terra ancestrale.

Siamo di nuovo in un periodo di ansia e speranza. La nostra vita normale e la routine sono in gran parte svanite: la possibilità di incontrare amici e abbracciarli, di andare nei negozi senza timore di conseguenze terribili, di salire su un autobus o in treno o di andare al cinema o al ristorante: improvvisamente tutto ciò è carico di pericolo. Molti di noi conoscono persone che si sono ammalate gravemente o che sono passate dal godersi la vita al finire la loro vita nel giro di poche settimane. L’ansia sembra infinita, eppure c’è anche speranza. Abbiamo trovato la speranza, così come i nostri antenati, sia nel segnare il passare del tempo mentre guardiamo arrivare la Primavera con i suoi fiori e il suo verde, sia nel crescente senso di comunità di quando iniziamo a capire quanto siamo collegati gli uni agli altri, e quando instauriamo relazioni sempre più strette l’uno con l’altro, anche se con un adeguato distanziamento sociale.

Shavuot non segna la fine di nulla, né in ambito agricolo né teologico. Segna l’inizio del secondo grande raccolto dell’anno, ovvero il dare e ricevere della Torà: qualcosa che non può mai essere un singolo evento ma è in realtà un processo che si svolge continuamente. Come diceva Menachem Mendel di Kotzk: “Il Dare della Torà ha avuto luogo nel mese di Sivan, ma il ricevimento della Torah ha luogo ogni giorno”.

Forse è perché non segna un evento chiaro e decisivo che Shavuot è spesso descritta come una “festività Cenerentola” di cui è difficile essere entusiasti, a parte le cheesecake e altre prelibatezze. In realtà Shavuot è una delle maggiori festività dell’ebraismo. Insieme a Pesach e Sukkot era una delle tre volte in cui gli ebrei erano richiesto di visitare il Tempio di Gerusalemme per ringraziare Dio per i cibi che avrebbero sostenuto la vita. Nella sua forma rabbinica è il momento in cui gli israeliti sono diventati un popolo; il momento in cui, incontrando Dio, abbiamo accettato l’Alleanza per sempre e per tutte le generazioni, abbiamo deciso di essere il popolo di Dio e fare la volontà di Dio. Shavuot celebra e prova il momento fondamentale dell’ebraismo: la tradizione ci dice che eravamo tutti nel Sinai, tutti parte dell’accettazione del Patto.

Quest’anno non potremo incontrarci nella sinagoga e rievocare il Sinai. Lì non ci saranno addobbi floreali per la bimà e l’Arca, a ricordarci che il Sinai era pieno di fiori quando Dio e il popolo si promisero l’un l’altro. Il dramma della liturgia si sentirà un po’ meno, mediato attraverso i nostri fornitori di servizi Internet. Ma il messaggio di Shavuot, del riconoscimento della fragilità della vita, dell’ansia esistenziale degli esseri umani, del fatto che stiamo tutti viaggiando insieme attraverso la terra difficile verso un futuro sperato ma poco chiaro, quel messaggio quest’anno sarà più chiaro che mai.

Quindi celebriamo il periodo primaverile, benediciamo il fatto di raggiungere un altro giorno, ringraziamo la comunità in cui viviamo e con cui condividiamo questo viaggio. E ricordiamo il salto di fede sia di Dio che del popolo ebraico per restare fedeli e viaggiare in un futuro pieno di speranza.

Traduzione dall’inglese di Eva Mangialajo Rantzer

Pesach and the Seder Plate: the lesson of hope

The festival of Pesach has an extraordinary amount of symbolic and/or coded practises.  The items on the seder plate – the burned egg (beitza) for the additional festival sacrifice of thanksgiving (chagigah) brought during the three pilgrim festival, is also a symbol of fertility and of life.  Hard boiled and touched by flame it has no “speaking” role in the service, but reminds us of both hardship and survival. The charoset, a mixture of wine nuts and fruit, is generally said to symbolise the mortar used by the Hebrew slaves in their building work (its name, first found in Mishna Pesachim 20:3 shows it to have become part of the seder ritual, though there is debate as to whether the charoset is mandatory.) Eaten first with the matza and then with the bitter herbs before the meal, it embodies a confusion of meanings – if it has apples as in the Ashkenazi tradition, it is to remind us of the apple trees under which, according to midrash, the Israelite women seduced their husbands in order to become pregnant – their husbands not apparently wanting to bring a new generation into the world of slavery. If it has dates and figs, as in the Sephardi tradition, it is to remind us of the Song of Songs, read on Pesach, an erotic work which supposedly alludes to the love between God and Israel, as well, of course, as being rich in the symbolism of fertility. The wine-dark colour is supposed to remind us of the blood placed on the doorposts of the houses to stop the Angel of Death from entering, and the blood into which Joseph’s torn coat was dipped to show his father that he had most likely been savaged by a wild animal – the moment from which the Pesach narrative is born.

The zeroa, the shank bone of a lamb, is a reminder both of the lamb roasted on the night of the exodus (exodus 12:8-9) and of the korban pesach, the lamb brought as paschal sacrifice when the Temple stood in Jerusalem. Along with the egg it forms the “two cooked dishes” required by the Mishnah, and the “pesach” together with the matza and the bitter herb (maror), is one of the three objects we are required to discuss in order to fulfil the obligation of the Seder according to Rabban Gamliel. While the zeroa represents the paschal sacrifice, in fact there are a variety of traditions as to what can go on the plate – as it means an arm or a shoulder – so chicken wings can be used, or – should one go further into the etymology where it is used to mean “to spread out” – chicken necks and in fact any meat – even without a bone – can be used (Mishnah Berurah). But for vegetarians there are other possibilities. A beet is an acceptable symbol for the zeroa according to Rav Huna (Pesachim 114b) and it does “bleed” onto the plate in meaty fashion. Vegetarian punsters in the English language are fond of using a “paschal yam”. And for the greatly squeamish a model bone – be it fashioned from craft putty or from paper – can stand in symbolically.

The zeroa also represents the “outstretched arm” with which the bible tells us God first promised redemption from slavery (Ex.6:6) and then took us out of Egypt (Deut 26:8). It resonates and possibly also references Moses’ outstretched arm over the sea of reeds which caused the waters to part and then to return, although a different verb us used here (Exodus 14)

The maror – the bitter herb – is actually only one of two bitter herbs on most plates, the other being the hazeret. Hazeret was usually the bitter leaves of romaine lettuce, and the maror is generally represented by grated horseradish root. However the Mishnah (Pesachim 2:6) gives us five different vegetables that could be used: as well as hazeret and maror there is olshin, tamcha, and char’chavina. Such a lot of bitterness we can sample! According to Talmud, it is the hazeret rather than the maror which is preferred, though somehow we have reversed the order, and often the hazeret remains on the plate to puzzle the seder participants as to its purpose. Some mix the two for each time we eat the bitter herbs, some use one for the maror and the other for the Hillel Sandwich, some leave the hazeret untouched….. The bitter taste is in memory of the bitterness of the slavery – and yet we mix it with the sweet charoset, or eat it with the matza

And then there is the Karpas. Often described as the hors d’oeuvres to turn a meal into a banquet (with the afikomen functioning as dessert), it is eaten dipped into the salt water early in the seder ritual. The word Karpas is not used in the Talmud, which mentions only yerakot – (green) vegetables. Indeed the word only appears in bible once –in the book of Esther – where it means fine linen cloth. It has, one assumes, come into the haggadah through the Greek “karpos” – a raw vegetable – but its connection to the fine linen and its place at the beginning of the seder makes it possible to see it as referencing the coat of Joseph dipped in blood by his brothers – the beginning of the connection with Egypt which will lead us eventually to the exodus and the seder.

The word and the food is open to much speculation. One drash I like plays on each letter of the word: When we look at the four letters of this word kaf, reish, peh and samech, we discover an encoded message of four words which teaches a basic lesson about how to develop our capacity for giving.

The first letter “chaf” means the palm of the hand. The second letter “reish” denotes a person bent down in poverty. When taken together these two letter/words speak of a benevolent hand opened for the needy.

But what if you are a person of limited means, with precious little to give? Look at the second half of the word Karpas. The letter “peh” means mouth, while the final letter “samech” means to support. True, you may not be capable of giving in the material sense, but you can always give support with your words.

Seen in this way, the Karpas is a reminder not just of the springtime with its fresh green leaves, but of our ability to show compassion for others and to support them whatever our circumstances. We dip the Karpas into salt water – which represents the tears shed by the slaves as they worked, and also maybe the water of the Reed Sea which presented a terrible obstacle to the fleeing slaves as the army of Pharaoh charged behind them to recapture them – so the ritual of dipping the Karpas reminds us that however much grief today brings, however painful our circumstances and great our fear of what is happening to us, the ability to empathise and to support others is the quality that will help us in our daily living.

The Karpas is for me the Pesach symbol par excellence, because it combines most powerfully both distress and hope. As a token of the new green of springtime, the bright taste of the parsley awakens a delicious sense of fresh hopefulness. Dipped into the salt water, that hopefulness is immersed in grief – and yet its taste still comes through. While each of the Seder plate symbols – along with the matza which is both the bread of affliction and the bread of liberation – is a potent combination of both pain and joy, the Karpas is the clearest encapsulation of this lesson. Coming right at the beginning of the Seder, it is a harbinger of the Pesach story and reminds us that hope survives through tears and through difficult times.  And hope is the prerequisite for survival.

My teacher Rabbi Hugo Gryn wrote that his father taught him that one can survive without food for three weeks and with no water for three days, but one cannot survive without hope for even three minutes.  The Pesach Seder begins with the encoded lesson – hope survives. We can tell the story of the slavery, of the plagues, of the fearful night of the angel of death, of the darkness and uncertainty, of the panicked leaving without knowing the destination and the crossing of the sea while pursued by the horses and chariots of the vengeful army. We can tell the story of the failed rebellion against Rome and the many oppressions over the generations. We can tell the story and taste the bitterness without fear or distress because the first thing we do after blessing the wine and washing our hands is to dip a fresh vegetable into salt water, bless the creator of the fruit from the ground, and taste the hope even through its coating of misery and grief.

This year has been a Seder like no other for most of us. Alone or separated from loved ones in lockdown, unable to source some of the usual Pesach foodstuffs or anxious about supplies, the story of the plagues has been thrown into sharp relief, no longer in the realm of fairy-tale but bluntly and frighteningly here. We cannot know yet how this story will end. Whether our masks and sheltering in place will keep us safe; whether we or our loved ones will hear the swoop of the wings of the Angel of Death. Everything is up-ended, but the message of the Seder supports us. Amidst fear and distress, through grief and terror, we hold on to hope. Hope is the beginning of our journey and it is our companion through life. The Hebrew word “tikvah” – hope – comes from the word for a cord or a rope. Threaded through the Seder, threaded through the generations who come to the Seder, binding us together through time and space, hope is what holds us in life and to life.

While the Haggadah is often described as the story from slavery to redemption, it is far more importantly the book that imbues us with hope – however long the redemption will take. And it ends with the hope “Next year in Jerusalem” – not necessarily a literal expectation, but a hope for new horizons, new possibilities, a hope for a better world.

 

Praying for Healing – a look at the sources

Can also be found on sefaria at https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/227042?lang=bi

 

1.      1…Genesis 20:17

(17) Abraham then prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his slave girls, so that they bore children;
 

בראשית כ׳:י״ז

(יז) וַיִּתְפַּלֵּ֥ל אַבְרָהָ֖ם אֶל־הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים וַיִּרְפָּ֨א אֱלֹהִ֜ים אֶת־אֲבִימֶ֧לֶךְ וְאֶת־אִשְׁתּ֛וֹ וְאַמְהֹתָ֖יו וַיֵּלֵֽדוּ׃
2…..Numbers 12:10-13

 As the cloud withdrew from the Tent, there was Miriam stricken with snow-white scales! When Aaron turned toward Miriam, he saw that she was stricken with scales. And Aaron said to Moses, “O my lord, account not to us the sin which we committed in our folly. Let her not be as one dead, who emerges from his mother’s womb with half his flesh eaten away.” So Moses cried out to the Eternal, saying, “O God, pray heal her!”
במדבר י״ב:י׳-י״ג

(י) וְהֶעָנָ֗ן סָ֚ר מֵעַ֣ל הָאֹ֔הֶל וְהִנֵּ֥ה מִרְיָ֖ם מְצֹרַ֣עַת כַּשָּׁ֑לֶג וַיִּ֧פֶן אַהֲרֹ֛ן אֶל־מִרְיָ֖ם וְהִנֵּ֥ה מְצֹרָֽעַת׃ (יא) וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אַהֲרֹ֖ן אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה בִּ֣י אֲדֹנִ֔י אַל־נָ֨א תָשֵׁ֤ת עָלֵ֙ינוּ֙ חַטָּ֔את אֲשֶׁ֥ר נוֹאַ֖לְנוּ וַאֲשֶׁ֥ר חָטָֽאנוּ׃ (יב) אַל־נָ֥א תְהִ֖י כַּמֵּ֑ת אֲשֶׁ֤ר בְּצֵאתוֹ֙ מֵרֶ֣חֶם אִמּ֔וֹ וַיֵּאָכֵ֖ל חֲצִ֥י בְשָׂרֽוֹ׃ (יג) וַיִּצְעַ֣ק מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֶל־יְהוָ֖ה לֵאמֹ֑ר אֵ֕ל נָ֛א רְפָ֥א נָ֖א לָֽהּ׃ (פ)
3 ….Exodus 15:26

(26) He said, “If you will heed the Eternal your God diligently, doing what is upright in God’s sight, giving ear to God’s commandments and keeping all God’s laws, then I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians, for I the Eternal am your healer.”

4 Asher Yatzar

שמות ט״ו:כ״ו

(כו) וַיֹּאמֶר֩ אִם־שָׁמ֨וֹעַ תִּשְׁמַ֜ע לְק֣וֹל ׀ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֗יךָ וְהַיָּשָׁ֤ר בְּעֵינָיו֙ תַּעֲשֶׂ֔ה וְהַֽאֲזַנְתָּ֙ לְמִצְוֺתָ֔יו וְשָׁמַרְתָּ֖ כָּל־חֻקָּ֑יו כָּֽל־הַמַּֽחֲלָ֞ה אֲשֶׁר־שַׂ֤מְתִּי בְמִצְרַ֙יִם֙ לֹא־אָשִׂ֣ים עָלֶ֔יךָ כִּ֛י אֲנִ֥י יְהוָ֖ה רֹפְאֶֽךָ׃ (ס)
אֲשֶׁר יָצַר

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם

אֲשֶׁר יָצַר אֶת הָאָדָם בְּחָכְמָה

וּבָרָא בוֹ נְקָבִים נְקָבִים חֲלוּלִים חֲלוּלִים.

גָּלוּי וְיָדוּעַ לִפְנֵי כִסֵּא כְבוֹדֶךָ

שֶׁאִם יִפָּתֵחַ אֶחָד מֵהֶם אוֹ יִסָּתֵם אֶחָד מֵהֶם

אִי אֶפְשַׁר לְהִתְקַיֵּם וְלַעֲמוֹד לְפָנֶיךָ.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה רוֹפֵא כָל בָּשָׂר

וּמַפְלִיא לַעֲשֹוֹת.

Blessed are You, God, our God, sovereign of the universe, who formed humans with wisdom and created within us many openings and many hollows. It is obvious in the presence of your glorious throne that if one of them were ruptured, or if one of them were blocked, it would be impossible to exist and stand in your presence.

Blessed are You, God, who heals all flesh and performs wonders

 

5    Siddur Ashkenaz, Weekday, Shacharit, Amidah, Healing

(1) Heal us, O God, and we shall be healed, save us and we shall be saved, for You are our praise. Bring complete healing to all our wounds,

(2) (Prayer for a sick person: May it be Your will in front of You, O Eternal, my God and the God of my ancestors, that You quickly send a complete recovery from the Heavens – a recovery of the soul and a recovery of the body – to the the sick person, insert name, the son/daughter of insert mother’s name, among the other sick ones of Israel.)

(3) for You are God and Sovereign, the faithful and merciful healer. Blessed are You, O God, Who heals the sick of Your people Israel.

 

סידור אשכנז, ימי חול, תפילת שחרית, עמידה, רפואה

(א) רְפָאֵנוּ ה’ וְנֵרָפֵא. הושִׁיעֵנוּ וְנִוָּשֵׁעָה כִּי תְהִלָּתֵנוּ אָתָּה. וְהַעֲלֵה רְפוּאָה שְׁלֵמָה לְכָל מַכּותֵינוּ.

(ב) תפילה בעד החולה: יְהִי רָצון מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה’ אֱלהַי וֵאלהֵי אֲבותַי. שֶׁתִּשְׁלַח מְהֵרָה רְפוּאָה שְׁלֵמָה מִן הַשָּׁמַיִם. רְפוּאַת הַנֶּפֶשׁ וּרְפוּאַת הַגּוּף לְחולֶה פב”פ בְּתוךְ שְׁאָר חולֵי יִשרָאֵל:

(ג) כִּי אֵל מֶלֶךְ רופֵא נֶאֱמָן וְרַחֲמָן אָתָּה. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’, רופֵא חולֵי עַמּו יִשרָאֵל:

6 Siddur Ashkenaz, Shabbat, Shacharit, Keriat Hatorah, Reading from Sefer, Mi Sheberach, For Sickness (includes man and woman) 2

 

For a Woman:

May the one who blessed our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses and Aaron, David and Solomon bless [First Name, daughter of Mother’s Name], for which [name of person asking for the prayer] vows to give charity for her sake. As reward for this, may the Holy One, Blessed Be God, be filled with mercy for her, to heal her and to strengthen her and to enliven her, and quickly send her a complete healing from heaven to all her limbs and organs, among the other sick of Israel, a healing of the spirit and a healing of the body. On Shabbat: On Shabbat we do not cry out, and healing will soon come. Now, speedily, and in a time soon to come, and let us say, Amen.

סידור אשכנז, שבת, שחרית, קריאת התורה, קריאת התורה, מי שברך, לחולים ב׳

(ב) לנקבה:

מִי שֶׁבֵּרַךְ אֲבותֵינוּ אַבְרָהָם יִצְחָק וְיַעֲקב משֶׁה וְאַהֲרן דָּוִד וּשְׁלמה הוּא יְבָרֵךְ אֶת הַחולָה פב”פ בַּעֲבוּר שפב”פ נודֵר צְדָקָה בַּעֲבוּרָהּ, בִּשכַר זֶה הַקָּדושׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא יִמָלֵא רַחֲמִים עָלֶיהָ לְהַחֲלִימָהּ וּלְרַפְּאתָהּ וּלְהַחֲזִיקָהּ וּלְהַחֲיותָהּ, וְיִשְׁלַח לָהּ מְהֵרָה רְפוּאָה שְׁלֵמָה מִן הַשָּׁמַיִם לְכָל אֵבָרֶיהּ וּלְכָל גִּידֶיהָ בְּתוךְ שְׁאָר חולֵי יִשרָאֵל, רְפוּאַת הַנֶּפֶשׁ וּרְפוּאַת הַגּוּף בשבת: שַׁבָּת הִיא מִלִזְּעוק וּרְפוּאָה קְרובָה לָבוא. ביו”ט: יום טוב הוא מִלְזּעוק וּרְפוּאָה קְרובָה לָבוא, הַשְׁתָּא בַּעֲגָלָא וּבִזְמַן קָרִיב. וְנאמַר אָמֵן:

7 Siddur Ashkenaz, Shabbat, Shacharit, Keriat Hatorah, Reading from Sefer, Birkat Hagomel 1

Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Ruler of the universe, who has bestowed every goodness upon me.
סידור אשכנז, שבת, שחרית, קריאת התורה, קריאת התורה, ברכת הגומל א׳

(א) ברכת הגומל: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעולָם. הַגּומֵל לְחַיָּבִים טובות. שֶׁגְּמָלַנִי כָּל טוב:
8. Siddur Ashkenaz, Shabbat, Shacharit, Keriat Hatorah, Reading from Sefer, Birkat Hagomel 2

[The community respond with ]Amen! May the One who has bestowed goodness on you continue to bestow goodness upon you forever!
 

סידור אשכנז, שבת, שחרית, קריאת התורה, קריאת התורה, ברכת הגומל ב׳

(ב) הקהל עונה אמן. ואומרים:

מִי שֶׁגְּמָלְךָ טוב. הוּא יִגְמָלְךָ כָּל טוב סֶלָה:

 

9 Siddur Ashkenaz, Weekday, Maariv, Blessings of the Shema, Second Blessing after Shema (Hashkiveinu)

Lie us down to peace, Adonai our God, and raise us up to life, our sovereign , and spread over us the shelter of your peace, and direct us with good counsel before You, and save us for the sake of your name, and look out for us, and keep enemies, plagues swords, famines, and troubles from our midst, and remove Satan from in front of us and from behind us, and cradle us in the shadow of your wings, for You are God who guards us and saves us, for You are God. Our gracious and merciful sovereign. Guard our going out and our coming to life and to peace, from now and ever more.

(On Weekdays) Blessed are You, Adonai, who guards your People Israel forever.

 

סידור אשכנז, ימי חול, מעריב, ברכות קריאת שמע, השכיבנו

(א) הַשְׁכִּיבֵנוּ ה’ אֱלהֵינוּ לְשָׁלום, וְהַעֲמִידֵנוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ לְחַיִּים. וּפְרוש עָלֵינוּ סֻכַּת שְׁלומֶךָ. וְתַקְּנֵנוּ בְּעֵצָה טובָה מִלְּפָנֶיךָ. וְהושִׁיעֵנוּ לְמַעַן שְׁמֶךָ. וְהָגֵן בַּעֲדֵנוּ: וְהָסֵר מֵעָלֵינוּ אויֵב דֶבֶר וְחֶרֶב וְרָעָב וְיָגון. וְהָסֵר שטָן מִלְפָנֵינוּ וּמֵאַחֲרֵינוּ. וּבְצֵל כְּנָפֶיךָ תַּסְתִּירֵנוּ. כִּי אֵל שׁומְרֵנוּ וּמַצִּילֵנוּ אָתָּה. כִּי אֵל מֶלֶךְ חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם אָתָּה: וּשְׁמור צֵאתֵנוּ וּבואֵנוּ לְחַיִים וּלְשָׁלום מֵעַתָּה וְעַד עולָם: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ שׁומֵר עַמּו יִשרָאֵל לָעַד:

 

10

Beit Yosef, Orech Chaim 236

In the Talmud, Rabbi Yochanan says that one needs to follow the evening G’ulah directly with the evening T’filah. We might see Hashkiveinu as a pause, but instead we should see it as an extension of the G’ulah. We should view it just like the preface “Adonai S’fatai, Open my lips,” which was instituted as a part of the T’filah. We see Hashkiveinu as an extension of the G’ulah in that when God plagued Egypt, he caused a great fear upon the people [amidst the darkness]. They prayed to the Holy One, that the Angel of Death would not come to their houses to inflict death upon them. Hashkiveinu is a reminder of the fear the Israelites faced during the time of redemption; therefore it is a part of the ​G’ulah

 

 

11 Jeremiah 15:18

Why must my pain be endless, My wound incurable, Resistant to healing? You have been to me like a spring that fails, Like waters that cannot be relied on.
 

ירמיהו ט״ו:י״ח

(יח) לָ֣מָּה הָיָ֤ה כְאֵבִי֙ נֶ֔צַח וּמַכָּתִ֖י אֲנוּשָׁ֑ה֙ מֵֽאֲנָה֙ הֵֽרָפֵ֔א הָי֨וֹ תִֽהְיֶ֥ה לִי֙ כְּמ֣וֹ אַכְזָ֔ב מַ֖יִם לֹ֥א נֶאֱמָֽנוּ׃ (ס)
12  Jeremiah 17:14

(14) Heal me, Adonai and let me be healed; Save me, and let me be saved; For You are my glory.
ירמיהו י״ז:י״ד

(יד) רְפָאֵ֤נִי יְהוָה֙ וְאֵ֣רָפֵ֔א הוֹשִׁיעֵ֖נִי וְאִוָּשֵׁ֑עָה כִּ֥י תְהִלָּתִ֖י אָֽתָּה׃

 

13 Psalms 41:2-8

 Happy is the one who is thoughtful of the wretched; in bad times may the Eternal keep them from harm. May the Eternal guard them and preserve them; and may they be thought happy in the land. Do not subject them to the will of their enemies.  The Eternal will sustain them on their sickbed; You shall wholly transform their bed of suffering.  I said, “O Adonai, have mercy on me, heal me, for I have sinned against You.”  My enemies speak evilly of me, “When will he die and his name perish?” If one comes to visit, he speaks falsely; his mind stores up evil thoughts; once outside, he speaks them. All my enemies whisper together against me, imagining the worst for me.
תהילים מ״א:ב׳-ח׳

(ב) אַ֭שְׁרֵי מַשְׂכִּ֣יל אֶל־דָּ֑ל בְּי֥וֹם רָ֝עָ֗ה יְֽמַלְּטֵ֥הוּ יְהוָֽה׃ (ג) יְהוָ֤ה ׀ יִשְׁמְרֵ֣הוּ וִֽ֭יחַיֵּהוּ יאשר [וְאֻשַּׁ֣ר] בָּאָ֑רֶץ וְאַֽל־תִּ֝תְּנֵ֗הוּ בְּנֶ֣פֶשׁ אֹיְבָֽיו׃ (ד) יְֽהוָ֗ה יִ֭סְעָדֶנּוּ עַל־עֶ֣רֶשׂ דְּוָ֑י כָּל־מִ֝שְׁכָּב֗וֹ הָפַ֥כְתָּ בְחָלְיֽוֹ׃ (ה) אֲ‍ֽנִי־אָ֭מַרְתִּי יְהוָ֣ה חָנֵּ֑נִי רְפָאָ֥ה נַ֝פְשִׁ֗י כִּי־חָטָ֥אתִי לָֽךְ׃ (ו) אוֹיְבַ֗י יֹאמְר֣וּ רַ֣ע לִ֑י מָתַ֥י יָ֝מ֗וּת וְאָבַ֥ד שְׁמֽוֹ׃ (ז) וְאִם־בָּ֤א לִרְא֨וֹת ׀ שָׁ֤וְא יְדַבֵּ֗ר לִבּ֗וֹ יִקְבָּץ־אָ֥וֶן ל֑וֹ יֵצֵ֖א לַח֣וּץ יְדַבֵּֽר׃ (ח) יַ֗חַד עָלַ֣י יִ֭תְלַחֲשׁוּ כָּל־שֹׂנְאָ֑י עָלַ֓י ׀ יַחְשְׁב֖וּ רָעָ֣ה לִֽי׃
14  Psalms 6

For the leader; with instrumental music on the sheminith. A psalm of David. O Eternal, do not punish me in anger, do not chastise me in fury. Have mercy on me, O Eternal, for I languish; heal me, O Eternal, for my bones shake with terror. My whole being is stricken with terror, while You, Eternal —O, how long! O Eternal, turn! Rescue me! Deliver me as befits Your faithfulness. For there is no praise of You among the dead; in Sheol, who can acclaim You?  I am weary with groaning; every night I drench my bed, I melt my couch in tears. My eyes are wasted by vexation, worn out because of all my foes. Away from me, all you evildoers, for the Eternal heeds the sound of my weeping. The Eternal heeds my plea, the Eternal accepts my prayer. All my enemies will be frustrated and stricken with terror; they will turn back in an instant, frustrated.
תהילים ו׳

(א) לַמְנַצֵּ֣חַ בִּ֭נְגִינוֹת עַֽל־הַשְּׁמִינִ֗ית מִזְמ֥וֹר לְדָוִֽד׃ (ב) יְֽהוָ֗ה אַל־בְּאַפְּךָ֥ תוֹכִיחֵ֑נִי וְֽאַל־בַּחֲמָתְךָ֥ תְיַסְּרֵֽנִי׃ (ג) חָנֵּ֥נִי יְהוָה֮ כִּ֤י אֻמְלַ֫ל אָ֥נִי רְפָאֵ֥נִי יְהוָ֑ה כִּ֖י נִבְהֲל֣וּ עֲצָמָֽי׃ (ד) וְ֭נַפְשִׁי נִבְהֲלָ֣ה מְאֹ֑ד ואת [וְאַתָּ֥ה] יְ֝הוָ֗ה עַד־מָתָֽי׃ (ה) שׁוּבָ֣ה יְ֭הוָה חַלְּצָ֣ה נַפְשִׁ֑י ה֝וֹשִׁיעֵ֗נִי לְמַ֣עַן חַסְדֶּֽךָ׃ (ו) כִּ֤י אֵ֣ין בַּמָּ֣וֶת זִכְרֶ֑ךָ בִּ֝שְׁא֗וֹל מִ֣י יֽוֹדֶה־לָּֽךְ׃ (ז) יָגַ֤עְתִּי ׀ בְּֽאַנְחָתִ֗י אַשְׂחֶ֣ה בְכָל־לַ֭יְלָה מִטָּתִ֑י בְּ֝דִמְעָתִ֗י עַרְשִׂ֥י אַמְסֶֽה׃ (ח) עָֽשְׁשָׁ֣ה מִכַּ֣עַס עֵינִ֑י עָֽ֝תְקָ֗ה בְּכָל־צוֹרְרָֽי׃ (ט) ס֣וּרוּ מִ֭מֶּנִּי כָּל־פֹּ֣עֲלֵי אָ֑וֶן כִּֽי־שָׁמַ֥ע יְ֝הוָ֗ה ק֣וֹל בִּכְיִֽי׃ (י) שָׁמַ֣ע יְ֭הוָה תְּחִנָּתִ֑י יְ֝הוָ֗ה תְּֽפִלָּתִ֥י יִקָּֽח׃ (יא) יֵבֹ֤שׁוּ ׀ וְיִבָּהֲל֣וּ מְ֭אֹד כָּל־אֹיְבָ֑י יָ֝שֻׁ֗בוּ יֵבֹ֥שׁוּ רָֽגַע׃
15 Psalms 121

A song for ascents. I turn my eyes to the mountains; from where will my help come? My help comes from the Eternal, maker of heaven and earth. God will not let your foot give way; your guardian will not slumber; See, the guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps!  The Eternal is your guardian, the Eternal is your protection at your right hand.  By day the sun will not strike you, nor the moon by night. The Eternal will guard you from all harm; God will guard your life.  The Eternal will guard your going and coming now and forever.
 

תהילים קכ״א

(א) שִׁ֗יר לַֽמַּ֫עֲל֥וֹת אֶשָּׂ֣א עֵ֭ינַי אֶל־הֶהָרִ֑ים מֵ֝אַ֗יִן יָבֹ֥א עֶזְרִֽי׃ (ב) עֶ֭זְרִי מֵעִ֣ם יְהוָ֑ה עֹ֝שֵׂ֗ה שָׁמַ֥יִם וָאָֽרֶץ׃ (ג) אַל־יִתֵּ֣ן לַמּ֣וֹט רַגְלֶ֑ךָ אַל־יָ֝נ֗וּם שֹֽׁמְרֶֽךָ׃ (ד) הִנֵּ֣ה לֹֽא־יָ֭נוּם וְלֹ֣א יִישָׁ֑ן שׁ֝וֹמֵ֗ר יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ (ה) יְהוָ֥ה שֹׁמְרֶ֑ךָ יְהוָ֥ה צִ֝לְּךָ֗ עַל־יַ֥ד יְמִינֶֽךָ׃ (ו) יוֹמָ֗ם הַשֶּׁ֥מֶשׁ לֹֽא־יַכֶּ֗כָּה וְיָרֵ֥חַ בַּלָּֽיְלָה׃ (ז) יְֽהוָ֗ה יִשְׁמָרְךָ֥ מִכָּל־רָ֑ע יִ֝שְׁמֹ֗ר אֶת־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ׃ (ח) יְֽהוָ֗ה יִשְׁמָר־צֵאתְךָ֥ וּבוֹאֶ֑ךָ מֵֽ֝עַתָּ֗ה וְעַד־עוֹלָֽם׃
16 Psalms 130

(1) A song of ascents. Out of the depths I call You, O God. (2) O God, listen to my cry; let Your ears be attentive to my plea for mercy. (3) If You keep account of sins, O God, who will survive? (4) Yours is the power to forgive so that You may be held in awe. (5) I look to the Eternal; I look to God; I await God’s word. (6) I am more eager for the Eternal than watchmen for the morning, watchmen for the morning. (7) O Israel, wait for the Eternal; for with the Eternal is steadfast love and great power to redeem. (8) It is God who will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.
תהילים ק״ל

(א) שִׁ֥יר הַֽמַּעֲל֑וֹת מִמַּעֲמַקִּ֖ים קְרָאתִ֣יךָ יְהוָֽה׃ (ב) אֲדֹנָי֮ שִׁמְעָ֪ה בְק֫וֹלִ֥י תִּהְיֶ֣ינָה אָ֭זְנֶיךָ קַשֻּׁב֑וֹת לְ֝ק֗וֹל תַּחֲנוּנָֽי׃ (ג) אִם־עֲוֺנ֥וֹת תִּשְׁמָר־יָ֑הּ אֲ֝דֹנָ֗י מִ֣י יַעֲמֹֽד׃ (ד) כִּֽי־עִמְּךָ֥ הַסְּלִיחָ֑ה לְ֝מַ֗עַן תִּוָּרֵֽא׃ (ה) קִוִּ֣יתִי יְ֭הוָה קִוְּתָ֣ה נַפְשִׁ֑י וְֽלִדְבָר֥וֹ הוֹחָֽלְתִּי׃ (ו) נַפְשִׁ֥י לַֽאדֹנָ֑י מִשֹּׁמְרִ֥ים לַ֝בֹּ֗קֶר שֹׁמְרִ֥ים לַבֹּֽקֶר׃ (ז) יַחֵ֥ל יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל אֶל־יְה֫וָה כִּֽי־עִם־יְהוָ֥ה הַחֶ֑סֶד וְהַרְבֵּ֖ה עִמּ֣וֹ פְדֽוּת׃ (ח) וְ֭הוּא יִפְדֶּ֣ה אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל מִ֝כֹּ֗ל עֲוֺנֹתָֽיו׃

 

17II Chronicles 16:12-13

(12) In the thirty-ninth year of his reign, Asa suffered from an acute foot ailment; but ill as he was, he still did not turn to the Eternal but to physicians. (13) Asa slept with his fathers. He died in the forty-first year of his reign
דברי הימים ב ט״ז:י״בי״ג

(יב) וַיֶּחֱלֶ֣א אָסָ֡א בִּשְׁנַת֩ שְׁלוֹשִׁ֨ים וָתֵ֤שַׁע לְמַלְכוּתוֹ֙ בְּרַגְלָ֔יו עַד־לְמַ֖עְלָה חָלְי֑וֹ וְגַם־בְּחָלְיוֹ֙ לֹא־דָרַ֣שׁ אֶת־יְהוָ֔ה כִּ֖י בָּרֹפְאִֽים׃ (יג) וַיִּשְׁכַּ֥ב אָסָ֖א עִם־אֲבֹתָ֑יו וַיָּ֕מָת בִּשְׁנַ֛ת אַרְבָּעִ֥ים וְאַחַ֖ת לְמָלְכֽוֹ׃
18 I Kings 17:17-22

(17) After a while, the son of the mistress of the house fell sick, and his illness grew worse, until he had no breath left in him. (18) She said to Elijah, “What harm have I done you, O man of God, that you should come here to recall my sin and cause the death of my son?” (19) “Give me the boy,” he said to her; and taking him from her arms, he carried him to the upper chamber where he was staying, and laid him down on his own bed. (20) He cried out to the Eternal and said, “O Eternal my God, will You bring calamity upon this widow whose guest I am, and let her son die?” (21) Then he stretched out over the child three times, and cried out to the Eternal, saying, “O ETERNAL my God, let this child’s life return to his body!” (22) The Eternal heard Elijah’s plea; the child’s life returned to his body, and he revived.
מלכים א י״ז:י״זכ״ב

(יז) וַיְהִ֗י אַחַר֙ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה חָלָ֕ה בֶּן־הָאִשָּׁ֖ה בַּעֲלַ֣ת הַבָּ֑יִת וַיְהִ֤י חָלְיוֹ֙ חָזָ֣ק מְאֹ֔ד עַ֛ד אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹא־נֽוֹתְרָה־בּ֖וֹ נְשָׁמָֽה׃ (יח) וַתֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אֶל־אֵ֣לִיָּ֔הוּ מַה־לִּ֥י וָלָ֖ךְ אִ֣ישׁ הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים בָּ֧אתָ אֵלַ֛י לְהַזְכִּ֥יר אֶת־עֲוֺנִ֖י וּלְהָמִ֥ית אֶת־בְּנִֽי׃ (יט) וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֵלֶ֖יהָ תְּנִֽי־לִ֣י אֶת־בְּנֵ֑ךְ וַיִּקָּחֵ֣הוּ מֵחֵיקָ֗הּ וַֽיַּעֲלֵ֙הוּ֙ אֶל־הָעֲלִיָּ֗ה אֲשֶׁר־הוּא֙ יֹשֵׁ֣ב שָׁ֔ם וַיַּשְׁכִּבֵ֖הוּ עַל־מִטָּתֽוֹ׃ (כ) וַיִּקְרָ֥א אֶל־יְהוָ֖ה וַיֹּאמַ֑ר יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהָ֔י הֲ֠גַם עַל־הָאַלְמָנָ֞ה אֲשֶׁר־אֲנִ֨י מִתְגּוֹרֵ֥ר עִמָּ֛הּ הֲרֵע֖וֹתָ לְהָמִ֥ית אֶת־בְּנָֽהּ׃ (כא) וַיִּתְמֹדֵ֤ד עַל־הַיֶּ֙לֶד֙ שָׁלֹ֣שׁ פְּעָמִ֔ים וַיִּקְרָ֥א אֶל־יְהוָ֖ה וַיֹּאמַ֑ר יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהָ֔י תָּ֥שָׁב נָ֛א נֶֽפֶשׁ־הַיֶּ֥לֶד הַזֶּ֖ה עַל־קִרְבּֽוֹ׃ (כב) וַיִּשְׁמַ֥ע יְהוָ֖ה בְּק֣וֹל אֵלִיָּ֑הוּ וַתָּ֧שָׁב נֶֽפֶשׁ־הַיֶּ֛לֶד עַל־קִרְבּ֖וֹ וַיֶּֽחִי׃
19 II Kings 20:1-7

(1) In those days Hezekiah fell dangerously ill. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came and said to him, “Thus said the Eternal: Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die; you will not get well.” (2) Thereupon Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Eternal. He said, (3) “Please, O Eternal, remember how I have walked before You sincerely and wholeheartedly, and have done what is pleasing to You.” And Hezekiah wept profusely. (4) Before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the Eternal came to him: (5) “Go back and say to Hezekiah, the ruler of My people: Thus said the Eternal, the God of your father David: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears. I am going to heal you; on the third day you shall go up to the House of the Eternal. (6) And I will add fifteen years to your life. I will also rescue you and this city from the hands of the king of Assyria. I will protect this city for My sake and for the sake of My servant David.”— (7) Then Isaiah said, “Get a cake of figs.” And they got one, and they applied it to the rash, and he recovered.—
מלכים ב כ׳:א׳-ז׳

(א) בַּיָּמִ֣ים הָהֵ֔ם חָלָ֥ה חִזְקִיָּ֖הוּ לָמ֑וּת וַיָּבֹ֣א אֵ֠לָיו יְשַׁעְיָ֨הוּ בֶן־אָמ֜וֹץ הַנָּבִ֗יא וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֵלָ֜יו כֹּֽה־אָמַ֤ר יְהוָה֙ צַ֣ו לְבֵיתֶ֔ךָ כִּ֛י מֵ֥ת אַתָּ֖ה וְלֹ֥א תִֽחְיֶֽה׃ (ב) וַיַּסֵּ֥ב אֶת־פָּנָ֖יו אֶל־הַקִּ֑יר וַיִּ֨תְפַּלֵּ֔ל אֶל־יְהוָ֖ה לֵאמֹֽר׃ (ג) אָנָּ֣ה יְהוָ֗ה זְכָר־נָ֞א אֵ֣ת אֲשֶׁ֧ר הִתְהַלַּ֣כְתִּי לְפָנֶ֗יךָ בֶּֽאֱמֶת֙ וּבְלֵבָ֣ב שָׁלֵ֔ם וְהַטּ֥וֹב בְּעֵינֶ֖יךָ עָשִׂ֑יתִי וַיֵּ֥בְךְּ חִזְקִיָּ֖הוּ בְּכִ֥י גָדֽוֹל׃ (ס) (ד) וַיְהִ֣י יְשַׁעְיָ֔הוּ לֹ֣א יָצָ֔א העיר [חָצֵ֖ר] הַתִּֽיכֹנָ֑ה וּדְבַר־יְהוָ֔ה הָיָ֥ה אֵלָ֖יו לֵאמֹֽר׃ (ה) שׁ֣וּב וְאָמַרְתָּ֞ אֶל־חִזְקִיָּ֣הוּ נְגִיד־עַמִּ֗י כֹּֽה־אָמַ֤ר יְהוָה֙ אֱלֹהֵי֙ דָּוִ֣ד אָבִ֔יךָ שָׁמַ֙עְתִּי֙ אֶת־תְּפִלָּתֶ֔ךָ רָאִ֖יתִי אֶת־דִּמְעָתֶ֑ךָ הִנְנִי֙ רֹ֣פֶא לָ֔ךְ בַּיּוֹם֙ הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֔י תַּעֲלֶ֖ה בֵּ֥ית יְהוָֽה׃ (ו) וְהֹסַפְתִּ֣י עַל־יָמֶ֗יךָ חֲמֵ֤שׁ עֶשְׂרֵה֙ שָׁנָ֔ה וּמִכַּ֤ף מֶֽלֶךְ־אַשּׁוּר֙ אַצִּ֣ילְךָ֔ וְאֵ֖ת הָעִ֣יר הַזֹּ֑את וְגַנּוֹתִי֙ עַל־הָעִ֣יר הַזֹּ֔את לְמַֽעֲנִ֔י וּלְמַ֖עַן דָּוִ֥ד עַבְדִּֽי׃ (ז) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְשַֽׁעְיָ֔הוּ קְח֖וּ דְּבֶ֣לֶת תְּאֵנִ֑ים וַיִּקְח֛וּ וַיָּשִׂ֥ימוּ עַֽל־הַשְּׁחִ֖ין וַיֶּֽחִי׃

20

Hezekiah continued: I have received a tradition from the house of my father’s father, from King David, the founding father of the dynasty of kings of Judea: Even if a sharp sword rests upon a person’s neck, he should not prevent himself from praying for mercy. One may still hold out hope that his prayers will be answered, as was David himself when he saw the Angel of Destruction, but nonetheless prayed for mercy and his prayers were answered.  (Berachot 10a)

21

Physicians Prayer (attributed to Maimonides)

[daily prayer of a physician before visiting his patients, translated from a Hebrew manuscript of a celebrated Hebrew physician of the 12th century. Translation reprinted from Dr. Harry Frieden­ wald, Johns Hopkins Hospital Bulletin, August, 1917.]

Almighty God, You have created the human body with infinite wisdom. Ten thousand times ten thousand organs have You combined in it that act unceasingly and harmoniously to preserve the whole in all its beauty the body which is the envelope of the immortal soul. They are ever acting in perfect order, agreement and accord. Yet, when the frailty of matter or the unbridling of passion deranges this order or interrupts this accord, then the. forces clash and the body crumbles into the primal dust from which it came. You send to humanity diseases as beneficent messengers to foretell approaching danger and to urge him to avert it.

You have blest Your earth, your rivers and Your mountains with healing substances; they enable Your creatures to alleviate their sufferings and heal their illnesses. You have endowed us with the wisdom to relieve the suffering of his brother, to recognize his disorders, to extract the healing substances, to discover their powers and to prepare and to apply them to suit every ill.. In Your Eternal Providence You have chosen me to watch over the health and the life of Your creatures. I am now about to apply myself to the duties of my profession. Support me, Almighty God, in these great labours that they may benefit humankind, for without Your help not even the least thing will succeed.

Inspire me with love for my art and for Your creatures. Do not allow thirst for profit, ambition for renown and admiration, to interfere with my profession, for these are the enemies of truth and of love for humankind and they can lead astray in the great task of attending to the welfare of Your creatures. Preserve the strength of my body and of my soul that they ever be ready to cheerfully help and ·support rich and poor, good and bad, enemy as well as friend. In the sufferer let me see only the human being. Illumine my mind that it recognize what presents itself and that it may comprehend what is absent or hidden. Let it not fail to see what is visible, but do not permit it to arrogate to itself the power to see what cannot be seen, for delicate and indefinite are the bounds of the great art of caring for the lives and health of Your creatures. Let me never be absent minded. May no strange thoughts divert my attention at the bedside of the sick, or disturb my mind in its silent labours, for great and sacred are the thoughtful deliberations required to preserve the lives and health of Your creatures.

Grant that my patients have confidence in me and my art and follow my direction and my counsel. Remove from their midst all charlatans and the whole host of officious relatives and know-all nurses, cruel people who arrogantly frustrate the wisest purposes of our art and often lead Your creatures to their death.

Should those who are wiser than I wish to improve and instruct me, let my soul gratefully follow their guidance; for vast is the extent of our art. Should conceited fools, however, censure me, then let love for my profession steel me against them, so that I remain steadfast without regard for age, for reputation, or for honour,- because surrender would bring to Your creatures sickness and death.

Imbue my soul with gentleness and calmness when older colleagues, proud of their age, wish to displace me or to scorn me or disdainfully to teach me. May even this be of advantage to me, for they know many things of which I am ignorant, but let not their arrogance give me pain. For they are old, and old age is not master of the passions. I also hope to attain old age upon this earth, before You, Almighty God!

Let me be contented in everything except in the great science of my profession. Never allow the thought to arise in me that I have attained to sufficient knowledge, but vouchsafe to me the strength, the leisure and the ambition ever to extend my knowledge. For art is great, but the mind of humanity is ever expanding.

 

  22 (A DAY OF DISTRESS

A day of distress and anguish,

and I think of your message.

You’re fair,

and justice shapes your mouth and heart.

5 I remember your words which calmed me

when trouble came near,

and hope for your view and deliverance.

In all of your goodness you’d sent your servant—

in bed, still a boy—

10 seraphs to greet me.

They sat alongside me, and Micha’el spoke:

Thus saith the Eternal, who contends in your cause:

When you pass through the waters I will stay you,

and the rivers will not overwhelm you

15 when your enemies come.

And Gabriel, too, his companion

beside your chariot,

heard of my fate and reported:

When you wade through fire you will not be burned;

20 I will speak to the flame which will not harm you.

These are words I’ve held like a sword.

Though I stand before swords, I count on your blade.  Shmuel haNagid

(HaNagid, Shmuel and Peter Cole.  Selected Poems of Shmuel HaNagid. Princeton University Press, 2016.)

23 HIS BROTHER’S ILLNESS

And my uncle Isaac fell ill, God have mercy upon him,

in the year 4801 [1041], and his heart went out to him and he said:

My limbs thicken with

strong premonition,

and my vision

blurs with tears as it sharpens;

and grief is budding 5

along my mind,

like weeds after

rains that smother the furrows.

Pleasure recedes

and sickens me now. 10

What good is sweetness

when one’s brother lies ill?

Let me make account

and not, my Eternal, him, for my weakness.

If I err — 15

would you punish another?

Then what of the error,

remaining within?  (Shmuel haNagid, loc cit)

 

 

 

24 The Chief Rabbi’s Prayer  (Rabbi Ephraim Mervis)

20th March 2020/24th Adar 5780    The Chief Rabbi has composed this special prayer to be recited at home at a time of your choosing. In addition, Psalms 91, 121 and 130 can be added.

אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָמַּיִם   Heavenly Father,

We turn to You at this time of deep global concern, to bestow Your mercy upon all the inhabitants of our vulnerable world, which is now so seriously afflicted.

Almighty God, who sustains the living with lovingkindness, supports the fallen and heals the sick, grant consolation to the bereaved families and send a speedy and complete recovery to all who have contracted the virus, as the Prophet Jeremiah declared:

כִי אַּעֲלֶׁה אֲרֻכָה לָךְ וּמִמַּכוֹתַּיִךְ אֶׁרְפָאֵךְ, נְאֻם השם

“For I will restore health unto you, and I will heal you of your wounds, says the Eternal”.

Bless with strength those who are suffering. Bless with resilience those in isolation. Bless with hope those who are despondent. Bless with wisdom all those who seek a cure and bless with compassion all those who offer comfort.

Bless the leaders of our nations. Give them and their advisors knowledge and foresight to act with wisdom and sincerity for the wellbeing of all whom they serve.

Bless the doctors, nurses, all healthcare professionals and key workers who tirelessly seek to heal and help those affected, while in so doing put themselves at risk.

Open our hearts in prayer and our hands in generosity to guarantee that the physical distance this virus creates between us will be bridged through compassion and kindness.

Almighty God of healing and hope, at this time of heightened global awareness of our mutual interdependence, enable all of humankind to appreciate the strength that comes from being united in concern and love, rather than divided with hate and prejudice. As we look to the future, may You endow all people with the capacity to build and sustain societies of unity, tolerance, harmony and peace.

O Eternal, our Rock and Salvation, lead us speedily from despair to hope, from fear to trust and from the dread of death to the celebration of life.

וַּאֲנִי תְפִלָתִי-לְךָ השם, עֵת רָצוֹן

May this prayer of mine come before You at a propitious time.

וְכֵן יְהִי רָצוֹן

And may this be Your will, Amen.

 

25Proverbs 3:8

(8) It [trust in God] will be a cure for your body, A tonic for your bones.
משלי ג׳:ח׳

(ח) רִ֭פְאוּת תְּהִ֣י לְשָׁרֶּ֑ךָ וְ֝שִׁקּ֗וּי לְעַצְמוֹתֶֽיךָ׃
26 Proverbs 4:20-22

(20) My child, listen to my speech; Incline your ear to my words. (21) Do not lose sight of them; Keep them in your mind. (22) They are life to him who finds them, Healing for his whole body.
משלי ד׳:כ׳-כ״ב

(כ) בְּ֭נִי לִדְבָרַ֣י הַקְשִׁ֑יבָה לַ֝אֲמָרַ֗י הַט־אָזְנֶֽךָ׃ (כא) אַל־יַלִּ֥יזוּ מֵעֵינֶ֑יךָ שָׁ֝מְרֵ֗ם בְּת֣וֹךְ לְבָבֶֽךָ׃ (כב) כִּֽי־חַיִּ֣ים הֵ֭ם לְמֹצְאֵיהֶ֑ם וּֽלְכָל־בְּשָׂר֥וֹ מַרְפֵּֽא׃
27 May it be Your will, O our God,

that we be allowed to stand in places of astonishing light

and not in dark places,

and may our hearts know no pain,

and may our vision not be so clouded

that we would not see all the blessings of Life

that You have given us.

(Rabbi Alexandrai’s prayer (or the prayer of Rav Himnuna)  Berachot 17a)

 

28 Rav Dimi said,

“Whoever visits one who is ill contributes significantly

to that person’s recovery. (Nedarim 40a)

 

29 One who feels pain in his head should engage in Torah study, as it is stated: “For they shall be a graceful wreath for your head.” One who feels pain in his throat should engage in Torah study, as it is stated: “And chains about your neck.” One who feels pain in his intestines should engage in Torah study, as it is stated: “It shall be health to your navel” (Proverbs 3:8). One who feels pain in his bones should engage in Torah study, as it is stated: “And marrow to your bones” (Proverbs 3:8). One who feels pain in his entire body should engage in Torah study, as it is stated: “And health to all their flesh” (Proverbs 4:22).  (Eruvin 54a)
30

A Prayer for the Health and Healing of Healer

May the One who blessed our ancestors

Bless all those who put themselves at risk to care for the sick

Physicians and nurses and orderlies

Technicians and home health aides

EMTs and pharmacists

And bless especially / an individual or other categories of health workers/

Who navigate the unfolding dangers of the world each day,

To tend to those they have sworn to help.

Bless them in their coming home and bless them in their going out.

Ease their fear. Sustain them.

Source of all breath, healer of all beings,

Protect them and restore their hope.

Strengthen them, that they may bring strength;

Keep them in health, that they may bring healing.

Help them know again a time when they can breathe without fear.

Bless the sacred work of their hands.

May this plague pass from among us, speedily and in our days.

— Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen, March 2020

 

 

31 from AJC haggadah Passover Prayer in the Age of Coronavirus

Why is this night different from all other nights? Why is this Passover different from all other Passovers?

On this Passover, when a pandemic threatens our collective health on an unimaginable scale, we are called to respond with the power of our humanity, with the Divine spirit implanted within us, with our legacy of hope and determination to prevail.

We pray for the at risk, the isolated, the stricken, the mourners.

We pray for those who have dedicated their lives to keeping us healthy—doctors, nurses, health-care workers—and all who sustain our hospitals and health-care institutions— existing and makeshift—operating under trying circumstances.

We pray for the first responders—police officers, fire fighters, military personnel who have been marshalled to the cause—all who are responsible for the safety of our communities.

We pray for our elected officials, who can save lives with wise leadership.

May God bless all of our public servants and watch over them.

On this Passover, when so many are separated from one another at a traditional time of being together, we reach out to one another with renewed love and compassion. When someone is missing from our Seder table, we tell their story as if they are with us. When there is personal sadness, we respond with communal solidarity, empathy, and fortitude.

On this Passover, not “all who are hungry can come and eat” and not “all who are in need can come and celebrate Passover.” In response, we commit all the days of our year to a heightened awareness of Passover’s values—to freeing the enslaved, to feeding the hungry, to sheltering the homeless, to supporting the poor. We rededicate ourselves to rekindling and cherishing our Passover traditions for all the years of our future, when light will overcome darkness, when health will overcome infirmity.

Dear God, “Spread over us Your canopy of peace . . . Shelter us in the shadow of Your wings . . .Guard us and deliver us. . . Guard our coming and our going, grant us life and peace, now and always.”

“This year we are slaves, next year we will be free.”gadns • AJC Director of Interre    A Seder Responsive Reading in the Age of Coronavirus

As we fill our four cups of wine, we pray for a time when our cups will yet again be overflowing.

As we wash our hands, we affirm our role in protecting ourselves and others.

As we dip in salt water, we cry the tears of a planet besieged.

As we break the matzah, we long to be made whole.

As we ask the four questions, we search for the answers that elude us.

As we remember the ten plagues, we contemplate our own.

As we imagine our own redemption from Egypt, we aspire to be free.

As we sing Dayenu, we beseech, may our efforts to combat this pandemic be enough.

As we eat the matzah, we contemplate our impoverished state.

As we consume the bitter herbs, we empathize with another’s pain.

As we enjoy the haroset, we remember the sweetness which awaits us.

As we search for the afikomen, we pray to be connected to our missing pieces.

As we welcome Elijah, we pray for redemption.

As we sing songs of praise, we remain grateful for all of God’s gifts.

 

 

 32 A Prayer for a Person Isolated from a Loved One Due to Coronavirus

by  Rabbi Marci Bloch

Hold me God…hold me now.

I am afraid.

My (husband/ wife/ sister /brother /child /mother /father /loved one) is alone, and my heart is breaking.

I want so bad to hold his/ her /their hand and comfort him /her /them—

but I can’t.

Help me to know that even though I am not physically there with him/ her/them….

I am very much there.

Give me hope, oh God.

Help me to put all my trust in his/her/ their doctors and his/ her/their medical staff to make the right decisions.

Fill my loved one’s lungs with air and restore him/her to life.

Protect him/ her/ them, watch over him/ her /them, heal him /her /them.

Give me strength, oh God in this hour of darkness to know you are there holding me.

Amen.

 

 

33 PRAYER FOR THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS

Eternal One, Rock of our lives, we turn to you in the midst of this coronavirus crisis, seeking refuge and a foothold – and also encouragement as we try to find our own courage.

As social distancing prevents us from experiencing the joys of life in community, may the need to withdraw and stay well be accompanied by the urge to reach out to others with compassion and care and to forge and renew connections, even in the absence of physical contact.

Recalling the trials of those who went before us and their endurance and survival, may we find the strength to endure even in the face of pain and loss, and the insight to know that this challenging time will pass.

As the natural world renews itself, may we be inspired by the wonders and marvels of the Earth to discover through this crisis pathways to renewal and new hope.

And let us say: Amen.

Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah   Brighton& Hove Progressive Synagogue March 2020 – Adar 5780

 

34 Prayer during Coronavirus TimesEternal Our God, Source of our life and our Sovereign, be a shield about us, turning away every disease and destruction. Grant us hope and a future of shalom, peace. Be merciful over us and grant recovery to everyone, because You are the most kind and compassionate Sovereign of all.

Blessed are You, who listens to the prayers.

שְמַע יִשְרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד

אָנָּא יְהוָה, הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא;

אָנָּא יְהוָה, הַצְלִיחָה נּ

God, we beseech You, save us now!

God, we beseech You, let us prosper!

 

(Rabbi Andrea Zanardo, Brighton and Hove Reform Synagogue, March 2020)

 

35 This evening, we join with the rest of the world in praying for a quick and positive end to the crisis in which we find ourselves. We pray for those who are sick and dying, and for those tending to their care.

We pray for their families, and for those who are most anxious about getting sick.

We pray for leaders faced with making difficult choices with lasting consequences.

We pray for students whose hopes for celebrating their accomplishments have been thwarted.

We pray for all those in the work-force who have been – and who will be – directly impacted by the need for social-distancing.

Tonight, I offer a prayer that comes to us from our liturgy, which we call “Hashkiveinu.” It is a nighttime prayer that asks God for protection and blessing. It seems fitting to offer these words tonight:

 

הַשְׁכִּיבֵֽנוּ, יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽנוּ, לְשָׁלוֹם, וְהַעֲמִידֵנוּ שׁוֹמְרֵֽנוּ לְחַיִּים

 

Grant, O God, that we lie down in peace, and raise us up, our Guardian, to life renewed. Spread over us the shelter of Your peace. Guide us with Your good counsel; for Your Name’s sake, be our help. Shield and shelter us beneath the shadow of Your wings. Defend us against enemies, illness, war, famine and sorrow. Distance us from wrongdoing. For You, God, watch over us and deliver us. For You, God, are gracious and merciful. Guard our going and coming, to life and to peace evermore.”

 

36 Out of the depths I call to you, God hear my prayer.  I face the unknown and the unknowable and I cannot do this alone.  It is said that You formed human beings in wisdom, creating our bodies complex and sensitive for us to live through in fullness, and yet so sensitive and complex that it may become impossible for us to remain alive should some small change occur in them.  And so I wait for You, my soul waits and hopes for You to answer. My soul waits for You more than ever before because I cannot do this alone.  I desire life, I love the days I live, I want to have more of them. To feel again the sunshine on my skin, to see again the happiness of the faces of those I love, to look forward again with pleasure. And now I sit in the depths, in the cool dark of the now, and my soul waits for the morning and for You. You are said to be the healer of all flesh, so I ask You now for healing.

And should Your answer come to tell me the future will not be mine, then be with me, redeem my soul and let me take refuge in You, for none who take refuge with you shall remain in the depths. (Sylvia Rothschild: Prayer in illness and distress)

Yom Kippur Sermon: what kinds of people are called dead even while still alive?

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In Midrash Tanchuma the question is asked:  “What kinds of people are called dead even when they are alive? Those who see the morning sunlight…those who see the sun set…those who eat and drink, and are not stirred to say a blessing” (Tanchuma, v’zot habracha, 7)

Yom Kippur is an unusual time – we treat it as a day outside of time, a day as if we are dead. We wear shrouds; we abstain from eating, drinking, washing and other activities of the living. We have in our liturgy the recurring imagery of a Book of Life, and we repeat the refrain of our hope that we will be inscribed in it for another year – for if we are not, then we will indeed be dead.  The awareness of our mortality looms over the day, it provides much needed perspective and hopefully also a spur to our thinking about our priorities when we return to daily life.

Yom Kippur is a kind of a dress rehearsal for our dying. When we will look back over a hopefully full and happy life, tradition teaches that we will understand what our life was really about, what was important and what was not – and the very thin lines between them. The Chasidic tradition tells us that that understanding will be our heaven and our hell – when we realise that things we overlooked as uninteresting or unimportant really were critical, when things we pursued and enjoyed having achieved will be sloughed off as irrelevant to our souls.

We have the chance today to weight the scales for that understanding. Yom Kippur reminds us each year that we will one day face our own death. Everyone dies, that is not negotiable, but the question is really, how well does everyone live? How well do we use our own lives?

Yom Kippur also gives us another experience – besides the time out of time, the day we can spend “as if dead” – it reminds us that we will undergo many deaths in our lifetimes, and that these small deaths can be doorways to other ways of being. We experience many losses, many changes from what we hoped or planned. Our life paths deviate again and again, sometimes randomly, sometimes unfairly – but as my mother is fond of saying, when a door closes, a window opens. We are able to find a new way of being, say goodbye to a previous iteration of ourselves and grow into someone a little different from before.

Our rabbis taught that sleep is one-sixtieth of death (Berachot 57b) and every day when we wake up  from sleep, we have a prayer to thank God for the return of our pure soul – the elohai neshama prayer speaks of God breathing our soul back into us – just as the first human was breathed into life. So every day is a new birth in potentia, we can start again after the small death of sleep. Every single day is a new possibility for change, for growth, for becoming more of the person we would like to be.

Just as each day brings the possibility of small changes or bigger transformation, the many sadnesses and losses and small deaths in our lives can help us focus on what is really important. And Yom Kippur is a gift of a day to us to weigh up the balance of our lives.

The Talmud tells us (Shabbat 31a) that after death every soul will arrive at the beit din shel ma’alah, the heavenly court, and will be asked the same questions. “Did you act in your business with honesty and integrity? Did you fix set times for studying Torah? Did you participate in the commandment of creation? Did you continue to hope? Did you engage in the pursuit of wisdom? Did you have fear of Heaven?”

These are not rhetorical or philosophical questions, they are designed to make us think about what our lives are for, how to best use the days and hours that we have – particularly since no one knows how short or long the time left to us might be.

The first question – did you have integrity and honesty in your dealings with others – is not only practical but aims deep at our character – how we treat others is a measure for how we value others.  The instinct to profit at the expense of others is in us all. The question aims squarely at how much we might have given in to that instinct, how much we temper it with the awareness that we are all the children of one God.

The second question is about study – our own inner lives are at stake here.  Torah study is the emblem of connection to our roots, to our people and to God. It provides the lenses through which we see the world, it shapes our moral code, it pushes us into an awareness that we are not the centre of the universe and that something else is. To make a fixed time to remind ourselves of the teachings which give framework to our behaviour and our decision making, is a life- giving action. It keeps us in the space where anything can happen, it gives us roots, it allows for us to continue to grow and to develop ourselves.

The third question – did you participate in the mitzvah of creation – this is more, so much more, than the plain sense of procreation. When we teach, when we model good behaviour, when we help others to grow or to change, to let go or to hold on, we participate in the mitzvah of creation. When we help a community to come together, be it providing the challot or the drashot, learning together, providing a group for the wedding or b’nei mitzvah celebrant or for the mourner to express their grief and fulfil their rites – we are participating in creation. When we recognise the humanity of the other – the refugee, the immigrant, the impoverished or the frightened, we are participating in the mitzvah of creation. When we visit the sick or comfort the bereaved, we are participating in that mitzvah too. Whenever we build relationship with the other, help a community to grow and thrive – all this is part of that same mitzvah. When we plant a garden or a tree, when we try to protect the environment with the choices we have – all of this is the mitzvah of creation.

Did you continue to hope? Despair is easy to come by in this world. More so for the generations of Jews exiled from their land and treated with scorn and humiliation. Yet the Jew continues to hope and that hope is what underpins our resilience and our particularity as a people. We don’t let go of our covenant promise, however distant it appears. We don’t let go of our faith in humanity either. As Edmond Fleg wrote:  “I am a Jew because in every age when the cry of despair is heard the Jew hopes.” The hope is understood in tradition as the hope for redemption, for the messianic age. The point of the hope is that Jews have clung on to our identity, our purpose and meaning through this mechanism. One day the hope will be fulfilled.

In our time it seems that darkness is coming once again, as nationalism and populism are on the rise, xenophobia and narrow hatred growing in many countries across the globe. All the more important then, to hold on to hope, not to give in to the eroding and corroding despair which would lead us to every darker, ever narrower places, which would destroy all that would be good in the world.

Did you engage in the pursuit of wisdom? – wisdom is more than knowledge, it is the ability to see through situations, to sift out the right from the wrong, to apply a morality as well as  legal or logical thinking. Traditionally explained as a gift of age and experience, wisdom does not fall into our laps, it must be pursued, worked on, it is the outcome of critical and honest thinking, of seeing honestly rather than through the lens of self-interest. One of my favourite sermons is by Milton Steinberg, called “To Hold With Open Arms” In it he tells the following story:

“After a long illness I was permitted for the first time to step out of doors. And as I crossed the threshold, sunlight greeted me. This is my experience; all there is to it. And yet, so long as I live, I shall never forget that moment…The sky overhead was very blue, very clear, and very, very high. A faint wind blew from off the western plains, cool and yet somehow tinged with warmth – like a dry, chilled wine. And everywhere in the firmament above me, in the great vault between earth and sky, on the pavements, the building- the golden glow of sunlight.  It touched me too, with friendship, with warmth, with blessing. And as I basked in its glory, there ran through my mind those wonder words of the prophet about the sun which some day shall rise with healing on its wings. In that instant I looked about me to see whether anyone else showed on his face the joy, almost the beatitude I felt. But no, there they walked – men and women and children in the glory of a golden flood, and so far as I could detect, there was none to give it heed,. And then I remembered how often I, too had been indifferent to sunlight, how often, preoccupied with petty and sometimes mean concerns, I had disregarded it, and I said to myself, how precious is the sunlight, but alas how careless of it are we”

Rabbi Steinberg died a young man – but the wisdom in this one story challenges us all about how precious our world is, and how careless we are of it.  He reminds us that that value of an experience is not lessened by whether or not it is commonplace. He reminds us we are in a connected world.

Did you fear heaven? The Talmud tells us that everything is in the hands of heaven except the fear of heaven (Rabbi Chanina TB Berachot 33b)- what does it mean? That we have free will to serve heaven or not – we cannot be coerced into faith or into religious practise, it is a free choice and not even God can act here. So we are being asked to defend our choices, from what ethical or other code we acted in our lives. We are being asked if we were true to our own selves.

“Everyone dies, but not everyone fully lives” said William Sachs Wallace. Yom Kippur is an opportunity, a repeated and fixed and regular time to examine our lives, so that on our deaths we can stand up in the heavenly court certain that we did, indeed, live as fully and as well as we could.  Each of us has our own life to live, there is no pro forma, no template that says “this one way is the right way”. We have to examine and discern, play the stories through our minds, speak to others to see how we have impacted on them, reflect and consider.

When I think of the many funerals I have officiated at or attended, and the thousands of life stories I have heard, there are some that stand out for me and stay with me because of what I learn from that person and the life they lived. It is rarely the amazing achievements of some member of the great and the good – their political or scientific or academic performances, their stellar achievements in their chosen fields, their honorifics and their titles. Yes, these are impressive, but sometimes I have listened to the list of public successes in a group of mourners so small, and so emotionally distant from the deceased, that I wonder what can have gone so badly wrong in their personal lives, their relationships?

 I once wrote the Hesped  (eulogy) for a woman who had apparently done nothing in her life but bring up her children and clean her home. As I was talking with the family, wondering what I could possibly say at the funeral, one fact kept shining through, demanding to be noticed.  She had been a loving and much loved woman. A wife, mother, grandmother, sister, friend, neighbour. Everyone had a story of how she had been there for them in some crossroads in their lives. Everyone spoke of how they could move on in their lives having discussed things with her. Everyone told of how loved they felt, a love they missed beyond telling. She had no list of achievements to define her, only her persistent and consistent and supportive love that had held together a large extended family, allowing each one to grow to be who they were. I realised then what an extraordinary achievement her quiet ­­­­life had been, how appreciative and appreciated she had been. I have never forgotten the lesson I learned from her life, as told by the people who mourned her.

What kinds of people are called dead even when they are alive? Those who see the morning sunlight…those who see the sun set…those who eat and drink, and are not stirred to say a blessing”

Let us resolve today, while we are examining our lives and our hopes, recalibrating our aspirations and letting go of our doubts and fears, that we will not be amongst those who see the sunrise and sunset, who enjoy all there is of the ordinary pleasures of life, and not be stirred to say a blessing. Let us decide that we will be among those who live our lives as fully and as appreciatively as we possibly can, and be as true to ourselves as we were created to be. A small change in behaviour, but it might lead to us being able to answer those questions to the heavenly beit din with a sense of having understood while alive, what some may only begin to see when it is too late to act.

 

Nel midrash Tanchuma viene posta la domanda: “Che tipo di persone vengono chiamate morte anche quando sono vive? Quelli che vedono il sole del mattino … quelli che vedono il sole tramontare … quelli che mangiano e bevono e non si sono premurati di dire una benedizione”. (Tanchuma, v’zot habracha, 7)

 

Yom Kippur è un momento insolito: lo consideriamo un giorno fuori dal tempo, un giorno in cui è come se fossimo morti. Indossiamo dei sudari; ci asteniamo dal mangiare, dal bere, dal lavarci e da altre attività dei vivi. Nella nostra liturgia abbiamo le immagini ricorrenti di un Libro della Vita, e ripetiamo il ritornello della nostra speranza che ci saremo iscritti in esso per un altro anno, perché se non lo saremo, saremmo davvero morti. La consapevolezza della nostra mortalità incombe nel corso della giornata, fornisce una prospettiva tanto necessaria e, si spera, anche uno stimolo al nostro pensiero sulle nostre priorità nel ritorno alla vita quotidiana.

Yom Kippur è una specie di prova generale per la nostra morte. Quando ripenseremo a una vita piena di speranza e piena di felicità, la tradizione insegna che capiremo in cosa consisteva veramente la nostra vita, cosa era importante e cosa non lo era, e le sottili linee tra esse. La tradizione chassidica ci dice che quella comprensione sarà il nostro paradiso e il nostro inferno, quando ci rendiamo conto che le cose che abbiamo trascurato come poco interessanti o poco importanti erano davvero critiche, quando le cose che perseguivamo e godevamo di aver raggiunto sarebbero state abbandonate come irrilevanti per le nostre anime.

Oggi abbiamo la possibilità di soppesare le scale per quella comprensione. Yom Kippur ci ricorda ogni anno che un giorno affronteremo la nostra stessa morte. Tutti muoiono, questo non è negoziabile, ma la domanda è davvero: quanto bene vive ognuno? Quanto bene usiamo le nostre stesse vite?

Yom Kippur ci offre anche un’altra esperienza: oltre al tempo fuori dal tempo, al giorno in cui possiamo trascorrere “come se morti”, ci ricorda che subiremo molte morti nelle nostre vite e che queste piccole morti possono essere delle porte verso altri modi di essere. Viviamo molte perdite, molti cambiamenti rispetto a quanto sperato o pianificato. I nostri percorsi di vita si discostano ripetutamente, a volte in modo casuale, a volte ingiustamente, ma come mia madre ama dire, quando una porta si chiude, si apre una finestra. Siamo in grado di trovare un nuovo modo di essere, dire addio a una precedente replica di noi stessi e crescere come qualcuno un po’ diverso da prima.

I nostri rabbini hanno insegnato che il sonno è un sessantesimo della morte (Berachot 57b) e ogni giorno quando ci svegliamo dal sonno, abbiamo una preghiera per ringraziare Dio per il ritorno della nostra anima pura, la preghiera elohai neshama parla di Dio che insuffla di nuovo la nostra anima in noi, proprio come al primo essere umano è stata insufflata la vita. Quindi ogni giorno è potenzialmente una nuova nascita, possiamo ricominciare dopo la piccola morte del sonno. Ogni singolo giorno è una nuova possibilità di cambiamento, di crescita, per diventare maggiormente  la persona che vorremmo essere.

Proprio come ogni giorno porta la possibilità di piccoli cambiamenti o maggiori trasformazioni, le molte tristezze e perdite e le piccole morti nelle nostre vite possono aiutarci a concentrarci su ciò che è veramente importante. E Yom Kippur è per noi il dono di una giornata per valutare l’equilibrio delle nostre vite.

Il Talmud ci dice (Shabbat 31a) che dopo la morte ogni anima arriverà al beit din shel ma’alà, la corte celeste, e gli verranno poste le stesse domande. “Hai agito nel tuo lavoro con onestà e integrità? Hai fissato dei tempi prestabiliti per studiare la Torà? Hai partecipato al comandamento della creazione? Hai continuato a sperare? Ti sei impegnato nella ricerca della saggezza? Hai avuto timore dei Cieli?”

Queste non sono domande retoriche o filosofiche, sono progettate per farci pensare a cosa servono le nostre vite, come utilizzare al meglio i giorni e le ore che abbiamo, in particolare perché nessuno sa quanto breve o lungo potrebbe essere il tempo che ci rimane.

La prima domanda, hai avuto integrità e onestà nei tuoi rapporti con gli altri, non è solo pratica, ma mira in profondità al nostro carattere, come trattiamo gli altri è la misura di come valutiamo gli altri. L’istinto di trarre profitto a spese degli altri è in tutti noi. La domanda mira esattamente a quanto potremmo aver ceduto a quell’istinto, a quanto lo temperiamo con la consapevolezza che siamo tutti figli di un unico Dio.

La seconda domanda riguarda lo studio: qui sono in gioco le nostre vite interiori. Lo studio della Torà è l’emblema della connessione con le nostre radici, con il nostro popolo e con Dio. Fornisce le lenti attraverso le quali vediamo il mondo, modella il nostro codice morale, ci spinge nella consapevolezza che non siamo il centro dell’universo e che qualcos’altro lo è. Trovare un tempo fisso per ricordare a noi stessi gli insegnamenti che danno un quadro al nostro comportamento e al nostro processo decisionale, è un’azione vitalizzante. Ci tiene nello spazio in cui tutto può succedere, ci dà radici, ci consente di continuare a crescere e svilupparci.

La terza domanda – hai partecipato alla mitzvà della creazione, è molto di più del semplice senso di procreazione. Quando insegniamo, quando modelliamo un buon comportamento, quando aiutiamo gli altri a crescere o a cambiare, a lasciarsi andare o a resistere, partecipiamo alla mitzvà della creazione. Quando aiutiamo una comunità a riunirsi, sia fornendo le challot o le derashot, imparando insieme, fornendo un gruppo per il matrimonio o per i  b’nei mitzvà o per il partecipanti al lutto per esprimere il loro dolore e soddisfare i loro riti, stiamo partecipando alla creazione. Quando riconosciamo l’umanità dell’altro, il rifugiato, l’immigrato, l’impoverito o lo spaventato, stiamo partecipando alla mitzvà della creazione. Quando visitiamo i malati o confortiamo i defunti, partecipiamo anche a quella mitzvà. Ogni volta che costruiamo relazioni con gli altri, aiutiamo una comunità a crescere e prosperare, tutto ciò fa parte della stessa mitzvà. Quando piantiamo un giardino o un albero, quando proviamo a proteggere l’ambiente con le scelte che compiamo, tutto ciò è la mitzvà della creazione.

Hai continuato a sperare? La disperazione è facile da trovare in questo mondo. Ancora di più per le generazioni di ebrei esiliati dalla loro terra e trattati con disprezzo e umiliazione. Eppure l’ebreo continua a sperare e quella speranza è ciò che sostiene la nostra resilienza e la nostra particolarità come popolo. Non abbandoniamo la promessa del nostro patto, per quanto distante appaia. Neanche noi abbandoniamo la nostra fiducia nell’umanità. Come scrisse Edmond Fleg: “Sono ebreo perché in ogni epoca in cui si sente il grido di disperazione l’ebreo spera”. La speranza è intesa nella tradizione come la speranza della redenzione, per l’era messianica. Il punto della speranza è che noi ebrei ci siamo aggrappati alla nostra identità, al nostro scopo e significato attraverso questo meccanismo. Un giorno la speranza si realizzerà.

Ai nostri tempi sembra che l’oscurità stia tornando, mentre il nazionalismo e il populismo sono in aumento, la xenofobia e l’odio stretto crescono in molti paesi in tutto il mondo. Tanto più importante, quindi, continuare a sperare, non cedere alla disperazione che erode e corrode che ci porterebbe in ogni luogo più oscuro, sempre più stretto, che distruggerebbe tutto ciò che c’è di buono nel mondo.

Ti sei impegnato nella ricerca della saggezza? La saggezza è più della conoscenza, è la capacità di vedere attraverso le situazioni, di selezionare il bene dal male, di applicare una moralità così come il pensiero legale o logico. Tradizionalmente spiegato come un dono dell’età e dell’esperienza, la saggezza non ci casca in braccio, deve essere perseguita, elaborata, è il risultato di un pensiero critico e onesto, di vedere onestamente piuttosto che attraverso l’obiettivo dell’interesse personale. Uno dei miei sermoni preferiti è di Milton Steinberg, chiamato “To Hold With Open Arms” In esso racconta la seguente storia:

“Dopo una lunga malattia mi è stato permesso per la prima volta di uscire di casa. E mentre attraversavo la soglia, la luce del sole mi salutava. Questa è la mia esperienza; tutto ciò che c’è da fare. Eppure, finché vivrò, non dimenticherò mai quel momento … Il cielo sopra di noi era molto blu, molto chiaro e molto, molto alto. Un vento debole soffiava dalle pianure occidentali, fresco eppure in qualche modo tinto di calore – come un vino secco e freddo. E ovunque nel firmamento sopra di me, nella grande volta tra terra e cielo, sui marciapiedi, l’edificio – il bagliore dorato della luce del sole. Mi ha toccato anche, con amicizia, con calore, con benedizione. E mentre mi crogiolavo nella sua gloria, mi passarono per la mente quelle parole meravigliose del profeta sul sole che un giorno sorgerà con la guarigione sulle sue ali. In quell’istante mi guardai attorno per vedere se qualcun altro avesse mostrato sulla sua faccia la gioia, quasi la beatitudine che provavo. Ma no, lì camminavano – uomini, donne e bambini nella gloria di un diluvio dorato, e per quanto potessi rilevare, non c’era nessuno a prestare attenzione. E poi mi sono ricordato di quanto spesso anche io ero stato indifferente alla luce solare, quanto spesso, preoccupato per le piccole e talvolta meschine preoccupazioni, l’avevo ignorato, e mi sono detto, quanto è preziosa la luce del sole, ma purtroppo quanto ne siamo disinteressati”. 

Il rabbino Steinberg morì da giovane, ma la saggezza in questa storia ci mette alla prova su quanto sia prezioso il nostro mondo e su quanto noi ne siamo negligenti. Ci ricorda che quel valore di un’esperienza non è diminuito dal fatto che esso sia o meno un luogo comune. Ci ricorda che siamo in un mondo connesso.

Hai temuto i Cieli? Il Talmud ci dice che tutto è nelle mani del cielo tranne la paura del cielo (Rabbi Chanina TB Berachot 33b) – cosa significa? Che abbiamo il libero arbitrio di servire il Cielo oppure no, non possiamo essere costretti alla fede o alla pratica religiosa, è una scelta libera e nemmeno Dio può agire qui. Quindi ci viene chiesto di difendere le nostre scelte e secondo quale codice etico o di altro tipo abbiamo agito nella nostra vita. Ci viene chiesto se siamo stati fedeli a noi stessi.

“Tutti muoiono, ma non tutti vivono pienamente”, ha detto William Sachs Wallace. Yom Kippur è un’opportunità, un tempo ripetuto, fisso e regolare per esaminare le nostre vite, in modo che sulle nostre morti possiamo stare in piedi nella corte celeste certi di aver vissuto, in verità, nel modo più completo e migliore possibile. Ognuno di noi ha la propria vita da vivere, non esiste un modello pro forma, nessun modello che dice “questo unico modo è il modo giusto”. Dobbiamo esaminare e discernere, interpretare le storie attraverso le nostre menti, parlare con gli altri per vedere come abbiamo avuto un impatto su di essi, riflettere e considerare.

successi pubblici in gruppi di persone in lutto così piccoli, e così emotivamente distanti dal defunto, Quando penso ai molti funerali in cui ho officiato o frequentato e alle migliaia di storie di vita che ho ascoltato, ce ne sono alcune che si distinguono e rimangono con me per ciò che ho imparato da quella persona e per la vita che hanno vissuto. Raramente sono i successi sorprendenti di alcuni membri dei grandi e dei buoni, le loro prestazioni politiche o scientifiche o accademiche, i loro successi stellari nei loro campi scelti, i loro onori e i loro titoli. Sì, sono impressionanti, ma a volte ho ascoltato l’elenco dei che mi chiedo cosa possa essere andato così male nella loro vita personale, nelle loro relazioni ?

Una volta ho scritto l’Hesped (elogio funebre) per una donna che apparentemente non aveva fatto nulla nella sua vita, ma ha allevato i suoi figli e pulito la sua casa. Mentre parlavo con la famiglia, chiedendomi cosa avrei potuto dire al funerale, un fatto continuava a splendere, chiedendo di essere notato. Era stata una donna amorevole e molto amata. Una moglie, madre, nonna, sorella, amica, vicina di casa. Tutti avevano una storia di come era stata lì per loro in un bivio nella loro vita. Tutti hanno parlato di come potevano andare avanti nella loro vita dopo aver discusso di cose con lei. Tutti hanno raccontato di quanto si sentissero amati, un amore che sentivano mancare oltre ogni dire. Non aveva una lista di risultati da definire, solo il suo amore persistente, solido e solidale che aveva tenuto insieme una grande famiglia allargata, permettendo a ciascuno di crescere di essere quello che erano. Mi resi conto quindi di quale straordinario successo fosse stata la sua vita tranquilla, di quanto fosse stata riconoscente e riconosciuta. Non ho mai dimenticato la lezione che ho imparato dalla sua vita, raccontata dalle persone che la piangevano.

Che tipo di persone vengono chiamate morte anche quando sono vive? Quelli che vedono il sole del mattino … quelli che vedono il sole tramontare … quelli che mangiano e bevono e non si premurano di dire una benedizione.

Cerchiamo di risolvere oggi, mentre esaminiamo le nostre vite e le nostre speranze, ricalibrando le nostre aspirazioni e lasciando andare i nostri dubbi e le nostre paure, che non saremo tra coloro che vedono l’alba e il tramonto, che godono di tutti i piaceri ordinari di vita, e non essere agitato per dire una benedizione. Decidiamo che saremo tra coloro che vivranno la nostra vita nel modo più completo e comprensivo possibile e saremo fedeli a noi stessi così come siamo stati creati per essere. Un piccolo cambiamento nel comportamento, ma potrebbe portarci a essere in grado di rispondere a quelle domande al Bet Din celsete con il senso di aver capito da vivi, ciò che alcuni potrebbero iniziare a vedere solo quando è ormai troppo tardi per agire.

Traduzione di Eva Mangialajo Rantzer

27 Ellul: From certainty to doubt – the journey of faith that prepares us for the Yamim Noraim via psalm 27

It has become traditional among Ashkenazi Jews to read psalm 27 in the morning and evening prayers from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Hoshanah Rabbah, a custom first mentioned by Jacob Emden in his siddur published 1745. One suggestion for why this psalm became so important to this long period of reflection is the first line – “God is my light and my salvation” which was glossed by the rabbis as referring to Rosh Hashanah (Light) and Yom Kippur (Salvation), and the further reference to the sukkah in verse 5 leads to the extension of the period of reading.

It is an extraordinary psalm, turning on its head the traditional journey of penitential prayer from darkness to light, and instead begins with great confidence before descending into fear and anxiety, and then the psalmist seems to force himself into a more hopeful frame of mind.

The psalm divides into three sections, each with its particular mood and style.  The first six verses show an almost superhuman faith and confidence that God will support the psalmist against whatever comes to try to harm him. But then from verse 7 doubt begins to creep into psalmist’s mind. Beginning by asking God to hear when he calls, he descends into his terror of abandonment – not only by his own parents but by God’s face also being hidden from him. By verse 12 he is fearful, begging  God not to deliver him to his enemies. False witnesses are rising against him, there is the prospect of terrible violence. In this middle section the psalmist speaks directly to God in the second person, unlike the bookended sections where God is spoken of in the third person. And yet, even as he addresses God directly, it is clear that he cannot be certain God is listening.

The third and final section does not take us to any uplifting certainty – indeed the rather complacent faith of the beginning of the poem has been stripped away, and the psalmist is left with the need to remind himself of the need for courage, to hope for a salvation that may or may not come.

קַוֵּ֗ה אֶל־יְה֫וָ֥ה חֲ֭זַק וְיַֽאֲמֵ֣ץ לִבֶּ֑ךָ וְ֝קַוֵּ֗ה אֶל־יְהֹוָֽה:

The final line, with the psalmist telling himself to be strong and to strengthen his heart/ mind, bookended with “wait in expectation for God” is about as high an aspiration for Elul as can exist.

 

The earliest confidence of the psalm is that of the unthinking believer, who simply never questions and who holds the kind of faith that is unsustainable when it meets reality. The doubt and fear that enter the heart of the psalmist in the middle section are reasonable responses to the crises and everyday pains of life – We can feel alone and abandoned, God does not answer our prayers as we would like, and it is the qualified confidence, the need for hope, the expectation of a better outcome that feels real and normative.

 

The very middle of the psalm has a line that is so ambiguous it almost defies translation, yet clearly is the pivot of the piece. In verse 8 we read

לְךָ֤ ׀ אָמַ֣ר לִ֭בִּי בַּקְּשׁ֣וּ פָנָ֑י אֶת־פָּנֶ֖יךָ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֲבַקֵּֽשׁ:

 

It is variously understood to mean

“On Your behalf, my heart says, “Seek My presence.” Your presence, O Lord, I will seek” or

“My heart says to you “Seek me out”—[because] I am seeking you out God.”

Or (Rashi’s understanding) “on Your behalf my heart says ‘Seek out My face”, and the second half of the verse is the psalmists response “I will seek Your face”

Or “To You my heart spoke, my face sought out your face God”

Or ““Of You my heart said “seek My face”, Your face God I do seek” (Robert Alter)

Who exactly is speaking in this verse? Is God sending a message to humanity via their hearts, calling on them to reach out for God? Is this a reciprocal statement where we ask God to seek us because we are seeking God?

The ambiguity speaks to the moment. There is no real clarity in faith, no real certainty that all will be well. Communication with God is often realised after the event, when we recognise we were praying, or when we feel comforted without fully being aware of when or how that comfort came about.

There are so many reasons given why the Ashkenazim read  this psalm 100 times in 50 days, from the idea of salvation in verse one, to the  “coded message” of the word  לׄוּלֵ֣ׄאׄ

in verse 13, (It spells Elul backwards). Whenever there are many answers to a question, we can know only that the answer is not known. But I think this psalm has a powerful capacity to challenge us at this time, to remind us that blind faith is complacent and childish, that doubt and fear are reasonable and normal human responses to life, and that the only real way through is to strengthen one’s self, to hope, to believe and know that hope is a reasonable tool to deal with doubt and fear. And with that message ringing in our ears we travel through Ellul onto Rosh Hashanah and the Yamim Noraim….

26th Ellul- learning to forgive ourselves as God forgives

In the Talmud (Ta’anit 25b) we have the origin of the great confessional prayer of the Yamim Noraim, the Avinu Malkeinu.  “Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanos, the great teacher and pious scholar descended before the Ark in order to serve as prayer leader on a fast day because of a terrible and prolonged drought.  He recited 24 blessings but was not answered. Then his student, Rabbi Akiva descended before the Ark and simply said “Avinu Malkeinu, Ein lanu melech ele atah, Avinu Malkeinu lema’an’cha rachem Aleinu: (Our Father, our Ruler, we have no sovereign other than You. Our Father, our Ruler, for Your sake, have mercy on us.”

Immediately the rains fell. The Sages began whispering among themselves that Rabbi Akiva was answered while his teacher, Rabbi Eliezer, was not. A Divine Voice emerged and said: It is not because this Sage, Rabbi Akiva, is greater than that one, Rabbi Eliezer, but that this one is forgiving, and that one is not forgiving. God responded to Rabbi Akiva’s forgiving nature in kind by sending rain.”

Rabbi Eliezer was known for his fierce temper, and indeed was excommunicated when his colleagues could no longer deal with his domineering and strict viewpoints – though interestingly both he and his learning were always held in great respect and he is one of the most quoted rabbis in Talmud. But he was not a person who found forgiveness easy to do, nor did he find it easy to let go of his anger – indeed the story of his wife Ima Shalom who supervised his prayers after the excommunication in order to prevent his anger overtaking the world is a powerful end to the story of the oven of Achnai, and a reminder that when someone is so certain of the rightness of their view that there is danger for us all.

But Akiva, the one who could forgive others, had a simple prayer answered;  a prayer that did not even mention the desperate need for rain, but asked God for mercy for God’s own sake.

This is the origin of Avinu Malkeinu – and also of the extraordinary – and powerfully resonant – last lines of the prayer.

Over the year many additions have been made to this prayer. Sephardi machzorim generally have 32 petitions, the Ashkenazi ones can go up to 44. Some requests are particular and some are universal, some ask directly for favours, others remind God of the vulnerability of the people. But the last lines are different, they special and are specially loved – so much so that we have changed the longstanding tradition of saying them quietly but instead lustily and happily remind God to be merciful as is God’s nature, because we have no good deeds to bring. All this to a joyful tune, quite different from the solemn and rather serious tune of the rest of the prayer.

The Dubner Maggid tells the story of the person who goes shopping, excitedly adding more and more items to their “buy” list. All the petitions are in effect  us saying “I’ll take that, and that, and give me that too please”  And then when we get to the till, we find we cannot pay for everything we have taken, and in embarrassment have to say to the cashier – can you help me? Can you give me some credit and I will try to pay you in the coming year.  As long as I have a good year – please add a good year to my basket…

The embarrassment referred to in the story of the Dubner Maggid is all but disappeared today. Instead we proudly and clearly stand before an open Ark and list our requests to God. The Avinu Malkeinu is in each of the services; it is one of the last prayers in Neilah, the evening of Yom Kippur. We have spent the day reflecting, we have spent the month before on Heshbon Nefesh, considering our previous behaviour. And on Yom Kippur we may fast and afflict our souls, but we also know that if we are more like Rabbi Akiva, able to forgive others, God will forgive us. Yom Kippur is the white fast for a reason – the colour is both the colour of mourning and the colour of joy. We can have both serious reflection and happy anticipation in our lives – and both are deserved.

The paradox that is Pinchas plays out also in Jeremiah or: the murderous zealot in the cause of God while the despairing prophet gives us hope

There is no literary connection between the torah reading of Pinchas and the designated haftarah- the connection is instead calendrical as this week we begin the cycle of haftarot that will take us to Tisha b’Av, the blackest day of our calendar – and from there to Rosh Hashanah, the day of our judgment and the new year.

The three shabbatot before Tisha b’Av each have a traditional special haftarah reading that deals with the punishment that will befall the people who forget the God of the covenant. They are known as t’lat d’fur’anuta’ the “three of affliction” or of rebuke.  As we enter the first of the three, which signal not only the coming remembrance of the cataclysm that was Tisha b’Av, but also that we are on the run up now to Rosh Hashanah, we are provided with a good deal of food for thought as we must begin to measure ourselves and our lives, to try to comprehend the circumstances and environment  in which we are living.

The prophet Jeremiah lived at the end of the 7th century BCE. The Northern Kingdom had been destroyed and its inhabitants dispersed and lost. Judah, the Southern Kingdom, was in danger of the same fate. Jeremiah recognised this, and he offered both despair and hope in his prophecy. The religious and social conditions of the time were not good – idolatry was rife, and Josiah’s reforms were partial and weak, and did not survive long after Josiah’s death.  People were disconnected from the source of their religious traditions to the point where they even felt that the misfortunes of their country could have been caused by their not offering incense to other gods during the time of Josiah’s reforms. It is likely that there were even human sacrifices being offered at this time, justified as being a return to the true religion, a perversion of Judaism that appalled Jeremiah.

People were being stigmatized as being treacherous; they could not trust one another or build up strong relationships. Social injustice existed on all levels of society, and was barely even noted, so ordinary had it become to mistreat the poor in society. The world of Jeremiah is one we might recognise today, society breaking down, all kinds of fantasies floated as if they might be genuine, fake news and loss of trust in the leadership.

And what does Jeremiah talk about?  He talks about contract, about the covenant that the Jews have with God, about how there is a special obligation of loyalty upon Israel, and that even if Israel does not offer this loyalty, even if destruction follows, the curious truth is that the special relationship between God and the Jews, implied by the covenant, will not be broken. In all of the despair he shines an odd ray of hope.

It is a strange conception that we have an unbreakable contract of obligation to God.  It is almost impossible for us to imagine an agreement which, even if broken on both sides, remains binding. And yet it is at the heart of our history, it is our raison d’être and our aspiration. A Jew cannot repudiate the covenant for all time, even if we appear to despise it or ignore it. The obligation and the special relationship remain in place. I am  reminded of the perennial Jewish complaint to God- “We realise that we are the chosen people, but can’t you just go and choose someone else for a change”.  The answer, of course, is “even if I do, it doesn’t preclude Me from continuing to choose you!”

Reading Jeremiah is to know that we have an inescapable destiny.  The folkloric Yiddish form – that something is bashert, that something is meant to happen in the grand scheme of things – has probably helped the Jewish people to get through all manner of crises. Yet Jeremiah, for all his despair at what is going on around him, is paradoxically aware both of a kind of predestination and of the critical importance that free will will have in any outcome – he is prophesying about the impact of the individual’s choices.  He begins his prophecy in a way that shows he believed he had been called with by God:  “before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.  Before you were born, I set you apart.  I have appointed you a prophet to the nations”

Jeremiah develops the twin concepts of predestination and free will.  He rails at the people precisely because he knows that their chosen behaviour is dangerous and wrong, but that they can choose to behave a different way and different outcomes will occur. Predestination is not the same as determinism.  As Mishnah Pirkei Avot comments: All may be foreseen, but freedom of choice is given”  or as Mishnah Berachot frames it “everything is in the hands of heaven except the fear of heaven”: That is, whatever God may or may not perceive, it doesn’t have to mean that it will necessarily happen.  Unlike the covenant which binds us eternally however many times we may break it, we do have the power to escape what may seem to be our destiny – even a small change in behaviour can lead to a massive change in outcome.  It is in our hands to shape our lives.

Medieval philosophers understood this well. Maimonides comments that we enter the world with a variety of propensities and possibilities, but what use is made of them is our own doing.  Modern science has come to the same conclusion – we may be able to map out a whole variety of genes, but we still can’t guarantee our predictions about the bearers of those genes – even genetically identical twins can live completely different lives.

We read the 3 haftarot of rebuke and affliction every year in the 3 weeks before we commemorate the anniversary of the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples.  We can’t undo the history, but we can listen to the message – we know what is required of us, we know the likely outcome of our ignoring what God requires of us, we can change the future.

After Tisha b’Av our liturgical tradition decrees that there come 7 haftarot of consolation – more than double the words of warning and pain – a perfect number of weeks of grieving and moving on. From this Shabbat until Rosh Hashanah there are ten weeks of preparation, mirroring the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when the work we do from this period will intensify in urgency and feeling.   The liturgical calendar is being carefully patterned and manipulated to encourage us on a religious journey towards new beginnings. The message is being hammered home – the covenant may be ignored or unfulfilled but it has not broken, we remain obliged to our relationship with God.  Our future is foreseen in all its possibilities but we remain in charge of what will actually be – we have the choice to behave well, and if we choose not to do so we are well aware of the consequences.  But even the consequences, dire as they may be, never rule out the possibility of change, of, to use a very old fashioned word – redemption.  From the reading of the first haftarah of affliction until Rosh Hashanah we have ten weeks – the clock is ticking and, as we read in Pirkei Avot, “the work is great and the Master of the House is waiting.”

 

Shelach Lecha: holding onto our values while the world looks in another direction: or How to combat populism

“And Joshua bin Nun and Caleb ben Jephunneh, who were of those who spied out the land, tore their clothes. And they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: ‘The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceeding good land.  If the Eternal delight in us, then God will bring us into this land, and give it to us–a land which flows with milk and honey.  Only rebel not against the Eternal, do not fear the people of the land; for they are bread for us; their defence is removed from over them, and the Eternal is with us; fear them not.’  But all the congregation bade stone them with stones, when the glory of the Eternal appeared in the tent of meeting to all the children of Israel.” (Num 14:6-10)

Twelve men, representative from each tribe, have been sent to reconnoitre the land of Israel, and they come back with the same report but with two different conclusions. The land is very good and fertile, but the inhabitants are strong. Ten believe that it would be impossible to take the land and it is better not to try, two insist that trusting in God and refusal to be afraid will mean that they will indeed succeed.

What makes Joshua and Caleb so different from the others? Why are they able to hold onto their vision when the others are overcome with fear?  And why are they prepared to go against the popular narrative of the majority?

These are questions that have never lost their relevance. We are in a world of growing political populism where minorities and a supportive legal framework are both under attack as a large portion of the population are manipulated to support something that is not to their benefit.

To stand up against the narrative of a vocal and fearful majority requires one to be both principled and courageous.  To put ones hope in a better future, to take the risk and make the leap of faith, to not be seduced by an immediate gratification or intimidated by the actions of others requires a strength of mind and soul that may seem superhuman – except that history is littered with such examples. The survival of Judaism and of Jews is a direct result of generations of people holding onto their principles with courage, teaching their children to be Jews even in a frightening and dangerous world. I pay tribute to my father, Edgar Rothschild, whose faith and determination never wavered, even though as a refugee child separated from his beloved parents, his younger life was miserable and lonely. His activism in our local synagogue – itself with its share of people whose arms bore tattooed identification numbers – was extraordinary and life affirming, and his determination to pass on a warm and loving and practical Judaism was so powerful. I pay tribute to my brother, Rabbi Dr Walter Rothschild, whose work in post war Europe has been an uphill struggle to reintroduce authentic Reform Jewish life where none exists and some would prefer it to stay that way. I pay tribute to Rabbi Dr Leo Baeck who worked to create the rabbinic college in London that bears his name. I could list and list the people who held to their principles, who screwed up their courage and continued in the face of a majority who would rather have an easier life.

 

The dying Moses said to the people as well as to Joshua –“Chazak ve’Emat…lo tirah v’lo techat” “Be strong and of good courage…. do not be afraid, do not be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:7-8). It is hard to do, yet we have many examples before us. It is, I think, a quintessentially Jewish way to stand up and to be counted, to continue to hope in the face of despair, to knowingly take the risk of the leap of faith because we have a vision of something larger and more important than ourselves. Yet the bible story reminds us that it is also a human characteristic to avoid difficulty – for every Abraham there is a Jonah, for the two spies who were brave enough to stand up, there were ten who played to the fears of the crowd.

 

Progressive Judaism sees itself as a descendant of Prophetic Judaism – precisely the quality of courage and vision prepared to confront the comfortable views around. We are Jewish not simply as an accident of birth, but as an active choice in how we live in the world. In the words of Edmund Fleg: “I am a Jew because the faith of Israel demands no abdication of my mind. I am a Jew because the faith of Israel asks every possible sacrifice of my soul. I am a Jew because in all places where there are tears and suffering the Jew weeps. I am a Jew because in every age when the cry of despair is heard the Jew hopes…I am a Jew because for Israel the world is not finished; people will complete it….I am a Jew because Israel places Humanity and his Unity above nations and above Israel itself. I am a Jew because above Humanity, image of the Divine Unity, Israel places the unity which is divine. (Pourquoi je suis juif.1928)

 

So as we read the story of the spies this week, let’s think of those who doggedly hold on to Jewish values while the world looks in the other direction. Let’s take on the mantle of holding onto the vision of a good land, while political leaders whip up racist and xenophobic mobs. Let’s stand up against a narrative that others people who are not like us – be it in the UK, in Europe, in the USA, in Israel, and remember that we must hold onto our courage and our good faith, not let fear or dismay overtake us, but hold on to hope. Joshua and Caleb were the only two of the whole population who eventually entered the land. Their hope and their faith in a better world kept them going. Let’s hope that our hope and faith in a better world will do the same for us.

 

(written for EUPJ parashat hashavua page 2018 and first published there)

Yom haZikaron la’Shoah ve’la’Gevurah: The day for remembering the Shoah and for remembering the Bravery.

vati passport 1Tonight we begin Yom HaZikaron la’ Shoah ve’la’Gevurah (יום הזיכרון לשואה ולגבורה – The day for remembering the Shoah and the Heroism.

Around six million Jews and five million others were targeted by the Nazis and were murdered in the Shoah. LGBTQ people, Travellers (Roma), Communists, the mentally or physically frail, Jehovah’s witnesses, the people who opposed the decrees – they too perished simply for being who they were.

From 1933, as German Jews were stripped of having legal and economic status, till 1945 when Hitler was finally defeated, the Shoah was not one large act but a huge multiplicity of smaller and ongoing acts, and the bravery and heroism we also remember was equally often the actions of individuals whose values led them to refuse to partake or support, or to support hidden Jews, or to resist in numerous quiet ways.

My family have, as have many families like us, threads of stories about what happened to us.  The voices to tell the stories are few – we have had to collect and collate information from many different sources, we have had to research and visit places in Germany, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Switzerland… to try to find the streets and the buildings, and rarely the cemeteries, where our family members found some rest for a short while before journeying onwards.  Some stories come from memories recounted to us when we were young and the teller was feeling particularly open or vulnerable, some stories are found in legal documents, in letters, in photographs, in lists of names for deportation.   Some stories are embedded in the names given to us at birth, in recipes, in particular family traditions. My family, like the families of many like us in the UK and America, have made deep roots in a very short time in the new places we live in now, others find themselves unable to come back from the violent uprooting they suffered, and so remain consistently rootless.

The pain we memorialise on Yom HaShoah travels down the generations. The silence of survivors doggedly refusing to tell their stories until almost too late, has been more profound and more powerful than speech. The anguish of families torn apart, with most disappeared or murdered, has an effect on the remnant that survives, be it spoken of or be it suppressed. I can still hear my 87 year old father asking – “but have I got any other family in the world besides the family I created? And “I wonder what my father would have thought of me”

The enormity of the Shoah is too much to process. The pain of individuals is too much to bear.

And yet we must continue to tell the story as best we can. We can tell the stories within our families, we can tell the stories of one community, one street, one house, one person. It comes down again and again to the personal stories, the fear and loss of individuals, the pain and terror of one human being.

And we must alongside tell the stories of bravery and heroism. The family with the same name as a Jewish family living in an apartment block who gave their papers to the Jewish family when the Gestapo came to call. The people who warned small children playing out –“don’t go back home, the soldiers are there, find somewhere else to go but don’t go home”. The people who hid Jews in their homes at their own risk, who faced down authorities and refused to accede to their demands, who gave out visas or forged documents to help people escape certain death.

One thing we learn is that fascism starts small, with many small acts of distortion – seeding fake news, calling out truth as if it is fake, skewing and manipulating public opinion, destroying trust in any source of information, acts of violence that are not confronted, racist dog-whistling, gaslighting – the process of driving a person to question their own sanity through deliberate psychological manipulation. This last – coming from the play by Patrick Hamilton “Gas Light” which premiered 1938 – is done not only by individuals but by governments and nation states. Hitler made promises, asserted facts and then later would act as if this had never happened.  The destabilising effect of what you know to be true suddenly apparently being false or non-existent is increasingly apparent once more in the politics of Trump, of Brexit, of the populist parties gaining power in Europe.

Fascism starts with many small acts of distortion. It is neutralised by clarity, transparency and truthfulness.

It is neutralised too by every act being called out for what it is at the level at which it occurs. Every taxi driver ranting on about a Brexit dividend or with a racist agenda, every dinner guest, every work colleague. Politeness is the enemy of honesty on occasion and allows the hatred to flourish as the hater believes their agenda is agreed.

The small acts of heroism alongside and during the Shoah are what gives me faith in the future, gives me a hope for the present, and also directs my own actions. I cannot stand idly by and hear racism, anti-European rhetoric, anti-Muslim spew. I will not stand idly by.  We must have faith in our own perceptions and our own values and not allow the gaslighting. We must be strong in what we know to be right – human dignity for all, support and care – and resources – for the vulnerable, honesty and transparency in our politics.

The word Shoah probably comes from a root meaning to ravage, to destroy, to devastate and is connected to the word used in the ten commandments – la’shav (do not take the name of the Eternal God La’shav) – meaning empty or vain, desolate or ruin.  One of my favourite glosses on this root as it appears in the third commandment is that we must not damage the world in the name of God, not destroy others – who also hold the reflection of God within them – for a misplaced sense of what God must be like.

I love too the modern midrash on the root Shoah which is made up of the three Hebrew letters Shin, Alef Hei.

The letter Shin has a shushing sound. A soothing sound we make to frightened children, the sound when there is nothing to say except “I’m here with you”

The letter Alef is silent; it reminds us of the silence of Aaron in the face of the sudden death of his sons, the shocked inability to respond at all as we freeze in our horror at the reality of what we are facing.

But the letter Hei, often used to designate the name of God, reminds us that at the end of it all, God is still with us. And it too has a soft and gentle sound, the sound of breathing.  At the end of the Shoah- even after all this time since the end, we can still say nothing to remedy or to heal the dislocation and pain we still endure and live with, but God is still with us, and we are still able to breath and to live, and to look forward in the hope of a life of peacefulness and with all the breath we have to fight the forces that would take that peace away.

 

photo of my grandfather’s reisepass with the red J firmly stamped.

Tisha b’Av – the low point of the Jewish year and lessons we can learn

On Tisha b’Av we remember and  commemorate the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem. A culmination of a three week period of mourning, which begins with the Fast of the 17th Tammuz, commemorating the first breach in the walls of Jerusalem, leading to the destruction of the First Temple.   In the Mishnah (Ta’anit 4:6) we read that “Five things happened to our ancestors on the 17th Tammuz, and five on the 9th Av (Tisha B’Av). On the 17th of Tammuz the tablets [containing the Ten Commandments] were broken; the daily sacrifice was discontinued; the walls of Jerusalem were breached; Apustamus, a Greek officer, burned a Torah scroll; and an idol was erected in the sanctuary of the Temple. On the Ninth of Av it was decreed that the generation of the desert would not enter the Land of Israel; the first temple was destroyed; the second temple was destroyed; Betar, (the last Jewish stronghold after the destruction of Jerusalem), was conquered; and Jerusalem was ploughed under. When the month of Av enters we diminish our joy.”

It is quite a list. The tradition is to cluster bad things together on one date, rather than to spread the pain of Jewish history throughout the year, colouring our days with mourning. So there are texts that tell us that on Tisha B’Av the First Crusade began, Ferdinand and Isabella expelled the Jews from Spain, and to bring us more up to date the First World War broke out on Tisha b’Av. There is a good case for observing Yom HaShoah on this date in years to come, adding the cataclysm of our times to the tragedies of our ancestors.  Others would like to explicitly add Kristallnacht, which took place on the 9th of November, the eleventh month, a sort of secular resonance with the 9th day of Av.

We need a day to focus on our mourning, a day for remembering the violence and pain of our history. And one day each year is really enough, it contains what would otherwise be uncontainable and which could overlay our national narrative and suffocate us with grief. As a Reform Jew for whom the traditional yearning for the return of the Temple is problematic, I find the only way to deal with Tisha b’Av is to place it in the context of the three weeks of increasing sadness known as “bein ha-metzarim” – within a narrow and constrained place, and then to reflect on our history, remember, acknowledge, and move on. It is no surprise to me that the 7 weeks of haftarah readings from Tisha b’Av towards Rosh Hashanah are all about hope, about return to God, about opening out to possibility and the future – we move from between the straits (bein ha-metzarim) into the wide open space of freedom to think, feel, remember and explore . Then comes Rosh Hashanah, time to make a new start, a new promise to our best selves, a new commitment to the future.

The Talmud asks the question: “Why was the First Temple destroyed?” and it answers itself thus: “Because of three things that occurred in it: Idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed…” But then it goes on to develop its thought -“the Second Temple, where they occupied themselves with Torah, Commandments and acts of kindness, why was it destroyed? Because there was a prevailing practice of baseless hatred (sinat chinam). This teaches that baseless hatred is equated with three sins: idolatry, immorality and bloodshed.” (Yoma 9b)

Sinat Chinam is equivalent to three huge sins together. It caused the destruction of the Temple and the expulsion of the Jewish people from their land for almost two thousand years. So what do we do about the hating without cause, the prejudging of others, the gratuitous dislike of the other. This is not necessarily an overpowering feeling that we are in thrall to, a visceral and ancient reflexive response that we can do nothing about. The responsa indicate that sinat chinam can be about simple ignoring of the humanity of the other, about not bothering to talk to them, to meet with them, to find out about them. Through sinat chinam we diminish the goodness in the world, as we refuse to recognise the goodness in each human person, to see them as valuable and possessing intrinsic worth. We have seven weeks now to reflect on how we treat others, both those we know and those we share our living spaces with – be it on the daily crowded train commute or the queue at the till, the person at the other end of the telephone or member of our own circle. We have seven weeks after Tisha b’Av to try to notice the humanity of each person we meet, and so to think about how we behave towards them. This is good work of teshuvah, for in meeting the other and recognising the spark of God within them, we become ready to face the spark of God within ourselves, the voice that reminds us that on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we will stand in the presence of the heavenly court as we judge our lives so far, and the perspective of that court will be mediated with our own attempts to be the best person we can really be.