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שִׁירָה- song

Connected Meanings: a song, or to sing

Places You Will See this Word: The most famous place this word is found is twice right before the amidah.  we are reminded that moses and the people Israel sang on the banks of the sea of reeds. 

Deep Meaning: When I see this word I pause and try to let words leave me.  There is is this thing that singing does that is so different that speaking or sharing.  It has the power to touch the soul to speak a language deeper than words. It has the power to give our raw emotions expression and then to shape us into something more.  When you see this word pause and hum a tune.

עוזֵר- Helper

Connected Meanings: This word just means help, to help, be a helper, or other conjugations

Places You Will See this Word: There are two very famous places you will see formulations of this word.  One is in the story of Adam and Eve. Eve is described as an "ezer c'negdo" a "helper opposite him." Additionally, the amidah we sing "melech ozer umoshiah umagen." God is King, helper, savior, and shield.  

Deep Meaning: I think think their are two layers of meaning found in these two usages of the word.  The first comes from the list of things God is called.  "Helper," doesn't quite fit with the others.  Kingship, salvation, and protection are giant big life or death concepts.  "helper" really could be something small.  In that way this word is a reminder that it is easy to imagine God doesn't care about the small minutiae of our lives but in fact, our liturgy tells us that God is very much present as our helper.  The second, is perhaps to save Eve.  The idea of Eve as a "helper" is enormously problematic.  It imagines Eve without any of her own ideas or ambitions.  It defines her only in relation to Adam.  However, if "helper" is also a status conveyed to God that perhpas it also makes her Divine.  Perhaps it is she who is the aspiration and not Adam.  The higher mode of living is to see what we can do to help others.  That help becomes a purpose and an identity.  When we see this word in our prayers it is a reminder that we are obligated to work towards grand slavation but we are also obligated to help in the small moments throughout our day. 

חַדֵּשׁ- New

Connected Meanings: Chadesh also is the same root in chodesh or month.  M'chadesh means the one who renews or makes new. Also, in modern Hebrew when someone gets a hair cut or sometimes a new look you say "titchadesh" which means "you renewed yourself." 

Places You Will See this Word: The most notable place we see this word is in the morning service each day at the end of the first blessing before shema. we say a new light light will come forth to save us.  It is also earlier in the same blessing we call God "the One Who Renews Everything Each Day." Lastly, it is perhaps most famous in the book of Ecclesiastes where it says, "that there is nothing new under the sun."

Deep Meaning: Newness is a tricky concept.  When things are good we want to hold on to what we have. When things are not so good we pray for something new.  The nature of physics holds these two opposite truths.  On the one hand our cells are constantly creating new ones and recreating our existence on a cellular level. On the other hand, the Law of Conservation of Mass states that matter can neither be created or destroyed, which means Ecclesiastes is right on the essential nature of existence. There is a reason we follow the moon for our monthly cycle. It is a visible representation of the same principle.  We call it a "new moon" yet it is obviously the same moon that we see anew.  The same is true for our lives we can "titchadesh" renew ourselves everyday but the primal components of who we are ultimately are the same. 

דִבַּרְתָּ- You shall speak

Connected Meanings: this simple word to speak is at the core of being Jewish.  I looked up this formulation of the verb ldaber and it turns out in modern Hebrew it means "excessive talkativeness." It is almost the definition of being Jewish! God spoke and the world came into existence.  Much of our tradition is an oral tradition.  Schmoozing is a sacred component of our prayer experience.  Speaking is Being Jewish.

Places You Will See this Word: Everywhere! It is the beginning of the most common phrase in the Torah "God spoke to Moses saying..." It is the actual name of the ten commandments. In Hebrew they are called "aseret hadibrot" or the "ten utterances." It is throughout our liturgy either is quotes from the Bible or references to it. 

Deep Meaning: Speaking or better yet communicating is essential to living a life of meaning.  Being created in the image of God means that God has given us a piece of Godliness and it is our responsibility to spend our lives trying to share it. 

עָלֵינוּ - It's on us/It ours/it's our responsibility

Connected Meanings: The hebrew word "al" literally means on. Aleinu therefore literally means its on us. In most, if not all, liturgial applications its a deeper meanign of ownership and responsibility.  Sometimes as a command and sometimes as a blessing.  Since hebrew uses this simple word to mean "on" it gives us a physical feeling of connection when prayers are recited in the holy tongue.  The idea is not just that God is great but God's greatness is upon us.  It isn't just that God wants us to be good people its that the responsibility to be kind rests on our shelters as both a constant reminder and almost physical weight.  Aleinu means that blessings and responsibilities are difficult, important, and feel physical.

Places You Will See this Word: The most obvious is the first word in the prayer at the end of every service. In that context it is a command to praise God. it is also hidden in the evening service in the first bracha before the shema. there we say that God's kingship is upon us forever, meaning that we are forever God's special people.

Deep Meaning: There is a modern slang that comes close to the feeling this words conveys in Hebrew.  Some people say "I got you." It is a way of saying you will take care of someone. Perhaps, you are paying for lunch, or helping out with some project.  The phrase though as a physical feel to it.  I know standing up can be hard so "I got you." It is what we are saying back and forth to God.  Sometimes we are saying that God "has us" and sometimes that we "have God." 

יצִיאַת מִצְרָיִם - Exodus From Egypt

Connected Meanings: Mitzrayim is the word even for modern day egypt but yitzia is a much more flexible word.  Exodus is a fancy version but it is at its simplest form just "go out." In fact when you fulfill a mitzvah the same word is used the idea you have fullfilled your obligation by "sending it out." What is special about this connection the leaving of Egypt was both a regular leaving that requires logistics and planning and at the same time it is a grand Exodus and beginning of the Jewish People

Places You Will See this Word: this phrase is consitently in the blessing after the shema which focuses on redemption.  It is also present in the friday night kiddush, the ten commandments, and many other places. 

Deep Meaning: It is fascinating that our birth as a people came from a leaving.  We were a family first in the land of Israel. We gained the numbers in the land of Egypt. It was only when we marched out of Egypt and into the wilderness that we became a People and a Nation.  The message the Torah is teaching us is that when we want to do great things the first step is a step into the wilderness. 

הַנּוֹרָא - The Feared One

Connected Meanings: This word in hebrew has a double meaning in English.  We can either translate as "the one who is awed" or "the one who is feared." The basic premise is that God is very powerful.  That should inspire both fear and awe at the same time.  Fear, as a reminder that God is poweful and supporter of justice. Awed, as a reminder that we are God's special people and we are created in God's image and that power is part of us in a small way as well. 

Places You Will See this Word: Hanorah is one of the names of God found in the first blessing of the Amidah.  At the neilah service we chant a  famous piyut called el nora alilah, which again refers to God as fearsome.  In an opposite way the end of Adon Olam says "adonai li v'lo ira" "God is with me, I shall not fear." 

Deep Meaning: Another way this words turns against itself is in the difference between the amidah and adon olam.  In the Amidah God is to be feared in adon olam we say that we shall not fear because God is with us.  Fear, essentially, is a tricky thing.  Admitting fear is the only path to facing and moving past it.  Admitting our strength, might, and power can give us a feeling of bravery and possibility.  It can also leave us noticing all the harm we could cause or the way we could not live up to our expectations.  Usually, I talk about love in reference to God, but our tradition remind us that fear is there too.  Fear of not being good enough, fear of failing, fear of facing an Angry God.  That is why we end our prayers with the words of Adon Olam.  When we are afraid we can remember that God's might is with us and perhaps we can face those fears. 

הודוּ, תוֹדָה, מודִים - Thanks

Connected Meanings: Obviously, the concept of thanks is worthy of books and not just a short paragraph.  However, there is one hidden aspect I will share here.  In Hebrew another meaning of the word thanks is "confess." Sometimes we hold our gratitude in. We might be embarrassed, or worry about embarrassing others.  But, just as we confess our sins, confessing our gratitude can be enormously cathartic and important for personal and interpersonal growth. 

Places You Will See this Word: As a word for prayer it's everywhere.  However, it is a little bit of a tricky root and the various forms can be hidden.  I've given you a selection above but there are more.  It is the beginning of some psalms, it is a word used in other pslams, and perhaps most prominently in the private part of the amidah or doing the repetition it is the beginning of the third section of thanksgiving.  At that instance we bow when we say modim (thanks!)

Deep Meaning: To give thanks is the fundamental religious outlook on life.  The center of living a religious life ultimately recognizes that we are lucky to be alive.  However it is only the first step.  Gratitude by itself is like Hallmark, nice but not so much depth.  A religious approach to gratitude understand that that thankfulness also comes with responsibility.  It says, "I am blessed to be alive, so its my job to make sure this existence is just, whole, and good as it can be." 

מְחַיֵּה הַמֵּתִים - The One who gives life to the Dead

Connected Meanings: This concept has been understood differently throughout our tradition.  Different threads in our history have taken it literally and understood that when the Messiah comes all people will live again as we do now but without suffering.  Still others take it as a metaphor that in the end of times we will all live in the spiritual after life.  Still others imagine that God gives life to the Dead through the acts of ritual and memory.  When a loved one recites the kaddish, or does an act of tzedakah (charity) in the name of a loved one it is as if they live again.  However you understand these words our tradition that when we pass we are in the realm of God and it is through Godliness that we take on an aspect of eternity. 

Places You Will See this Word: There are a number of times that this aspect of Godliness is mentioned.  the most prominent is the second paragraph of the amidah where it is mentioned three times.  It is also present at the end of Yigdal. 

Deep Meaning: If you are troubled by this phrase you are not the first.  In the reform and reconstructionst prayer books they have changed it to "who gives life to all." Indeed parts of the Sim Shalom translation that we use skirts the issue by translating it as "master of life and death." One of religion's jobs is to help us comfront the deeply unsettling truth that our time is finite.  We will all die at some point.  However faith allows the possibilit that some part of us is eternal.  Some part of us exists before we are born and lingers after.  Physics too as a version of this.  Matter can neither be created or destroyed only changed form.  In a very real sense every atom in our body has always existed and always will. 

עֵץ חַיִּים - Tree of Life

Connected Meanings: When we refer to the Torah as a Tree of Life we are evoking a wide range of imagery. The torah which is something unnatural, meaning it does not grow up out of the ground, takes on aspect of natural beauty.  More than that we imagine that this very stagnant scroll is in fact growing.  Finally, just as trees provide life saving shade, food, and oxygen so to does the Torah give our life purpose and direction. 

Places You Will See this Word: This metaphor is quite prolific throughout our tradition even beyond our liturgy. The most well known place we hear these words is as we return the Torah to the ark we refer to the torah as a tree of life. The tree in the garden of eden is called the tree of life and death. the Torah is referred to as a tree of life. Occasionally God is referred to as a tree of life. Additionally, the wooden spools on either side of the Torah scroll are called Etz Chayim or "tree of life." Finally, the chumash we use on Saturday mornings is named Etz Chayim as well.  This metaphor is quite prolific throughout our tradition even beyond our liturgy. 

Deep Meaning: When we sing the words "etz chayim," we say the Torah is a tree of life to those who grasp/hold fast to it.  The word "lmachazikim" can be translated as grasp or hold fast.  it gives us a dual understanding of just what it takes for the Torah to be a tree of life. The Torah is just a book or a scroll if we leave it alone but if we reach out for it and grasp it can come alive. Then as we continue to learn from the Torah if hold fast to those teachings it can support us and grant us a long life full of strength and purpose. 

אָמַר - spoke

Connected Meanings: Speech is crucial in our understanding of existence.  The prayer Baruch She'amar refers to God as the "One Who Spoke." From the burning bush God communicates with Moses by speaking.  The lesson is that the words we choose to use have the possibility to create and change the world.  There is another side as well to this word in Hebrew.  It has the sound of the word "maror." You may remember it from the passover table to describe bitterness.  Words have a dark side as well. In addition to creating, they can destroy relationships, ideas, personalities. 

Places You Will See this Word: The most prominent placement is the prayer "baruch she'amar." It is the beginning of pezukei d'zimra, the service that prepares us for the shema and the amidah.  It is also part of the torah service, "vayhi binsoa haron, vayomer moshe." The ark begins to move and Moses speaks..." It is prominent in many torah verses and concludes the aleinu prayer.  It is often hidden in plain sight throughout our liturgy.  

Deep Meaning: From a different angle there is also almost always some bitterness when we use words to communicate.  Rarely do words adequately describe the ideas and feelings inside of us.  There is always space left between what we want to share and what is actually heard.  That space can feel bitter. the challenge we have is to live with both truths of "amar." We can never share enough to completely obliterate the bitterness but we must continue to try and create anyways. 

אוֹר- Light הַמֵּאִיר - one who lights 
הַמְּ֒אוֹרוֹת - the grand lights

Connected Meanings: As you can see the root referring to light takes on many different meanings.  It can be the light itself, the one who brings light, the light of the heavens, the light within, the light of angels. It can be the one who is lightened or the one who lights.  Each gradation is a reminder of the way in which light is something we all have, can share, and still crave. 

Places You Will See this Word: The most prominent placement of light doesn't actually use the word light.  We first think of Shabbat candles or Chanukah candles.  There the Hebrew refers to striking a fire and candles.  In our liturgy the first blessing before the shema is dedicated to the creation of existence.  The blessing in the morning is particularly focused on the creation of light.  It is understood to be the foundation of all creation as it was the first thing created. 

Deep Meaning: Have you ever stepped outside on the first sunny day after a series of gloomy ones? do you remember stepping onto the beach on the first warm day of summer? Have you ever stayed up all night and watched the sunrise?  These mundane moments show the power of light.  It's a ability to banish both literal and figurative darkness is uncanny.  When we talk about light in prayer we are asking for wholeness, blessing, and the possibility to see the world as good. 

אַהֲבָה - Love

Connected Meanings: Ahava comes with it the dual meaning of loyalty and love.  It both means the warm wonderful feeling of connection, of being seen, of being care for and the colder but still crucial feeling of committment.  It also means that even when that warmth is passing there is a responsibility for care and relationship. 

Places You Will See this Word: Ahava is most prominent in the shema when we are commanded to love God with all our might, all our strength, and all our soul. It is also found in the second blessing before the shema in which we imagine that God loves us by giving us the torah and by granting us shalom - wholeness.  It can also be found in the 7 blessings that marry us and sprinkled throughout the liturgy.

Deep Meaning: In addition the duality of love and loyalty, ahava carries with it its counter part ahuva -loved.  Throughout the liturgy there is a constant play on pronouns which makes it easy to be confused.  Are we talking about God loving us or us loving God. It is a reminder that the deepest form of love is one that is confused over who loves who.  Where the sharing and connection flows back and forth over the bond of the relationship

בָּרוּךְ - Blessed

Connected Meanings: Baruch also shares a root with the words for "knees" and "pool." Together that shows that being blessed both comes with respect like bended knee and blessing wells up like a pool of spiritual possibility

Places You Will See this Word: Baruch is ubiquitous. It starts every blessing. it is found in the morning blessings, throughout the amidah, and surrounding the shema

Deep Meaning: We, of course, hope to feel blessed in life.  It is interesting that we choose to start our most formal prayers by calling God "baruch" or blessed.  On the surface, this word is a projection of our own desires. On a deeper level it is a reminder of the concept of chosenness.  God feels blessed to have us as God's people.  Each time we say this word it is a reminder that God fundamentally loves us.

יְהֹוָה- Adonai

Connected Meanings: Adonai is a stand in which literally means "my lord." The word itself, our rabbis teach us, is not to pronounced.  The name is a verb that simoultaneously means, it "was," "is," and "will be."  Many translate it as "becoming"

Places You Will See this Word: Adonai is everywhere. It is our most special name for God.

Deep Meaning: God appears to Moses in the burning bush.  It is a fire that does not consume the thing it burns.  God is showing us that God exists in a different way then we do.  God is constantly present, fuels life and passion, and is also impossible to grasp firmly.  

מֶֽלֶךְ- King/Sovereign/Ruler 

Connected Meanings: melech is most literally king, but it carries with it malka, queen and in our liturgy it evokes power. 

Places You Will See this Word: melech is most commonly scene as part of the blessing formula but can be found elswhere as well. 

Deep Meaning: When we imagine God as ruler we are seeking to humble ourselves.  Everyday we expend enormous amounts of energy to be masters of our own destiny.  This name for God is a reminder that that endeavor is only one part of the equation.  there is always something greater, beyond our reach, and often beyond our comprehension. 

מָגֵן- Shield/Protector 

Connected Meanings: It also carries the word "gan" or garden inside it.

Places You Will See this Word: There are two likely places you will see this word.  The first is in the amidah at the end of the first blessing in which God is praised for being the "shield of Abraham." The second, is The star of David is called Magen David or the shield of David literally.  The idea is that this was King David's symbol and the sign of his protection.

Deep Meaning: In the context of the Amidah we are speaking enviously. Abraham was protected in all things, he not only survived, droughts, wars, internal family conflict, and numerous Divine tests. He also thrived and built an amazing legacy.  We are praising God for protecting Abraham and hoping for a little of that protection as well.  In Addition, the echo of the word garden provides a form for that protection.  We are not looking for the kind of static protection that preserves but rather a the kind of protection that gives space to grow.  We are asking God to keep us safe as we struggle to become our best selves.

Tue, January 18 2022 16 Shevat 5782