Close your eyes.
Hear the voice of the Great Shofar. It is impossibly distant, and yet unimaginably close. It surrounds you and pierces you, even as it fills every place and every time.
Breathe and become aware of your insignificance before the everlasting voice of G-d.
Now, remember that an Adonoi is not only a master, but the base of a pillar.
You are insignificant, yet you are a pillar of G-d. Picture yourself standing, filled with G-d’s purpose.
You are insignificant, and yet the Almighty serves as your foundation.
Feel the voice of the shofar envelop you and lift you up.
Sources: Adonoi as a support for a pillar Ex 38:17.
The idea of G-d’s presence being in the shofar starts with the blowing of the great Shofar being linked to divine appearance. It continues with the verse “G-d is in the Voice of the Shofar”
יהוה בקול שופר (Tehillim 47)
The ‘mechanism’ is revealed another way. Yeshayahu Cohen points out that Hashem breathes our spirit into us. When we exhale, we exhale a combination of our own voice and the voice of G-d. I’ve added that the shofar is a ram’s horn. From the Akeidah it reflects the fear of G-d and the sublimation of our own will. When we filter our breath with the shofar, all that remains is the voice of G-d. The shofar is the shadow, at least, of the divine voice.
The idea of foundation is reenforced in the Modiim – צוּר חַיֵּֽינוּ, the rock of our lives.
I sometimes picture myself as an ever increasingly tiny speck below the endless sound of Hashem’s shofar.
The circular theme will be recurring in the Amidah, we bring G-d into our world and G-d supports us because of it.
The timelessness of G-d is the name יהוה. It contains the forms of the words past, present and future.
Sapha is a boundary. A boundary between the private and the public, between the still land and the flowing waters, between the soul within and the words without, between the words that connect a people and those who can not understand them.
Sephatai is my boundary. My personal boundary.
I can not help but simplify the past.
I perceive but a tiny shard of the present.
And I can only imagine the future.
It is as if my soul is enclosed by a mortal veil.
Sources: In Chumash, sapha means the hem of a garment, a river bank, a lip, and a language.
We often think of ourselves of having learned the laws of nature. And we have learned a great deal. Nonetheless, could any scientist predict you would read this? Could they predict what effect it would have on you? Or perhaps those you love? At most, statistical understandings can be gained – but they can not capture reality. They can not comprehend the impact of of the spontaneous and unplanned.
Close your eyes and ask G-d to open your boundaries.
Feel your perspective blow outwards, like a massive shockwave… until, somehow, it reaches the very edges of the universe itself.
Feel your perspective reaching across time. Imagine the lives of your ancestors, and those who will come after you, flowing past you – a generation to a breath. And then a generation to a heartbeat.
Finally, feel the immediacy of pain and struggle. And then pull away from it, and see the redemption, illumination and beauty that the Almighty is fashioning within us.
Sources: What perspective can G-d open? What boundary? Through G-d we can perceive all. Time and space are our scientific perspectives. But even more critical is the divide between pain and redemption…. The pain of slavery, put into the divine context of Exodus. The pain of the foreparents’ struggle – put into the divine context of the redemption we are possibly experiencing after thousands of years. The pain of Terach losing his son Haran, put into the divine context of Hashem bringing Avraham from Ur Kasdim.
We can not internalize the G-dly perspective. We are not meant to. Of the offerings in the Torah reading of Vayikra, only one is called “Holy.” That is the grain eaten by the Kohen (priest). Everything which is burnt, killed or somehow seemingly destroyed is not called Holy. The reading opens describing the offerings a man would bring. From a regular person’s perspective, these offerings involve destruction, which is why the concept remains controversial today even though 77 billion animals a year are slaughtered for food.
The next reading describes the same offerings from the Kohen’s perspective. There, holiness is everywhere. The priest can see the spiritual bond being created between G-d and the Jewish people. They can appreciate there is no actual destruction. They have the divine perspective. But the regular man isn’t expected to.
For the purposes of this verse and this prayer, we step into the divine perspective.
It isn’t how we live our lives, but it is how we reach out to holiness.
וּפִי יַגִּיד תְּהִלָּתֶֽךָ
A ‘pe’ is the space within a boundary, whether defined by lips or the collar of a shirt.
Hashem has opened your boundaries.
And so the ‘pe’ of your soul has grown vast.
[added: You cannot see Hashem’s perspective, but you can feel the wonder of it
And so your mouth cannot help but speak G-d’s praise and your soul cannot help but be a testament to the Almighty’s gifts]
[removed: As you are filled with the wonder of Hashem’s perspective, your mouth cannot help but speak G-d’s praise.
As you are filled with the understanding of G-d’s redemption, your soul can not help but be a testament to the wonder of Hashem.]
Feel the divine flow through you and feel it define your world.
Sources on פי: ‘Pe’ is used in three contexts.
First, as a mouth. G-d speaks with Moshe, mouth-to-mouth (Num 12:8).
Second, as a hole in a garment (Ex 28:32).
Third, as capability (Ex 12:4).
In putting these three together, I came to the idea of a space defined by a boundary.
There is a poetic refrain between the lips in the first part of the verse and the mouth in the second. Between the boundaries expanding, and the appreciation of what is created when they do so.
Although very roundabout, this concept reflects back on the Moses instance. The idea of Moses talking mouth-to-mouth with G-d has always struck me as a bit odd. I know it can’t be face-to-face, but mouth-to-mouth is odd.
However, if it is about perspectives then it is deepened. Moses can appreciate the divine omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience. He can understand it well enough to speak to G-d without G-d having to limit Him/Herself to something a mere mortal can interact with.
In a way, for the duration of this prayer, we are asking to have a touch of that perspective.
The Shechina is in the feminine. In Torah there are several different male and female symbolic indications. One of the most fundamental is biological. Male has reproductive will, they can choose to impregnate or not. Female has reproductive capability – only they can produce a child. The words Adam (for Man) and Adama (for Earth) reflect this. Man plants, but only Earth can yield crops.
The Shechina enables your efforts to touch the divine to yield fruit. The Shechina creates the spiritual from our physical will.
Another major theme of the feminine in the Torah is the willingness to risk everything to change the status quo. Chava (Eve) does it for her own benefit. When she is exiled, it never says she was cursed. Instead, she is changed. She becomes willing to risk everything to change the status quo on behalf of those she loves. Miriam and the midwives do the same – they, not the men, are the ones who crack the wall of slavery.
The Shechina offers the same. The Shechina can shatter the status quo on behalf of those She loves.
Sources on יגיד תהלתך: Fruit trees are gifts of G-d in Torah. Adam and Chava plant no trees, G-d just grants them the fruit. This is why we can’t bring fruit as offerings (except on Shavuot when we are thanking Hashem for the fruit). This is also why we can’t eat fruit for the first three years after planting. An Orla is a block on the expression of the divine – a imposition of the physical world and physical interests. With redemptions we may remove the Orla of our hearts. In this case, the Orla of the tree is the connection between the human act of planting and act of harvest. But separating the two, we make space for divine appreciation.
קֹדֶשׁ הִלּוּלִים is the phrase used to describe the fruit from the fourth year (Lev 19:24). It is ‘holy’ hilul. Hilul is the same word as Tehila. It is often translated as praise, but in this context it is something more direct. It is Holy Evidence of the divine. In the case of the divine, Evidence is always Praise.
With understanding, the short-term pain and trouble can be seen as redemption and beauty.
In the final Torah reading, Moshe is called a “man of G-d.” In the verses that follow, there is confusion about when G-d is speaking and when Moshe is. It seems as if, for that moment, the text is conflating the two. Moshe has become a part of G-d, G-d a part of Moshe and Moshe has become evidence and praise of G-d’s presence. That is what we aspire to and what G-d can give us.
Finally, when the people are warned against climbing Har Sinai the concern is that Hashem with Paratz (פֶּן-יִפְרָץ-בָּם) within them (Ex 19:24). That word is used to impose or push people. It is used to break the law. It implies a shattering of definitions. I’ve always imagined the infinity of G-d bursting within the people and destroying their ability to survive. I had a cousin who did a lot of acid. He said that if you don’t keep track of space and time, you can just fail to come back from a trip. If G-d simply overwrites you, then you are erased by the totality of the divine.
In this one verse, we are asking for a version of that. It is risky, for the first year or so that I prayed this way, I got a massive headache just from this verse alone. But if we allow Hashem to flow through us, then we don’t need to burst apart. If we allow Hashem to fill us and then allow ourselves to radiate the divine, then we can temporarily be a part of the Holy.
I no longer get headaches from this prayer, but its power has only increased for me.
Summary of Opening Verse
Stand before the Almighty, aware not only that the Creator of the Universe is before you – but that the Creator is reaching out and supporting you.
The Almighty is opening up the limits of your awareness, giving you a glimpse of the divine perspective. You can feel your boundaries expanding all around you.
Seeing through divine eyes, you can not help but speak the praises of the Lord. The fullness of G-d’s blessing can burst from within you, making you a beacon of Holiness.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה
The infinite G-d is standing before you.
Then you, tiny you, utters an almost silent word – a tiny burst of air, the slightest ripple of sound. Baruch.
The breath leaves your lips, is integrated into infinity, and then bursts out of infinity. But it does not emerge as a thunderclap. It does not emerge as an overwhelming sound.
No, it emerges as a ripple of holiness – sweeping through and awakening the souls of humankind.
With your almost silent breath, you have blessed the infinite G-d.
Sources: The most unusual use of the word Baruch is in regard to a camel. When Eliezer is trying to find a wife for Yitzchak (Isaac), he makes a camel ‘barech’. It is translated by Rashi as ‘kneel’, but it is a form of the word Baruch. What does the camel do? By being a used to find somebody with the character traits of Avraham (tremendous kindness to guests), it serves as a vehicle in the process of continuing the line of Abraham and Sarah. Eliezer gives it the opportunity to serve a holy purpose.
For me, this is blessing.
It is opportunity to follow in the footsteps of G-d – either through creation of rest.
How can G-d possibly not have every opportunity? The answer is that Hashem created us to have a relationship – we couldn’t just be perfect or we would be like robots. So we left space for us to choose (or not to choose) to build a relationship with Him/Her. When we bless G-d, when we create spiritual space for Him/Her in our world. Our whisper of a voice creates a spiritual reality that welcomes the presence of the divine. That is the thrust of this video.
The ‘thin, still, voice’ is, of course, a reference to the experience of Elijah the prophet (Kings1 19:12).
G-d is standing before you because you use the word “Atah” – which means you. You aren’t blessing G-d, you are blessing G-d in front of you.
Finally, I use the phrase ‘Infinite G-d’ because the name used is YKVK, which contains the past, present and future of the word ‘to be’.
An El is a greater power. Eloheinu is Our Greater Power.
Like a ruler, G-d has power over us.
And like a protector, G-d uses His power on behalf of us.
But most importantly… Eloheinu is our El because of us.
G-d is our El because we yearn for His authority
That is the meaning of Eloheinu.
Feel all those around you yearning for the guidance of Heaven.
Feel the bond between man and G-d.
Now you are blessing not just the Infinite G-d, but our infinite G-d.
Sources: Yehuda HaLevi explains that Ela (or Allah) means higher power. Judges are called Eloheinu. The sons of the powerful in the era before the flood are called sons of Elohim. Yehuda HaLevi says Elohim (the plural of Ela) is a singular word that represents the merging of all those powers. It is used to represent the impact of G-d in our world.
So G-d is like those sons of Elohim or judges – having power over us. As we see later in this same blessing, G-d defends us and protects us – having power on behalf of us. As we will see in the case of Avraham, what is most important is not that we are submissive or dependent – but that we embrace the power of G-d as representing His moral authority.
(editing: oath as higher power. Oak perhaps as well, given worship of the trees[
Imagine us – the community we share.
Imagine the bond we have with our G-d – our yearning for G-d’s guidance.
Picture it, ten, a thousand, a million souls reaching out for the Lord.
And then picture our ancestors, stretching upwards through time – generation after generation – reaching out to that same G-d.
All of us, thousands of years of our community – both those who have suffered and those who have celebrated – linked forever to that same, singular, reality.
The reality of G-d.
Sources: There is nothing particularly new in this phrase, it just builds on the previous comments.
Now you have reached the very pinnacle of our ancestors.
You have reached Avraham.
Avraham the first man who accepted G-d’s ultimate authority.
Not just G-d’s power, but G-d’s leadership.
Picture that first bond just beginning to form – the bond between one man and one G-d.
Sources: Avraham leaves his father’s home to go to Canaan. From the very start, he is allowing himself to be guided by G-d. But there are levels of guidance. Near the end of his tests, we have the story of the Akeidah – where he shows his fear of G-d by being willing to sacrifice his own son, no questions asked. Unlike others (who the text says wordshipped El Elyon – the Most High G-d), Avraham didn’t offer to sacrifice his son due to fear or in pursuit of other blessings. He did it simply out of acceptance of G-d as a moral authority. Fear of G-d is the acceptance of G-d as a moral authority. NOT necessarily embrace, just acceptance.
This event didn’t come out of a vacuum. Earlier, Avraham had made a very questionable moral decision. KedarLaomer was the leader of the ‘four kings’ who attacked the rebellious ‘five kings’ headlined by S’dom and Amora. KedarLaomer means ‘he who encircled the omer.’ An omer is the amount of food one needs to eat each day to survive. I imagine KedarLaomer as a monopolist who has garnered great wealth and power due to his almost total control of the grain market. S’dom and Amora (from the same word, Omer) rebel. They are trying to crack the market with their ridiculously fertile land (I think they worked out how to use the Dead Sea for fertilizer as we do today). So KedarLaomer invades. Along the way, though, he takes out smaller players. Specifically, he burns the fields of Amalek. Avaham just watches. Only when his nephew is captured does he react, swinging into motion with 300 men and killing KedarLaomer. What was the morally questionable decision? Not helping Amalek and the others earlier. Amalek never forgives Avraham or his descendents – they represent the holders of the ultimate grudge. But G-d tells Avraham that he is his Magen – his shield. I think it is referring to a moral shield. So Avraham can deal with his guilt over what he didn’t do by accepting, even embracing, G-d’s moral authority in all things.
I’ve written about this episode elsewhere, it is critical to understanding the relationship of man and G-d.
So this bond, described here, is one of the foundations of my definition of Eloheinu.
This bond – of G-d as moral authority – unites all the religious children of Avraham.
You are standing in the world faced with doubt and uncertainty.
In desperation, you cling to that which you can see. To that which you can taste. To that which you can touch.
As the years pass, you recognize how empty those things are. They vanish, they all vanish, consumed by time.
As the years pass, you recognize there is something greater, something eternal.
Something substantial, known to those who came before you.
Too much time has passed to embrace it with the entirety of yourself.
So you grasp what you can and you gift it to those who come after you.
You pass the fragments to those who come after you – and you watch them grow and flourish.
You extend the divine bond through time.
Sources: Yitzchak did not naturally embrace the bond formed by his father. He was trying to be a physical person, he was running from the spirtual. Evidence of this runs throughout his story. He was the only forefather to sport with his wife. He loved his son Esav because of his food. He was the only farmer, struggling to find his physical place. Digging wells and finding blessing made him feel like G-d had blessed him. When it comes time to bless his sons, his blessings are almost entirely physical. He seems locked into this path his entire life. In fact, G-d never blesses him in his own right – only for the merit of his father. Then, long after he has been blinded by G-d, he hears Esav crying over the loss of the physical blessing. Only then does Yitzchak realize how empty the physical is. Only then does he bless his other son, Yaacov, with the legacy of his father.
Then, after Yaacov flees, G-d blessing Yaacov – not only in the merit of Avraham but also in the merit of Yitzchak. The physical son who realized the source of true blessing and a life of meaning.
This concept is perhaps part of my mother’s life. She wanted a connection with G-d but could never really build one. And yet, she passed the legacy of her ancestors on to her children.
Those who have come before you have shared the bond with the infinite G-d – our master, protector and guide.
You feel that, stretching beyond the confines of our physical world.
And then you extend it.
You make it a part of your family, of your community, of your people.
You form it into the laws and conventions that govern our relationships
And then, with your blessings, you make it a part of that which we eat, build and use.
You weave the divine bond into every part of our physical reality.
Sources: Yaakov started off trying to grab everything for himself through any trick or scheme. He wanted exclusive control of the divine relationship and he was willing to break conventions (grabbing heel, birthright, father’s desires, normal conditions of a contract etc…) to get it.
He ended up losing everything.
Even then, when he encounters G-d, he makes demands.
Then, over 20 contracts that describe his time in Padan Aram, he learns to work with society. He learns to use the rules to create a new reality. He learns to control himself within the context of social fabric. Instead of being a young “torch everything” revolutionary, he learned to change the world step by step. In some way he’s conversation with “Adonoi” (ostensibly his brother Esav) on his return to Israel reflected this. The animals and children can only travel slowly. We must make our way step by step. This is why he is so angry with Shimon and Levi. He has learned not to burn.
What Yaacov learned to embrace was law. Laws – agreements across members of society – create something beyond us, something that can outlast us. Good laws, and lasting laws, are the closest we can get to representing and creating the divine. Law can be Holy. It is why Jews are the people of law.
Where Avraham established the link to G-d and Yitzchak passed it down through generations, Yaacov makes it a part of the society around him. This is why his 12 sons, despite all their troubles, can all inherit the relationship. It can be shared and it can form the fabric of a people. From there we can imagine the bond flowing downwards and back to us in our present day.
This concept of making the holy part of everything is a fundamental idea in Judaism. It is why we have so many blessings that cover so many aspects our lives.
הָאֵל הַגָּדול הַגִּבּור וְהַנּורָא אֵל עֶלְיון
You are a grape vine.
You feel the soil beneath you
You feel the hot sun above
You feel the air around you
You feel the drip of water running into your roots
You can not see Him, but you know that behind it all is an All-Mighty Keeper of the Vines
Great, Mighty, Awe-inspiring – the Master of your water, your sun, your air and your earth
Sources: These words describe a conventional perspective of an all-powerful G-d. Great and Mighty and Terrifying. El Elyon is what Malchitzedek uses to describe Hashem: The Highestmost G-d. He was not Jewish, he did not have Avraham’s bond. But although we have that bond, we can not forget that G-d is more than the bond. G-d is more than our need for Her.
The idea of G-d as cultivator is borrowed from many places, but particularly Devarim 32:
2 My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew; as the small rain upon the tender grass, and as the showers upon the herb.
This description is not of plenty, but of what is needed to enrich the plant itself.
I did the drip of water – and not the rain – because from our perspective it is the most deliberate. Water represents spirituality in Torah (in that Devarim quote too). Rain is one kind of spirituality, fallen from heaven. But the drip is a modern idea, an idea with which it is extremely easy for us to conceive of very tight control.
Another vision I set aside was this:
Imagine the natural powers like the the wind and the sun.
The human powers like corporations and governments.
And the powers written into the universe, like gravity and entropy.
Imagine them interacting with each other. They Compete. Adjust. Change. Evolve.
Imagine them as the Elim of our world.
And then see beyond them – to the El-Elyon.
The great, mighty and awe-inspiring G-d before whom all the powers of the world are just servants.
גּומֵל חֲסָדִים טובִים
You are a grape vine.
You feel the soil beneath you, and the limits of your nutrients
You feel the hot sun above, almost overwhelming you
You feel the thinness of the air around you, challenging your existence
You feel the slow drip of water, dancing into your roots
You cry out, you cry out for a softer sun, thicker air, more water, richer soil.
But you know that the Master of the Vines yields only the kindnesses that truly enriches you.
You know that the fruit of your vines will burst with the most beautiful of flavors.
Sources: (but not really completely impersonal. G-d matures, over time, good kindnesses. What separates good kindness from kindness? Kindness can undermine a person or a society. Think of the curse of oil. It can make less of our souls by addressing our immediate needs. G-d delivers good kindnesses – kindnesses that make the most of us not just as standalone people but as a community and a people. To understand these kindnesses, we have to step beyond the individual.)
You are a grape vine.
You know the Master of the Vines cares for you, defines your world and guides your path.
But you can feel that there is more. You can feel that the world is G-d’s possession.
And that G-d embraces his universe.
No, the Master of the Vines does not simply grant you good kindnesses.
The Master of the Vines wraps you in His embrace.
Sources: (Kone is possession or purchase. But it is also the root for ‘cane’. It suggests something you encircle or enclose or make a part of yourself. G-d buying the world doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense. G-d owning the world is a concept we can’t really relate to. But G-d enwrapping the world, like a reed encloses the space within it, that we can conceive of. It is a way of ownership, to extend oneself to enclose something and make it a part of you. Now imagine G-d doing the same. Embracing and encircling everything. The verse this comes from uses the words Heaven and Earth, but this is ‘everything’. Why the switch? I think of Heaven and Earth as these great things – to embrace them is not to embrace what is within them. But ‘everything’, that suggests an embrace on the most macro-scale and on the most micro. Specifically, G-d is embracing us – individually. I feel the Presence wrapping around me at this point in the prayer. Perhaps this phrase is here because this is part of that Good Kindness. Knowing G-d is there does not weaken or undermine your soul. Instead, it strengthens and beautifies you even in the face of struggle).
וְזוכֵר חַסְדֵי אָבות
וּמֵבִיא גואֵל לִבְנֵי בְנֵיהֶם
Sources: editing (hatred face to face) This is the evidence – the evidence that G-d is cultivating. His people have returned to their land, as promised for thousands of years. It would have seemed ridiculous in centuries past – and yet we are here.
לְמַעַן שְׁמו בְּאַהֲבָה