Shalom everyone! Welcome back to the Light Lab Podcast. My name is Eliana Light and I am here with our dear friends, Cantor Ellen Dreskin,
and Rabbi Josh Warshawsky.
Hello! Good morning!
Good morning to you. So grateful to be here with the two of you as we delve into our liturgical tradition, holding the gems of our liturgy to the light, seeing what shines through, and what we can learn from them for our own personal prayer practice and our lives. So our opening question today is inspired by the wonderful folks at Svara. Svara is a traditionally radical Yeshiva. And they are probably I think, among my friends, most well known for hosting Queer Talmud Camp, and queering, the way that we are able to read into Talmud. They have amazing resources and study programs. So if you're like, what you're doing with T'fillah is cool, but how about Talmud? Definitely not my forte, head on over to Svara. But something that they do to start their learning is they start by dedicating their learning to someone. And so as today we're thinking about, one might say, different kinds of people on all different spectrums. I thought it would be nice to dedicate our learning to someone today. So Ellen, who are you dedicating your learning to today?
Well, I must admit that my answer to the question is inspired by what I know we're going to be talking about in a few minutes. And also the fact that we're recording this in kinda holiday season, post Thanksgiving pre Hanukkah, and I did spend this past weekend thinking about family a lot. So I'm dedicating my learning today to my parents. And my parents had I think we're the perfect combination of justice and mercy. Of stern and loving and, and giving us boundaries and helping us be wise about getting outside the box. All these things mom, dad, wherever you are, I love you. And I'm very grateful for my learning and you today.
We're grateful for them too. Thank you so much, Josh, who are you dedicating your learning to today?
I am dedicating my learning today to my cousin who is sadly in surprisingly in the hospital, so dedicating it in honor of her and hoping for good health and learning that leads to good vibes.
Oh man. We're sending her our wishes for a refuah shlema, a complete healing. Today I'm thinking about my friend and mentor, Cathy Berkowitz. Cathy is the education director at a synagogue B'nai Torah in Boca Raton, but she was my education director growing up at Beth Sholom in Memphis, Tennessee, and also at Camp Ramah Darom in Clayton, Georgia for many years. And I had the opportunity, the honor, this past week of reflecting on Cathy's role in my life, as a person and as an educator, and her influence on me is just beyond beyond. So I've been thinking about that. Cathy made learning immersive, it was experiential, before anybody was saying that even, it was deep, it was joyous. And she taught me how to teach prayer and how to talk about prayer in a way that is deep and joyous and meaningful because, Cathy herself is just a ray of light. And is the closest I can think of to at tzadik, a righteous person, or a Hasid, a person of loving kindness. And I learned so much not just about teaching, but about being a loving and caring person from Cathy. And so I don't know if you're listening to this, but Cathy, I'm dedicating my learning today to you. Thank you. Friends, it's really great to be back together on Amidah journey. It seems like it has been a long time. So Josh, would you like to recap where we've been so far?
We have certainly been on a journey. And it's a journey that's taken us a while to get through, which I think is actually nice given that this is a prayer that we're supposed to be saying three times a day. So it's nice to be able to continue to reflect on it to continue to expand our journey and learn more every single time we make our way through. All these different blessings, every single one has its own theme. And so we've been making your way through one, sometimes two at a time. We began all the way in the very beginning as one does, with our ancestors, bringing them into our prayers, harnessing their goodness, harnessing their power of prayer also, speaking out to God of power, who has control who might be able to help us in various different situations. Expressing that Divinity's holiness was our next step on the journey. And then we went on a pretty winding path. But in some ways, if you think about it, and if you listen to our previous podcast, you'll realize that there's a through line throughout all of it. We went into blessing about knowledge, which led us into a blessing about repentance. Once you, once you know, once you understand what you're doing, it's easy to see the flaws in your in your own actions and try and figure out a way to get better, and then moving towards forgiveness, which is a nice place to go from repentance, and after forgiveness, moving towards redemption, because once we're forgiven, once we are able to move past our wrongs, we can move into a place of finding redemption, which can lead us to a path towards healing, the next blessing. And after healing, we move towards a blessing that could either be about the years or about land, it was sort of about blessings of prosperity for time and space in the future, which led us to a blessing about in-gathering, gathering all the exiles, gathering all the corners of our people together, which led us finally to a blessing for justice. That was the one we spent a little bit of time with on our last Amidah podcast. And now we're making our way into our next two.
Amazing, thank you so much for that recap. I love when you do the recap, it does feel like we're kind of going down some sort of yellow brick road here, on our way, and how amazing it is that we get to take our time, weeks and weeks and months and months of us getting to dive deeper into these blessings. And hopefully, again, listener, part of our goal is to go deep in the podcast, deep in our learning, so that we can bring some of that into our next encounter with the blessing and the Siddur and also into our lives. So, Ellen, take us on our next step on the journey today.
I wish you could see the video listeners. I'm sitting here and smiling because the blessing that we're about to explore today, I think, for me, is the one that I am most unfamiliar with. And I found two very different, both Hebrew and English, versions of it. And I'm wondering if I should start with the more traditional, the more severe or with the kinder version of the translation. I'll start with with Mishkan T'filah from the Reformed Siddur which says for this blessing, which is called Al Harisha in the margins, that's the title for it. And it says in Mishkan T'filah, V’larisha al t’hi tikvah v’hatoim eilecha yashuvu u’malchut zadon mehera teshaber. Baruch atah Adonai shover rasha min ha’aretz. Pretty short and simple. They translate it as, And for wickedness, let there be no hope. And may all the errant returned to you. And may the realm of wickedness be shattered. Blessed are you Adonai, whose will it is that the wicked vanish from the earth. And maybe we can stop there and have some, some commentary. Because as I say there's such a huge range of language in this blessing from Siddur to Siddur.
I actually thought it was really interesting that for the most part, the blessing I felt was was geared towards the action, right, it was mostly towards wickedness and sending away wickedness. But the ending of the blessing went back towards the wicked, right, which meant, which to me felt like individuals or people as opposed to the actions that that they were causing the wickedness itself, which I thought you know, I was I thought it was very interesting to lean in towards the pushing away the wickedness, I thought that was the thing that felt most different about that particular prayer formation of the blessing than the one that I grew up with. But then went back towards a much more traditional formation of the of the blessing itself, of the of the conclusion. So I was I was a little curious about about that juxtaposition.
Just for the listeners, if you're depending upon your familiarity with Hebrew, when it says al harisha, it's talking about the wickedness itself, and reshaim are the ones who advocate for the risha, for the weak. And there's a difference between the action and the people.
A subtle difference in the Hebrew but very important, I think when we're thinking about what it means for us and us the pray-er.
I think it also, right, one of the things that it means, at least for me, is it complicates our idea that there are good people and that there are wicked people. And that's an idea, I think, I don't know, I find that especially in America, we like sorting people into good people and bad people. And sometimes our media, you know, helps frame that, or the stories we have grown up with, when in fact, perhaps there is a lot more nuanced, but it's more difficult to say, what does it mean for there to just be people who do bad things, evil things, and who do good things? And sometimes I worry does that, am I leaving people off the hook? Because we do look around the world and, you know, I don't see evil people, I see like people will make mistakes and do different things, in my personal life. But looking around the world today, there is a lot of evil, right? What does it mean to confront real wickedness and real wicked people while remembering that for the most part, right? Can it work for everybody say this nuance, or, or is there room for that? Yes, there are people that are evil. That's what we do with that.
In my looking at different translations for this blessing. I felt sometimes like I was back in Yom Kippur war where I feel like we have all these synonyms for different ways in which we can err or sin or miss the mark or transgress or this or that or the other. That there's so many different varieties of wickedness depending upon the Hebrew that you read. And here we have risha, which is a certain kind of wickedness. And then in the second line that in we have hatoim, that was translated as errant. But that's more like I kind of strayed a little bit and, and made a mistake. If I'm toeh I'm mistaken. And then in the next one, malchut zadon, a reign of zadon, I looked up zadon in the dictionary. Zadon is intentional, zadon is malice, malice aforethought, and then we have rasha again, at the end. But in other longer versions of this blessing, there are even more ways to be evil, and I'm happy to share a few of those I got in another Siddur right here.
I'm excited to get into the traditional version of the text, because there are a few translations here that also show some discomfort by kind of softening the language a little bit. So yeah, let's get into it.
I went to my Kabalistic Siddur because I was really interested in what it might have to say, which in the commentary already says that we're we're trying to remove all forms of negativity from our environment,. Whether it's negative people or negative situations, they also throw into this the angel of death. I mean, anything that can be considered negative is is included in this blessing. And, but check out this text. V’laminim v’lameshinim al tehi tikvah, v’chol hazedim carega yovedu. V’chol oyvecha v’chol sonecha mehera yekaretu, u’malchut harisha mehera teaker, v’teshaber, v’techalem, v’tachnim bimhera v’yamenu. Baruch atah Adonai, shover oyvim u’machnia zedim.
Really different. Translated as: For the heretics, and the informers, let there be no hope. Let all the wicked perish in an instant. And may all your foes and all your haters be speedily cut down. And as for evil government, may you quickly uproot and smash it, and may You destroy and humble it speedily in our days. Blessed are You Adonai who smashes bows and humbles the wicked. Very different than the mood of the oh no may wickedness disappear from the earth kind of attitude.
Very different and still different from the version that I grew up with, with maybe a few even extra words. I'll read what I have here from the Sim Shalom. Actually, Josh, do you want to read? Do you have it?
I just went to look in the, in the Korean Siddur also to choose to see if it's similar to also the one that that I grew up with, that I grew up with. But yeah, we can skip, you can say it Eliana.
Great. Let's see what it says in here. V’lamshlinim al tehi tikvah, v’chol harisha kerega toved, v’chol oyvecha mehera yekaretu, v’hazedim mehera teaker, v’teshaber, v’tegamer, v’tachnia bimhera v’yamenu. Baruch atah Adonai, shover oyvim u’machnia zedim. I'm going to read the translation in the Sim Shalom Siddur and then I want to read the one from My People's Prayerbook and we can listen for the difference. Frustrate the hopes of all those whom align us. To us let all evil very soon disappear. Let all your enemies soon be destroyed. May You quickly uproot and crush the arrogant. May You subdue and humble them in our time. Praised are You, Lord who humbles the arrogant. Which is a little bit different than the translation that we have over here. May there be no hope for slanderers. I know every time I read it, I end up feeling kind of fiery, right? I think, maybe we're slipping into a fiery preacher talk here. Okay. May there be no hope for slanderers, and may all wickedness instantly perish, and may all your enemies quickly be destroyed. May you quickly uproot, smash, destroy and humble the insolent quickly in our day. Blessed are You Adonai, who smashes his enemies and humbles the insolent. So even using the same traditional language, especially on that chatima, the ending blessing, there, Sim Shalom takes out the smashing. Sim Shalom takes out the smashing of the enemies part, even showing some discomfort with the language, even though they kept the Hebrew in there.
Eliana, maybe you can tell us a little bit I mean, it must be something about when this prayer was written into the Amidah. There must be some historical context is this.
Right. So you might have heard us at different points or even back at the beginning of this call, the Amidah, the Shmoneh Esrei. That means the 18 blessings. But there's actually 19. And we have good reason to believe that this was the added one. This is the one that came in the latest. According to our good friend, My People's Prayer Book, that points out that this isn't a blessing. This is the opposite of a blessing. They say it's not a benediction, but a malediction wishing bad things to happen to a group of people, that it was kind of commissioned by Rabban Gamliel in Yavneh, around, they say 90 of the Common Era, and was written by Shmuel HaKatan, Samuel the Younger, I don't know much about that guy. But we can think about historically, what was going on in this era. There had just been a devastating war with Rome, the tremors of which were still being very clearly felt, in the destruction of the Temple. There were Jews that were leaving the fold, and becoming Christian, which was new, and exciting, new at the time, and exciting at the time. And there were also Jews that were becoming Christian. And this was a difficult and challenging time, and maybe we can have some empathy. You know, I think about this a lot with the aleinu also, which we haven't done an episode on. But we will eventually. The aleinu also has some very harsh language that people across the centuries have been uncomfortable with to varying degrees. And it was written during the Middle Ages, not the best time for Jews. So what does it mean to have empathy and understanding for our ancestors, who were wishing, death and destruction on our enemies, and also recognize that that might not be the way that we want to go? Or the way we want to say it?
I think, well, I mean, all this information, I think is fascinating, and really, you know, sheds a lot of light on on what this blessing is trying to say. And I think also on some of the differences in the text that we're finding, if we think about, you know, who has the power in any, in this particular situation, and the biggest difference that I was hearing in some of the translations that from the Kabbalistic Siddur, from Mishkan T'fillah to the My People's Prayer Book and the Conservative Siddur, was the fact that in the third or fourth line, whatever it is, in it says either malchut zadon, or zedim. Whether it's the the arrogant or malicious kingdom, or whether it's arrogant or malicious people. And I wonder, I'm not exactly sure which one maybe came first, which one was at that time, I think, often what the Jews of that time were doing when they were writing some of these prayers is they tried to cryptically refer to the government. So maybe they would have said zedim as opposed to saying malchut zadon, and then we became much more clear with it later on, because we wanted to clarify who we were actually talking about. But I think that often they were like Roman informers or officers that would stop by the synagogues and check in to see what the Jews were saying, which is why a line was taken out of the Aleinu that was a more explicit reference to to some of those governments. The same thing with with adding in various different prayers in the, in the Musaf Amidah that was added for a variety of different Jewish communities. The Shema is said again in Musaf in the, in the Kedusha, because the Roman officers would stop By the synagogues in the morning and they have banned the Jews from saying the Shema. And so but those officers would leave. By the time Rousseff came around because the services were so long and so the Jews could then add the Shema back in, in the Musaf Kedusha. That's why it got placed back in there, so they can say that, that benediction again later, when there wasn't somebody who was watching them. So I think, you know, it's interesting to think about who they were feeling was in power and whether or not they felt like they were being watched, to see what they could say in any given moment of prayer.
I think it's interesting, I'm hearing today's culture, loud and clear, right now, for better or worse, and without making any judgments about which side of various political arguments people might fall on. But to understand, I've, this word that is missing from a Mishkan T'filah, but appears everywhere else is malshinim, which has the word lashon in it, language. And it speaks very specifically about the power of words to sway a society, to advocate for one side or another, evil or good, using one's language, and it also, and it goes from the malshinim, the ones who speak evil, or used words, maliciously, to all the way up to the top to, malchut, to the reign of whatever the government or the reign or the rule is, it seems to me to take it from all the way from individual up to now and to really think about the words that we use and to challenge us as to what is our emotion with people who feel differently than we do. To people who are, to quote the movie The American President: who are arguing at the top of their lungs, advocating for everything, which we at the top of our lungs would advocate for just as vociferously on the other side. And, and what is our understanding? What is our passion, Eliana? How do we feel, in our own time, about what's going on?
I wanted to comment also, on the difference between malchut zadon and zedim. In the geniza fragments that My People's Prayer Book brings up, it does say malchut zadon, it's also not slanderers at the beginning, it's lameshumadim, which they translate here as apostates. So it's getting very specific. In fact, it gets even more specific in the prayer, talking, it gets more specific, because it says, vehanotzrim, and the Christian people, which of course, we would not want to say today, we can have empathy for our ancestors who were dealing with this. And also speaking of high holiday liturgy, which I think you brought up, Ellen, with all of the different synonyms. This one says, yimachu m'sefer hachayim, right may they not be written in the Book of Life, which is also interesting. I know, ugh, that hurts, but also that we think of, maybe the book of life or something that is offered to everybody, hypothetically. But if we have an issue with that as our core metaphor, right, for who lives or who dies, what do we do with that here? I'm also, as I see kind of all of the themes of the blessings laid out here, like Josh, you put us, you took us through that journey, right? You asked the question in our notes, like, why is that here? Why is that here? And for me, right? Before we had all these things, right? If - If knowledge alone is not enough for you to do the right thing, and you don't end up doing repentance and repair, and you don't ask for forgiveness, and you aren't a part of delivering and, you know, your healing of body and soul still doesn't root out your wickedness, and connection to the land doesn't do it, and gathering with people who you are in community with doesn't do it, and the justice system doesn't do it. Right. Have we exhausted our options? Right? Is that what they're saying? We're really only saving this blessing, once we've tried all this other, all these other things?
I think that's I think that's spot on right there. I mean, if if we're understanding that this, this blessing is the newest blessing, then we have to understand the context choice of putting it in this particular spot. Because it had, you know, if everything else already existed, then there was a choice that had to be made of where to place this blessing. And it wasn't put at the very end, right. It's not the last thing that we say. And it's not the first thing that we say, it's placed right here right after asking that, that God help give advice to our judges. And so that's the, you know, hoping that the human powers will prevail on the side of goodness. And then I think right here right after that is this last ditch effort of saying, you know, if, if that didn't work, if human justices couldn't maintain the peace, couldn't, couldn't come out on the side of justice, then what do we have left but call out to God and hope that these people are crushed? To use one of the words, one of the different adjectives for sending these people uprooted, crushed and humbled.
We find it in the you know, maybe it was just trying to get buried, you know, somewhere in the middle of section one of the paper and hopefully maybe nobody would pay too much attention to it. It's it not only comes out of the previous blessing that talks about God loving tzedaka u'mishpat, righteousness, but we'll find in just a few minutes that we're going back to another blessing about tzadikim. And so right here, it does seem to be kind of buried at the kernel there, and that, I love the idea that we get to a point where what do you do? You call to God because at this time when this was inserted, other things were not working.
Something that's come up for for us in this blessing is the difference between kol oseh risha, those who act wickedly, and kol harisha, all the wickedness. And it reminds me of a story in the Talmud about Bruriah. But like I said, at the top of the show, Talmud isn't necessarily my thing. And I didn't remember the contours of the story. So Josh, can you help us out here?
We have a story of Bruriah and her husband, Rabbi Mayer, who are engaging in Rabbi Mayer's teaching, and there are these sinners who are, these bandits who are stealing and running around and doing some terrible things. Rabbi Mayer paraphrases a line from the Psalms and says, yitamu chutim min ha'aretz, may all the sinners be uprooted from the land. And Beruriah says no, no, no, it shouldn't be read like that. It should be yitamu chataim min ha'aretz, which can be spelled the same way just with different vocalization, a trick that the Talmud uses all the time, many commentators used to reread some of the text. And she says yitamu chataim min ha'aretz, it should be that sin is uprooted from the land as opposed to the sinners. Don't hate the sinner, hate the sin. In Talmud parlets.
One other interpretation that I found, that kind of feeds into that is from a new book by Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg, and she has kind of a poem, that is an entire Amidah interpretation. And for this blessing, she writes: May greed, hatred and delusion be revealed for what they are, may they dissolve from their own noxious fumes in the open clarity of the endless sky. May they no longer find a shelter in our hearts, words or deeds. And I find that this, this turning it, just just clarity for what is good, and what is wicked, I think is really important, and that we do look at it in ourselves as an internal struggle. And the only thing I want to mention traditionally is, you know, sometimes when our prayers conflict with each other, as I'm going back to Elohai Neshama Terohahi, that how do we look at people who we think are wicked, or out there promoting evil in the world, and say that they also have a neshama tehora, a pure soul. That there is something godlike and some sort of tzelem within them as well, and, and, can we somehow hold both things, even in the worst of the people that we meet? Or their actions?
Holding both things. I think that's what so much of this is about. And you're right, Ellen, I hadn't thought about it that way. So often, when we look at these blessings, that we've looked at these blessings in the Amidah, we talk about them both as a calling out, calling out to God, recognizing where things need to change in the world, kind of the limit of our own control and our own power to change things on our own. But also the opposite, that we're looking inward and thinking, What can I actually do about this, both within myself and within the world and holding both of those to say, there is great evil in the world, and I don't, as an individual necessarily have much control around it. And so I call out to God in the face of great evil. But also, what can I do to uproot evil from the world? What can I do both within myself, not in a way of shame or guilt, but to recognize, with, with clear eyes, what I might be doing to contribute evil and try to mitigate that in whatever way I can? And to think, how can I not contribute to the evil of the world, knowing that both of those things are true. There is both more evil in the world than we individually can deal with. And, we do have power, within ourselves and within the world to incite change, and to create change. And I'm also thinking about the holding both also works for our tradition in and of itself. I don't think that it's my job as an educator, for example, to try to convince anybody that this blessing is actually good. Right, that this, or that this blessing doesn't have any complications, right? We find this in Torah all the time, moments in the Torah that make us uncomfortable or that challenge us. And for me, I still think that there is great value in all of our heritage. Without the apologetics, you know, we wouldn't say that today. We wouldn't write that today. Some things make us uncomfortable, and we might be a little embarrassed about it. But it's a part of the tradition also. And I think that's what I'm, that's what I'm sitting with right now. And with that, we'll be right back.
Welcome back, everyone, we are continuing along our Amidah journey to the next blessing, which we've already brought up a little bit because these two really feel like they go together in a set. So Josh, I'll hand it to you.
All right, here we go. There's there's definitely some kind of through line as we're mentioning that feels it's explicit here. There was a choice as to where to place that last lesson, but here we go on to this next one, in mind Siddur which is the Lev Shalem Siddur. It's titled "The Righteous." So here we go. Al hatzadikim ve'al hachasidim, v'al ziknei amcha beit yisrael, v'al pleitat sofreihem, v'al girei hatzedek, v'aleinu, yehemu na rachamecha, Adonai Eloheinu, v'ten sachar tov l'chol habotchim b'shimcha b'emet, v'sim chelkeinu imahem, u'leolam lo nevosh, ki vecha batachnu. Baruch atah Adonai, mishan u'mivtach latzadikim. May Your compassion, Adonai our God, flow to the righteous, the pious, the leaders of the people, Israel, the remnants of the sages, the righteous and us all. May all those who trust in your name be truly rewarded, and may our share be among them so that we never be shamed for trusting in you. Baruch atah Adonai, promise and support of the righteous.
Ellen, I'm wondering if there's any difference in the Mishkan T'filah for this one which is certainly more of a positive flipside to the last blessing.
There are slight differences but most of it is the same, they, I'll just read it to you. Al hatzadikim ve'al hachasidim, v'al ziknei amcha beit yisrael, so the she'erit is not, is missing from another translation. V'al gerei hatzedek v'aleinu. So most of it is pretty the same that says in the English, toward the righteous, toward the pious toward the leaders of your people, Israel, toward those who choose sincerely to be Jews, and toward us all. May Your tender mercies be stirred. Adonai, grant a good reward to all who trust in Your name and number us among them. Blessed Adonai the staff and the stay of the righteous. Some of the language from, I remember from the old Union prayer book, the staff and the stay of the righteous. Phrases like that remain. I love.
I love it too. The staff and the stay, I don't totally know what that means, but it sounds good. The staff and the stay. I'm also, you said, Ellen, the phrase tender mercies, and then the Sim Shalom Siddur, kind of the the older Conservative prayer book, that's how it begins, Let your tender mercies be stirred for the righteous, which is really quite an image, this image of God of having the capacity for judgment and the capacity for mercy, which we've talked about before, and asking for the capacity of mercy to win out here. I also think it's really - Oh, yeah, go ahead, Ellen.
I was just gonna say that Kabbalistically, things have to start from below, and then they kind of shimmer up in order to, to cause things to simmer down. I mean, obviously, the metaphors are just metaphors. It's not vertical. But this idea that that with our prayers, we awaken the mercy above with our feelings of mercy. So it starts with us shimmering below, causes shimmering in the heavens, or in the infinitys.
I know, we're all kind of wiggling in our boxes now, because I like the idea of shimmering below, seeing shimmering above. I absolutely love that. I'm also thinking, wondering, if we can talk about the different categories of people that they have here and the different way that we have translated the different categories, right. What's the difference between that Tzadikim, translated in most of our places, I think, as the righteous, and the Hasidim, the pious, or maybe going on with chesed, those of loving kindness, the elders of Israel, and the remnant of the sages, so for him, and garey hatzedek, which I think, to me is the most interesting one and is translated in lots of different places. And in Isaac Meir Weitz's 1857 version of his Minhag America Siddur, that part is totally gone. There is no garey hatzedek in the book. So - So what do we think about all these different groups and categories of people here?
I know that it the geir is also is considered a convert or a stranger or someone who who chooses Judaism perhaps, and in the Mishkan T'filah, when it says toward those who choose sincerely to be Jews. But I'm trying to think grammatically and hopefully, listeners if you know more about Hebrew grammar, which I'm sure many do than I do, please chime in on this one. Gerei tzedek as smichut sounds to me like strangers to tzedek, gerei tzedek or strangers or foreigners of what we might consider. It somebody or maybe someone who's not yet arrived to a position of of righteous, or even people who don't think about it. I'm a stranger to that world, you know, but I can also be chasid. I can also be a good person, it doesn't mean I'm bad. It just means that this isn't where I'm at yet, or it's still foreign to me. I kind of like that compassionate view of it. I'm just making it up. But it occurred to me.
That, that feels really hopeful. And I like it. I especially like it in contrast to the blessing that we just came from. Right, this one, the garei hatzedek, said it feels to be the most clear combatant to the meshumadim, which isn't even in most of our modern version of it, but the apostates, right, this is the opposite of the apostate. Is like somebody who's coming towards Judaism, from a place of righteousness or a place of hope or a place of lifting everyone else up. It feels like it's the p-direct fix for these, these problem makers of the past blessing. Well, I also think that, you know, the fact that there were sort of the category at the very end is aleinu, that were sort of tacked on at the end, hoping to sort of, draw some of that shimmering from all those other people. You know, getting the scraps of the shimmers to be to be latched on to all those. I think, in some ways, that's exactly what the in, in the medieval times or the times on the Hasidim were around, that's what all the Hasidim were trying to do to their to their tzadik, right, they're trying to latch on and get some of that righteousness, get some of that closeness to God, get some of that devekut, that, like holy glue, that is holding those people to God. And we're trying to connect with those people also.
I love that. In My People's Prayer Book, Mark Brettler calls that the theology of riding the coattails of the righteous, which I think is an interesting way of putting it. But it also for me is echoing back to the first blessing in the Amidah, in which we're saying, we are calling upon the merits of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel and Leah, before we even delve into the Amidah, to tack our coattails onto them, right, to say, in a theological way, maybe if this sits with you, right, which I think we see in our Siddur a lot. If you loved them, God, you had a great relationship with them, well, we are of them. So have a great relationship with us. But it's also saying, almost if if we if I come from them, there's something, there's some merit in that. In me recognizing my connection with my ancestors. So again, I'm just I'm playing this out kind of in real time. What does that mean, then? To throw in our lot to say, are we feel logically calling upon the merits of the righteous and the pious? Are we saying, I am of them, I am of the righteous and the pious, and those who have come to Judaism who seek it, truthfully, I am of them. So there is something of them, also, in me, even if I'm not totally seeing myself, as a 100% tzadik, righteous person, or 100% a chasid, a pious person, because perhaps 100% those people don't exist anyway. Yeah, Ellen?
I'm seeing right now in this moment, hanging on to someone else's coattails' spiritual practice, and trying to, and also wondering, then if I hang on, do I have coattails? You know, is somebody hanging on for dear life to my coattails? And and this idea of, we're known by the company we keep. You know, I can say oh, I'm not like that person, I'm not like that person or that person. And yet someone can turn around and be say, yeah, but that's who you're spending all your time with Or that's, all your energy or you may say that you as an individual are not X or Y or Z. And, and yet I know that it's who I hang with and who I'm comfortable with. And so may I be hanging, now God please, with the right folks. Or I don't need to ask God for that I need to make those choices on my own to be hanging out with the right folks in order that there aregood coattails to be hanging on to.
I like the hope of of putting our lot along with them and saying that we wish that we were among them and want to be among them. To me, it feels like the second half of the blessing kind of contradicts that a little bit more when, when it says v'sim chelkeinu imahem, it feels to me like we're separating ourselves from those people. Right? And let my lot be like all those people, especially like my lot be like all those people who are trusting l'chol habotchim b'shimcha b'emet, so all those who truly trust in your name. And I assume they're meeting the righteous, the chasidim, the gerei tzedek, but admitting that we ourselves are not, we're not yet, yet there, we're not fully in the trust yet. And we wish that we could be we're hoping, but we're kind of differentiating ourselves from that group of people.
But, and we do the coattail writing in the second half of the blessing also, right? When we say v'sim chelkeinu imahem.
That feels like the clearest coattail. That's like naming the coattail riding right there in the in the prayer.
Right. But right, like you just pointed out, if we're coattail riding, we are distinguishing between me who is saying the prayer, and all of those people. But right, that means, really, I think, if we're all saying the same blessing, we're all saying the same blessing, as if we are not in any of those categories. Somebody needs to be, right, somebody needs to be in the categories or why are they not there. That means even someone who might be an actual tzadik, an actual righteous person which, Abudraham, 14th century Spanish commentator says, that there isn't actually and has, there isn't actually these days, anybody who's an actual tzadik, but everybody's saying the prayer is if they're not that, which is just an interesting thing to think about. Is that part of the humility exercise to say, I'm throwing in my lot with all these great people, but it's not me.
I think there's some there's totally something there. I love the idea of thinking that we're all saying the same prayer, and somebody's got to be in that category. Even though you know, we're clearly saying that we're out of that category. And to me, it brings us back to the same words that we say right before the Shema. Right, in a slightly different form. But we use almost exactly the same language in the Ahavah Rabbah prayer, where we say v'yached levaveinu leahava ulira et shemecha. Right? Enjoin or gather our hearts together to love and fear your name, right, v'lo nevosh le'olam vaed, and will never, we will never be ashamed forever. Ki v'shem kodshecha hagadol v'hanora batachnu, because we trust in Your great name. And I wonder if there's a way for that's sort of the, that's the mantra of like, I'm going to, I'm going to trust, I'm going to please help me gather my heart towards you, I'm going to trust and gather into your name, I'm going to have this great belief. And then I'm going to say the Shema. And the idea is, hopefully, some of us through saying the shema are gonna get to that that dvekut, that dabek, dabek ulaveinu l'mitzvotecha, like hold me with that holy glue to your commandments. And if there's enough people that are that are there, maybe they can take the rest of us along. And that's where all of us get connected in the in the blessing of the Amidah, right, there's some sort of through line that comes from those words, the first time we say it, to when we say it in our personal Amidah later on in the service.
I think I just have to repeat the line hold me with that holy glue to your commandments, because that was that was a winner, I'm gonna write that one down. This idea also that, that we need to be constantly looking at ourselves and in the previous blessing slash curse, whatever we choose to call it, it mentioned bringing, laying low those who forget that aspect of humility. That when we begin to think that we are the rulers, we are the ones who know the right thing, etcetera, that's when we get ourselves into trouble. And so this is calling us back to, I am going to guess it's the the tradition in Buddhism that is very one says that they are Buddha that you should, you know that they're, that's the first sign that they're not. And I think that we have the same kind of tradition that anyone who stands up and says look what at tzadik I am, look what a chasid I am, you should run in the other direction because they've lost that humility. And so this constant idea of, I'm always work in process. I'm not there yet. And they're - and they're always is people that I can look to to say, here's the path that, here's my ought to be going, here's his coattails I want to be hanging on to. And you never know, you never know who's around you. And you never know, all you're asking here is, not all of it, but for really good guidance as to perhaps whose coattails we ought to be hanging on.
I really love that idea, Ellen. For me, it's bringing up the kind of balance, right? That two notes in the different pockets in the different sides, right, from Reb Simcha Bubam, that one note says I am but dust and ashes and the other notes as the whole world was created for me. It reminds me of that story, because it is both humbling, I am not in these categories. But also, I'm on the list. Like I'm amongst the categories. I know sometimes for me, personally, it's easy for me to fall into a trap of well, what it means to be humble, is to not think of myself as great at all. And to never be proud of the things that I do and to never share them. But I'm on the list of all these people, right? I'm on the list at the party, I get to go into the party with it's it Tzadikim and the Hasidim. So it's not just about, it's about humbling ourselves, but also recognizing that there's something, that there is that pure soul within us that we all have the capacity for goodness and to not lower ourselves to too much. To me, practically, this blessing is also having us notice that there are what who we may see as righteous people, generous people, good people who aren't doing the best in their life, right? There's a book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. And it's phrased as when. Because we know that those things happen. And this blessing saying, it would be great if we lived in a world where automatically the people who were doing the most good and the world would prosper the most. And yet we recognize that that isn't the world that we live in. And what do we do with that? How can we, in the little ways or the big ways that we can, that we do have control over the situation when we do, how can we help the righteous prosper? And the righteousness that's within each of us?
I think this idea that you just said the idea the righteousness is within each of us is really important to remember. That at times when we look outwardly and we can't find it, then this is, I think this blessing points to the trust and the hope I might go back to the marshy name and and the first line of that prayer says, take away their hope. We we want to feel hopeful, we want those who would be against us or would be evil in the world to be hopeless. Because that'll make you give up, that'll make you just go home if there's no hope. So take away their hope. You don't have to kill them or anything. Take away their hope. And here let us trust please, that if we really go to our inner core, if we really, let's phrase it differently, if we really go to God, then we're going to find it our inner cord the strength that we need, the support that we need, in order to go forward in spite perhaps of what's going on in the world around us.
So, so beautiful, Ellen, and with that, we'll be right back.
Welcome back everyone. Now, usually, sometimes in this spot, we would talk about our favorite melodies. But surprise, surprise, we don't know any melodies for these two blessings, maybe not the ones we want to commit to song Listeners, if you know any melodies for these, please let us know, comment in our Facebook group, I'd be really interested to see some of that. But in, in lieu of melodies, we have the great honor of being led in a practice by Ellen.
There's a little bit of context for this, a Jewish idea of lamed vavniks. That lamed vav is the numerical value of 36 in the world. The idea that there are 36 truly righteous people, 36 tzadikim in the world at any given moment, and for the sake of these 36 individuals, the world continues to exist. The trick is, is that nobody knows who they are, even if it's you or me, even if it was me. I don't know that I'm one of them. But there's always 36, and we can always hope. And so I found one quote from the contemporary poet and author Danny Siegel, says, You must always assume the person sitting next to you is the Messiah, then you will come to weigh your words and watch your hands. And if they choose not to reveal themselves in your lifetime, it will not matter. So I invite you to take a comfortable seat. If you're comfortable closing your eyes, that's fine. And if you're not just find a place, a pleasant place to put your gaze, and I share with you a an anonymous meditation poem. But it's called the person next to you. And I would add to this, it's the person next to you, at a meeting, in a subway, around the dinner table, picture yourself in any situation with others. And the poet says, look around you, who are the people sitting next to you? The people next to you are the greatest miracles you will ever meet at this moment, and the greatest mysteries. The people next to you have an inexhaustible reservoir of possibilities, which have only been partially touched. The people next to you are a unique universe of experience, seething with necessity and possibility, dread and desire, smiles and frowns, laughter and tears, fears and hopes, all struggling to find expression. The people next to you are surging to become something, to arrive at some destination, have a story and a song to be known. And to know the people next to you believe in something, stand for something, count for something, labor for something, wait for something, wait for something, run from something, run towards. The people next to you are more than any description, more than any explanation, and more, much, much more. The people next to you are searching for meaning, for inner peace, for self esteem for something they already have, they just have to realize it. The people next to you have problems and fears just like you, are often undecided, but are endowed with great toughness in the face of adversity and are able to survive the most unbelievable difficulties and challenges. The people next to you are combinations of people met during all of their lifetimes. The people next to you have something they can do better than anyone else in the world. Have strengths they do not even recognize. Need to talk to you about those abilities. Need you to listen but do they dare speak them to you? The people next to you need a friend, want to be a friend, and comfort you, care for you, understand you, and love you. Isn't that what you want? It's what they want. The people next to you are special human beings. And so are you. You will want to get to know these people. May we be the kind of people that you want to get to know, and may we always be looking for the healthy nourishing holy coattails on which to hang. Amen.
Wow, thank you so much, Ellen, for that beautiful poem and practice. So grateful to both of you that you get to be the people next to me. I'm so grateful. So grateful that even though my internet cut out right before Ellen ended her poem, that our amazing editor Christie could put it all together in post! What a blessing. Thank you Christy. Our show notes are by Yaffa Englander, please check them out. It's an amazing learning tool. Our theme song is A New Light by me. You can join our new Facebook group to connect about this episode and connect about all things prayer, liturgy and T'fillah education. You can become a member and support the show. You can follow us on social media, and all of those links can be found in the description of this episode. Thank you so much for joining us in the Light Lab and we'll see you soon!