Thursday, January 30, 2014

Amida (berakha 4), the miracle of intelligent life

Ata honen la-adam da'at...,  You grant humans wisdom...

This berakha inaugurates the second section of the 'amida, "Request" (baqasha), the blessings in which we ask God for our material needs. In this berakha we ask God to grant us "wisdom" or "intelligence".  But why asking "wisdom" before anything else?

Because without wisdom we will not be able to identify the gifts and blessings that we already have, which is essential for knowing what do we really need. We need wisdom, in addition, to differentiate between what we "need" from what we just "want" or "wish". Moreover, without wisdom we will not even know "what" to ask from God. Or what to do with the blessings that God would eventually grant us. We might think that we need urgently money or success. But without wisdom, money and success might be counterproductive. 
Additionally, this blessing teaches us a very important principle. "Ata honen..." means: YOU (=God)' grant humans the gift of wisdom/intelligence.  Intelligence/wisdom is God's gift to the human specie. Our brain is remarkably similar to that of monkeys.  Yet, we humans are endowed with "intelligence" which is not an extension of our biological make-up, and cannot be justified in evolutionary terms.  Intelligence is not a biological natural feature like sight, hearing or a digestive system. Without intelligence we would be able, somehow, to survive as a specie.  But we wouldn't be able to connect with God, to learn or teach His Tora, or to choose between right and wrong.  Intelligence is what make humans unique among all living species. In this berakha we assert that intelligence is a  God-given, miraculous, supernatural gift humans were endowed with. 

"vehonenu me-itekha..."

We ask God, the source of wisdom, to bestow upon us three types of intelligence 

HOKHMA: Hokhma refers to creativity. The capacity a person needs to see or discover something new, when everyone is looking at the same things. The ability to develop a new idea. This is also, we say, a gift from HaShem

BINA: Once a new idea is discovered we need bina, practical wisdom to effectively apply an idea. Some people may be gifted with bina and not with hokhma, or vice-versa. 

DA'AT: Da'at refers to the good "judgment" that we develop by life-experience. Yet, people differ in what or how they learn from experience. Some people are so gifted that they posses the ability to learn from other's experiences. Some have the ability to learn from their own experience, and others have a hard time to learn even from their own experiences.  

In all these intellectual fields, we say, we need HaShem's assistance and inspiration. 

Israel Vs. Europe on circumcision 

Israel Knesset-produced film to combat a Parliamentary Assembly of the Congress of Europe resolution seeking to limit ritual circumcision.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

'amida (berakha 3), the limits of our understanding

The third blessing of the 'amida is also the shortest one. In this berakha we state that HaShem is "qadosh"; and that so is His name; and so are those who praise Him every day: the people of Israel .

But, what is "qadosh"?

It is impossible to translate this Hebrew term with just one word in English. "Qadosh" means: special, unique, different, consecrated and sometimes: "inaccessible or out of reach".

One example: in Hebrew qiddushin (from the same root as "qadosh" q-d-sh) means marriage. When a man marries a woman, she is consecrated (mequddeshet) to him, becoming for him unique, special and different from the rest of the women. At the same time, by being consecrated to her husband this woman is now "inaccessible" to any other bachelor.

In the context of our berakha, when referring to God as qadosh we hint to our inability to really perceive God, or God's Almighty-ness.

When saying ATA QADOSH we are stating that "God, is beyond our intellectual reach". God remains concealed to us.   Why do we emphasize this message here, at the end of these blessings of "Praise"?

Because in the two previous berakhot we have acknowledged God's intervention in history (Abot), from our ancestors until the future go'el (mashiah); we have said that God is Great, All- Powerful and Magnificent, and we have described and praised God's powers, His blessings, His miracles. By saying ata qadosh we convey a philosophical disclaimer, recognizing that no matter how much we have praised Him or will praise Him, we do not presume to really "know" God or to have praised Him exhaustively. Rather, what we just said about God is the little we grasp of Him from our human perspective.

VESHIMKHA QADOSH, and 'Your name is qadosh'. We are also incapable of grasping His name -the name of four letters- which conveys the idea of infinitude and eternity, concepts that lie beyond our intellectual capacities .

UQDOSHIM BEKHOL YOM. Still, the qedoshim, God's people, those who are consecrated to You (=Israel), praise You every day, as much as we are capable of praising You. An almost identical message constitutes the core of the qaddish (also from the root q-d-sh): le'ela min kol birkhata, etc. Your praise is beyond any praise that could be said of You.

BARUKH ATA HASHEM HA-EL HAKADOSH: Blessed are You, God, Whose power and praise remains 'far beyond our reach'.

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PM Stephen Harper's
Speech at the Knesset
Canada supports Israel fundamentally because it is right to do so.