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מָזוֹן - Food/Susteance 

Connected Meanings: It is the word for food but it has the sense not just of any food but sustaible food.  Food that provides sustenance. the largest Jewish Non-profit that is working to combat hunger is called mazon

Places You Will See this Word: It is in the title of the prayer after eating and sprinkled throughout the content.

Deeper Meaning: by its existence this word implies two different kind of foods.  One is ochel or food at its most basic.  the other is Mazon, food as a way of existing.  It is a good approach to remember that when we eat it is a big deal.  

חֶסֶד - Love/Grace 

Connected Meanings: this word holds so many roots in it.  It is a kind of Divine love but it is also a word for shaming someone.  It is also is the root of the word Chasid we use to refer to ultra-orthodox Jews.  When we use this word we are tapping into the intense feeling Love can be.  

Places You Will See this Word: It sneaks into very prayers but it is most notable in the 13 attributes sung on non-shabbat holidays during the Torah Service.

Deeper Meaning: By acknowledging the connection between love and shame and then claiming that this word is one of God's attributes.  We are reminded that real love comes from being vulnerable.  It is only true if it hurts when it isn't returned.  Love is only lasting if you share parts of yourself that give the other person power over you. 

תַּחֲנוּן- Supplication 

Connected Meanings: It is the name of a special set of prayers that comes after the amidah and before the torah service. 

Places You Will See this Word: the word itself is used in the talmud and a few times in the torah but it is not directly in our liturgy but is a category of prayer

Deeper Meaning: In Judaism most of our prayers are set, organized, and pre-prepared.  Tachanunim are meant to be outpourings of our hearts.  They are the acknowledgement that sometimes someone else's words, or even words themselves are not enough.  Sometimes we need to just share our feelings with the Creator of All. 

מְנוּחָתִיMy resting place

Connected Meanings: In this form the word is talking about Israel.  It is calling the holy land the place where God rests.  In this case it has the feel of resides, but also does less action.  One feel might be God does not need to be the God of judgement there becuase things just go well. 

Places You Will See this Word: It is the last word of psalm 95 at the beginning of kabalat shabbat

Deeper Meaning:  Shabbat is Yom Menucha, the day of rest.  God to refering to the Holy Land as the resting place is no accident.  It is a reminder of the intertwined nature of place and time in Jewish tradition.  You can be "at rest" in either.  You can be whole in the land of Israel or when you pause from you life and break.  When we see this word we ask ourselves where or when is our resting place and how much time do we spend there? 

נְקַבְּלָה -  We will Recieve

Connected Meanings: In context it is either talking about receiving shabbat or the Torah.  Both are gifts bestowed upon us by God.  Hidden in plain sight is also the word "kabalah" which is a spiritual approach to Judaism.  Kabbalah imagines that all of existence is a manifestation of different aspects of God interacting with each other.  In that way, the better we choose to live the more Godliness we uncover in the world.  When we see this word we are challenged to unlock more Godliness with better choices. 

Places You Will See this Word: It is most notable as the last word in the refrain of lecha dodi

Deeper Meaning: The idea that we "recieve" the Torah and Shabbat reminds to put the lens of "gift" upon these experiences.  Both of these acitivties can easily become burdens.  Torah learning is not always something we jump up with excitement like tickets to a concert, or a reservation at a fancy restaurant.  It is also easy to focus on all of the "can'ts" of shabbat and miss the "can's."  When we see this word on Friday nights we are challenged to shift our focus and see the opportunities for deeper understanding, greater connection, and a life of meaning and purpose. 

יִתְגַּדַּל - May it be Big

Connected Meanings: this is the verb form of the word big.  In the Kaddish we are praying for God's name to be Big, huge, great, known etc. 

Places You Will See this Word: it's the first word in every kaddish

Deeper Meaning: It is possible for God to be small, for people not to think about the Divine.  If God is big, if God looms large, then God has a better chance to influence and guide us. 

זִכָּרון- memorial

Connected Meanings: The root of this word has the responsibilty to remember shabbat with kiddush, to remember our loved ones with yizkor, four our loved one's memories to always be a blessing, and for God to remember our ancestors and bless us. 

Places You Will See this Word: It is in the first paragraph of the amidah, the kiddush, and as an epithet for all of our loved ones who have passed.

Deeper Meaning: The root word "zecher" can be memory or name/reputation.  In otherwords, the way people remember you is also your influence on the world.  It is a reminder that far greater than any physical might, business acumen, or other great skills, our greatest power is the way we make people feel.  At the end of each day, when we ask ourselves, "did I do good today?" One way of answering is by answering the question, "how did i make people feel today?"

שָמור- Guard/Keep

Connected Meanings: I always love that anyone who goes to a Jewish camp knows this word.  Shmira which is another formulation is the name given to counselors whose job it is to keep the kids safe and making good choices.  In this context we are told to Shamor shabbat. we have to protect shabbat and keep it safe.  Bad choices can erode it's meaning and purpose.  

Places You Will See this Word: It's most prevelenat location is in the Lechad dodi and the ten commandments.  Both are about protecting shabbat. It is also in the priestly blessing which we ask God to protect or keep us. 

Deeper Meaning: There is a pretty subtle between protect and keep.  This word, however, means both of these words. On the one hand we pray for protection that we stay safe.  On another we hope to keep a part of ourselves identifiable as oursleves.  The world is so complicated and full of so many difficulties it is possible to wake up an not recognize yourself.  Thus, we ask God to "keep" us.  

מַבְדִּיל - Separates

Connected Meanings: Havdallah is the noun "separation." Mavdil  is the verb "separate."  HaMavdil is "the one who separates" 

Places You Will See this Word: The evening and morning services talk about separating between light and dark.  Each saturday night and at the end of yom kippur we have havdallah the service of separation. 

Deeper Meaning: The essential act of creation is God separating.  In many ways the journey of our lives is getting better at separating. Babies see a mush of colors and sounds.  As we get older we get better at defining, separating, and telling one thing from another.  While, we spend much of our spiritual time trying to unite, the prevalence of this word is a reminder that there is also meaning in separation.  Understtanding boundries can be a great source of strength and power  in the world.  

צוּר- Rock

Connected Meanings: It is easily the most concrete metaphor used to describe God.

Places You Will See this Word: Right before the morning amidah and as part of the end of the psalm for shabbat. 

Deeper Meaning: This word becomes a foundational image for God.  When all else fails God is the rock that supports us. God is solid, present, and unchanging.  The interesting thing hidden in this metaphor is how often it doesn't feel true.  in this way the word itself becomes a prayer.  "please God be the rock I need."

בר/בת/בני מצוה - Son/Daughter/Children of Commandments

Connected Meanings: It refers to a person who has reached the age of majority and is now responsible for the commandments

Places You Will See this Word: it is not explicit in the siddur but the notion is that prayer is availble to all but only those who have reached the age of bar/bat/bnai mitzvah are responsible for prayer.

Deeper Meaning: It is not an accident that the hebrew phraseology frames responsibility as parent/child.  We are responsible to be respectful of prayer, to be dilligent toward prayer, and to love prayer.  If we are able to struggle through with that responsibilty then perhaps prayer will be like a comforting parent who provides a foundation for the rest of our lives. 

ה' צְבָאות- The Lord of Hosts

Connected Meanings: It is a name of God that refers to God as a the ultimate miliatry leader.  the hosts are another word for legions or batallions.  

Places You Will See this Word: It is prominient in the evening prayers right after barchu but reappears throughout the siddur. 

Deeper Meaning: The Hosts of Heaven is another way to describe the stars in the sky.  Alternatively it means the armies of angels that work God's will.  It is a name for God that acknowledges a dual truth.  First, that God is mighty and strong in a literal way, or at least we pray for God to be strong.  The second, is that the world is the kind of scary place that might require the protection of the Lord of Hosts.  When we invoke this name we both realize our true vulnerability and imagine the deep protection that God provides. 

הַגָּדול - The Big one

Connected Meanings: Gadol simply means big. 

Places You Will See this Word: it is found in the first paragraph of every amidah. 

Deeper Meaning: In hebrew the feel of gadol is closer to "looms large." It means important, stand out, bettter than the rest.  In the context of God it asks us how might God be "gadol" in our lives?

קָרְבְּנות - Sacrifices

Connected Meanings: Hidden in the word sacifice is both the word for "close" or "near," and the word for "family member." This serves as the dual reminder that if you want to be close you often have to sacrifice in order to open yourself up and that if you want your families to be close often sacrificing your own needs/wants is part of the gig.  

Places You Will See this Word: In the Musaf amidah we pray for a return or at least an honoring of the times in which there was one central Temple. In the various iterations of the musaf amidah we remind ourselves of the appropriate sacrifices

Deeper Meaning: This was the orginal prayer.  giving something of yourself that you did not neccesarily get back.  In other words, if you wanted to talk to God, you had to give up something.  The symbol still exists today and the sacrifice has been whittled down to its most pure: time. If you want to talk to god you ahve to give up precious minutes of your day.  Of course, the reward is a potential relationship with the Creator of All.  However, holding on to that cost benefit analysis is very hard in the thick of our busy schedules. 

בֵית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ - The Holy Temple

Connected Meanings: Literally, it means The House of Holiness.  It is the special name for the original Temple that had the altar, the holy of holies, and the Ark of the Covenant

Places You Will See this Word: In the Musaf amidah we pray for a return or at least an honoring of the times in which there was one central Temple.

Deeper Meaning: We have a lot of different words we use for the place we go to pray: Synagogue, Shul, Temple, Beit Kenneset, Beit Mikdash. Each word carries a different flavor.  What I personally think about is that when we name out space we are trying to hold onto what makes the space special for us as individuals, for as a local Jewish Community, for us as a global Jewish Community, and for us as a Jewish Community throughout time.  When we see this word we are fundamentally asking ourselves what spaces are "holy" in our lives? and how often do we go to them?

קָדוֹשׁ - holy

Connected Meanings: In some forms its holy, in others its sanctify, and still others it's holiness.  In all forms this root is about somehow being special and/or connected to God 

Places You Will See this Word: The kedushah in the amidah is the "holy prayer." In it we say "kadosh kadosh kadosh." Kadish shalem is litterally a full holy. Hatzi Kaddish is a "half holy." Mourner's kaddish is a "mourner's holy." Last but certainly not least we say "kiddush" which is "sanctify" or "to make holy.

Deep Meaning: Kedusha or holiness is central to the very fluid and flexible theology at the heart of Judaism.  Essentially this word empowers us regular people to discover holiness, create holiness, and imbue holiness.  With this word, God is telling us that in order to find Divinity it takes a conscious act on our part.  God is only revealed where we seek God out.

אֱלהֵינוּ - Our God

Connected Meanings: The word "el" is the biblical generic word for a god.  Any local religion might have had their own "el." In a sense this is the simplest and truest name of God.  It is simply the God who is ours. 

Places You Will See this Word: Everywhere! It is part of the blessing formula, and is found in numerous other locations. 

Deep Meaning: There is a confusing incosistency hidden in this word.  Eloheinu is in the plural.  It literally translates to "Our Gods."  Obviously, this is deeply problematic from a monotheistic religion.  A simple answer is that it is a form of the "royal we." A deeper understanding is that the God of the Jewish people is one but is also a plurality.  It is the name we give to all of the many ways we connect to the Creator of all.  When we experience a particularly moving piece of art, we experience a little of Our God.  When we accomplish something we are particularly proud of we experience a little of Our God.  When we feel an enormous pride in our loved ones we experience a little of Our God. Each of these experiences are different in specific but in their core they are all "Eloheinu." 

עונֶג- Pleasure

Connected Meanings: The word means both pleasure and enjoyment.  It ist he word for things that feel good.  It is interesting that we don't just pray for salvation, world peace, etc. We also pray to have things be "yummy" in every sense of the word. 

Places You Will See this Word: It shows up in a lot of prayers about shabbat and is most notably in the "magen avot" paragraph that comes on friday night after the amidah. 

Deep Meaning: we sometimes use the word "oneg" to mean a yummy snack after services on friday night.  This comes from the teaching that having joy/pleasure on shabbat is not just a nice thing to do but is in fact a mitzvah, a commandment from God.  We say it was instituted by the prophets that on Shabbat we must do/eat things that make us feel good.  here's to a real shabbat shalom full of oneg!

מַלְאָך- Angel

Connected Meanings: This word means both "angel" and "messenger." This concept is foundational to Jewish thinking.  Throughout Jewish literature there is deep concern about being someone else's messenger.  In fact, to this day, we often will give someone going to Israel a bit of money for charity.  They idea is that once they take the money they are you messenger for a mitzvah.  Our theology imagines that God protects such a messenger.  The underlying truth this shares is that if you want a full life it is in service.  It is about prioritizing the needs of the world and becoming God's messenger. 

Places You Will See this Word: shalom aleichem, una tana tokef on the high holy days, the haggadah, and anytime our prayers talk about the angels

Deep Meaning: God's highest creations are messenger's of Divine will.  Our job is to try and model ourselves after these holy creatures.  How might we become God's messenger?

כַּכָּתוּב - So it is written

Connected Meanings: This is a technical phrase referencing Tanach (Torah, Prophets, and Writings)

Places You Will See this Word: Aleinu, Amidah, kedusha

Deep Meaning: Praying can be hard so we often borrow words from our most sacred texts.  This is meant to ground us, root us in tradition, and give us some confidence as we try and approach the Creator of All.  One thing we might ask when we see this word is what Wisdom do we need to draw upon at this moment in our life?

טַהֵר לִבֵּנוּ - Purify our Hearts

Connected Meanings: While "lev" means "heart" most of the time there are actually nine different meanings listed in the dictionary: midst (of things), heart (of man), soul, heart (of man), mind, knowledge, thinking, reflection, memory, inclination, resolution, determination (of will), conscience, heart (of moral character), as seat of appetites, as seat of emotions and passions, as seat of courage

Places You Will See this Word: Shabbat and Festival Amidah

Deep Meaning: While the meaning of purity has changed over time, in the context of our prayers, purity has to do with our intentions. We ask God to help us resist negative urges and engage in things that help us grow spiritually like prayer, Jewish ritual and acts of kindness.

פִי - My Mouth

Connected Meanings: The letter peh actually looks like an open mouth

Places You Will See this Word: Beginning and end of Amidah, Nishmat Kol Chai

Deep Meaning: If eyes are the window to the soul, our lips are the gateway to our minds. Our tradition teaches us that words have the ability to build or destroy—it is up to us to decide what we will say.

דודִי - My lover/close friend

Connected Meanings: There are two additional meanings to this word. One is a "pot." The other is "mandrake." It adds texture to the idea of intimate relationship.  On the one hand having someone you are close to can be like a pot that makes food that nourishes.  Mandrakes are also a fertility solution.  Again a close relationship is the key to bringing more life and possibilty in the world.  

Places You Will See this Word: It is part of lecha dodi the prayer we use to welcome the shabbat bride.

Deep Meaning: The most famous usage is a line from Song of Songs "ani l'dodi v'dodi li." It translates to "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine." Hidden in this word is the idea that when you love someone you give them a part of yourself and hopefully they share a part of themselves as well. 

אֹיְ֒בִים - Enemies

Connected Meanings: Enemies, namely those who persecute the Jewish people and those who obstruct justice in the world

Places You Will See this Word: the weekday Amidah, Hashkivenu in the Maariv service

Deep Meaning: As we know, there are plenty of enemies without—especially those who wish to discriminate against or hurt Jews. But there are also enemies within—jealousy, fear, egocentricity—that keep us from reaching our highest potential. In prayer, we ask God to help us overcome both.

כְּבוֹד- Respect

Connected Meanings: Respect, glory--often referring to God’s presence in the context of prayer

Places You Will See this Word: The Kedusha, the whispered line of the Shema, Ashrei

Deep Meaning: Rabbi Ben Zoma teaches. “Who is honored? One who honors their fellow human beings” (Pirke Avot 4:1). By honoring others, we also honor Hashem, their Creator.

אֱמֶת- Truth

Connected Meanings: truth- This word also often affirms Divine power and wisdom.  In Hebrew the word Emet also has the texture of the word "faith." It is not just that you are talking about truth but it is truth that must be believed in. 

Places You Will See this Word: Third paragraph of the shema, connection to the following paragraph, blessing after the torah reading

Deep Meaning: The Hebrew word emet is comprised of letters Aleph, Mem and Taf—the first, middle and last letters of the Hebrew Aleph-Bet. This teaches that the truth is comprised of all of the parts of a story—or even multiple perspectives. Furthermore, if we were to imagine each of these letters standing up, each would make multiple points of contact with the ground. This signifies that the truth grounds us in our daily lives.  

שבָּת- rest/day of rest

Connected Meanings: This word is tricky because it is so common but its original meaning is often hidden under many layers of colloquial meaning.  The very first time it is used is at the beggining of the second chapter of Genesis as God concludes the 7 days of creation.  there is a verb that means "cease," "desist," or "rest." There you get a very specific meaning that Shabbat, each time it arises is meant to be a pause.  

Places You Will See this Word: it's all over the shabbat liturgy. It's in l'cha dodi, the amidah, kiddush, psalm for shabbat etc. 

Deep Meaning: One of the common problems with the whole concept of Shabbat in English is that the word "work" is super loaded for us.  We think about our job, our responsibilities, our work.  In Hebrew though the implication is different.  Shabbat is not just a break from work, it's meant to be a break from creation.  For 6 days are job is to labor to change, remake, and better the world.  For 1 day it is our job to breathe, take the world as it is, and enjoy it. When you wish someone a "shabbat shalom." You are wishing them a full shabbat, a taste of perfection.

אֲבותֵינוּ- Our Ancestors/Patriarchs

Connected Meanings: One of the tricky truths of this word is that it mean our fathers, our patriarchs, and our ancestors.  Depending on which word you use changes the texture of the prayers its found in.  I think trying to hold onto all three allows a reminder that we are a nuclear family, an vastly extended family, and a family with a specific story.

Places You Will See this Word: This word is featured most prominantly in the first paragraph of the amidah

Deep Meaning: Being Jewish is about revering our own individual family story as well as our larger Jewish story.  This word tries to connect in to both.  There are specific storis of our ancient ancestors that inform our Jewish identity with welcoming, pride, passion, learning, leadership, and kindness.  There are also individual family stories that tell us what it means to be the next generation.  When we see this word we try and hold on to both strands. 

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.


Wed, June 19 2024 13 Sivan 5784