The fourth of 19 brief meditations on the 19 blessings of the Amidah.
You favor the human with knowledge, and teach mortals understanding. Favor us with the knowledge, the understanding and the insight that come from you. Blessed are you, Eternal, the gracious giver of knowledge.
I awoke from a dream once searching inside my brain for an etymology of a particular word. I wondered if one day I'd have a chip of some kind inserted there, which, triggered by curiosity, could have provided me with an entire history of the word I was seeking. And I wondered: could this be some science fiction dream vision of a God planted in each of our brains?
But then I realized it was the dream-state that triggered the question. It was the raw human striving for knowledge that set in motion a learning process that would use whatever tools were at my disposal to seek the answers I needed. "You favor the human with knowledge, and teach mortals understanding." And like the Teacher of Teachers ought to do, we emerge from the lesson more well-suited to pursue knowledge on our own as well, and in turn, to teach others. In Judaism learning is constant. It is a life-long pursuit. It never ends. Even after we die--for we are "mortal," as this prayer claims--the text of our lives continues to unfold and develop at new depths and levels of understanding.
My father died when I was twenty. And what I did with that experience, how I integrated that knowledge, had its uses up to a point. And now, as a man of 46, I am ever-aware of how the very shape and dimension of that loss brings new meaning, especially when I reflect upon the fact that I have lived more years on earth "without" him than with him. And the text that IS his life continues to teach great insights.
Those words: knowledge, understanding, insight. And that they come with grace or favor, as the Hebrew suggests, is the true gift of learning. It's the ephemeral moment--a moment we've all had at least once--of a "light going on" upon realizing something for the first time. That moment can even bring a rush of adrenaline, a physical manifestation of the joy and enlightenment of learning that, in its favor, brings us back for more.
From the weightlessness and unbound imagination of dreams come insight, understanding and knowledge. And for this we give thanks to the Source of Light and Life.