09 February 2010


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


Grant peace, goodness, blessing, grace, lovingkindness and mercy to us and to all Israel your people. Bless us, our Father, one and all, with the light of your countenance; for by the light of your countenance you have given us, Eternal our God, a Torah of life, lovingkindness and salvation, blessing, mercy, life and peace. May it please you to bless your people Israel at all times and in every hour with your peace. Blessed are you, Eternal, who blesses his people Israel with peace.

In a world of diminishing expectations, this remains a big one.

This is a prayer that is, without a doubt, aspirational.

Here the words we pray are about what ought to be, certainly not what is.

When it comes to what we think of as "peace."

On the other hand, Torah learning and lovingkindness do possess "saving" qualities, for the mind and the heart satisfied are forces that can produce much goodness in our world.

Still on the other hand, mercy, life and shalom--here, wholeness--represent affirmations of behavior that one seeks when one is cognizant of one's seeking.

But, oh, the way this prayer ends. "May it please you to bless your people Israel at all times and in every hour with your peace." That is to say, 'give the brother some.' We need it. And that we have to ask means we don't have it. Yet.

Here the Amidah ends. Sort of. As we learn in the Mishnah and elsewhere, the Sages had a tradition of adding individual prayers and meditations at this point, one of them so profoundly meaningful that it became "codified" as an additional meditation, taken from the Talmud:

My God, keep my tongue and my lips from speaking deceit, and to them that curse me let my soul be silent, and like dust to all. Open my heart in Your Torah, and let me run after Your commandments. As for those that think evil of me, speedily thwart their counsel and destroy their plots. Do this for Your name's sake, do this for Your right hand's sake, do this for the sake of Your holiness, do this for the sake of Your Torah. That Your beloved ones may rejoice, let Your right hand bring on salvation and answer me. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, Eternal, my rock and my redeemer. May the One who makes peace in the heavens make peace for us, for all Israel, and to this we say, Amen.

The radical humility with which we end is a complex expression of the radical humility with which we began. We bowed at our opening blessing in deference to our own sublimation to those who came before us. As we leave the sacred space of prayer, we do so with the meditation that ultimately, the very words we spoke to God are words that contain the key to redemption for all humankind. Let our words never lie. Let those of others never conspire against. In so far as we seek God through words, let words always be dedicated to divine service, to kindness and to love.

That we so often fail at the simple logic of that request, in part, explains, why the Sages instructed us to do this prayer three times a day.

Because in life, the more we do things, the better we get at it.

For better or worse.

In this case, hopefully, for better.

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