05 February 2010


The fifteenth of 19 brief meditations on the 19 blessings of the Amidah.


Speedily cause the offspring of your servant David to flourish, and let him be exalted by your saving power, for we wait all day long for your salvation. Blessed are you, Eternal, who causes salvation to flourish.

Of interest here is that toward the end of the Amidah, another heroic figure is cited. In the opening of our prayer, we remembered the God of Patriarchs and Matriarchs. And now here at the end we recall King David. Notably absent from this listing is Moses. But when one considers one of the essential structures of the Amidah to be about a metaphoric and literal restoration of Jewish peoplehood to the Land of Israel, it makes more sense that here David is mentioned and not Moses, of whom Torah says, "but no one knows of his burial place to this day." The mystery shrouding Moses' death--and arguably, the Torah's concern that we ought NOT to know, lest we worship at the grave of a mortal figure--are here contrasted with the all-too-mortal qualities of King David, who, ironically, one might say, merits the honor of the messianic line. The very anointed one of God is said to come from King David. David the warrior; David with the adulterer; David with the blood of Uriah, husband to Bathsheba, on his hands; David the poet, the Psalmist, the musician, the philosopher, the leader of Jewish nationhood in its earliest iterations who, because of his sinful behavior did NOT however earn the honor to build the Temple in Jerusalem.

And yet it is David through whom the hope for restoration is channeled.

This is an expression of Judaism's extraordinary design. Precisely because we are not perfect; precisely because we fail, day after day; precisely because those who promise redemption are those whose very lives are immersed in the glorious imperfections of life--where else should the hope for redemption come from "one of our own" or, more succinctly, ourselves.

Ruth, a convert to Judaism, is King David's great-grandmother. For the Amidah to remind us of this, now deep into our prayers when we may at this point be impressed by our own piety, is to be humbled by the devotion of others, not born Jewish, to their embrace of the ideas and values of Judaism, so much so that the very "seed of redemption" comes from them.

As for the rest of us: we have our work cut out for us. We have our imperfections to repair. For looking the other way when people die; for cheating and cutting corners with our generosity; for exercising power where compassion and understanding are warranted. We don't want to hear this but David reminds us that we must face it, pray it, work it through, in an effort to 'cause salvation to flourish.'

The history of religion--and certainly Judaism--is a history of messianic figures who have come and gone, each promising the Final Redemption. I long ago concluded that the false construct of messianic movements was the over-emphasis on the messianic figure that led to worship--precisely the reason that Moses is not found here in the Amidah, is effectively absent from the Hagadah.

David's appeal, if he were running for office today, would be his radically imperfect nature.

"Let him (us!) be exalted by Your saving power." To be more thoughtful. More generous. More honest. More decent. More forgiving.

The notion of redemption, of a final resurrection into eternal life that Judaism promises in doctrinal form, to my mind, is best expressed in the words of the late Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai:

A Letter of Recommendation

On summer nights I sleep naked
in Jerusalem. My bed
stands on the brink of a deep valley
without rolling down into it.

In the daytime I walk around with the Ten
Commandments on my lips
like an old tune someone hums to himself.

Oh touch me, touch me, good woman!
That’s not a scar you feel under my shirt, that’s
a letter of recommendation, folded up tight,
from my father:
“All the same, he’s a good boy, and full of love.”

I remember my father waking me for early prayers.
He would do it by gently stroking my forehead, not
by tearing away the blanket.

Since then I love him even more.
And as his reward, may he be wakened
gently and with love
on the Day of the Resurrection.

I like to think that David learned, late in life, that the point was goodness and love. We'd do well to learn the same and practice it, as much as possible.

Thus will salvation flourish.

No comments: