Friday, February 7, 2014

amida (Berakha 7), God, our next of kin

ראה נא בענינו וריבה ריבנו  

Please [God] see our suffering and fight our fights, and to grant us a complete salvation, for the sake of Your name, because You are a powerful GO-EL. Blessed are You , God, the GO-EL of Israel.

In this berakha we ask God for His assistance and deliverance.

The key to understand this prayer is the Hebrew word GO-EL. GO-EL means "redeemer".  In some contexts this term refers to the Messiah. The Messianic times are also known as the days of GE-ULA, the redemption of Israel and the return to the Land of Israel. In the next section, when we ask God to fulfill our national requests, we will have two specific berakhot for these subjects. One berakha in which we ask haShem to bring us back to Israel, and the other in which we ask HaShem to bring us the Messiah, a descendent of King David.  

Thus, in the context of this berakha GO-EL should not be connected to the Mashiah or our National GE-ULA. GO-EL in this berakha means: 'next of kin' or 'closest relative'.

According to Jewish Law it is the duty of the GO-EL or 'next of kin' to help his relatives in moments of need. The best example is Boaz and Naomi. Boaz, a relative of Elimelekh,  assists Naomi, Elimelekh's widow, and takes care of her and her daughter in law Ruth.  We need to bear in mind that Elimelekh betrayed his own people leaving to Moab, enemy territory. We could have assumed that Elimelekh's relatives should not deserve anymore the next of kin's assistance. We see, however, that the duties of the GO-EL supersedes considerations of merit.

In this berakha we appeal to God as 'our next of kin', 'our closest relative', asking Him to assist us and deliver us from suffering. We beseech HaShem as our GO-EL, certain that He will assist us, even if we do not have enough merit to deserve His intervention in our behalf.


Candle Lighting:   5:02pm

Shabbat ends:       6:00 pm.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

'amida (berakha 6) Father vs King

סלח לנו אבינו כי חטאנו , מחול לנו מלכנו כי פשענו 

"Forgive us, our Father, because we have inadvertently sinned; pardon us, our King, because we have rebelled [against You]"

In the 6th berakha of the Amida we ask HaShem Almighty for forgiveness.

We refer to God with two key words: abinu and malkenu

abinu means "Our father". As we have previously explained, we Jews believe that God loves us as we love our children. We appeal to HaShem first as our loving father. Confident that no matter how bad we might have behaved, we know He will always take us back. Same as a loving but responsible parent, all God demands from us to forgive our offenses toward Him, is that we take charge and admit our responsibility.   When we refer to God as "our father" we describe our sins as "hat aim" or inadvertent wrongdoings. We excuse ourselves saying that our general intention is to do good, but sometimes we make mistakes or we fail to control our impulses...

But we also know that God is malkenu, our King. The King is the ultimate authority. In ancient monarchies, Israel included, the King was also the supreme Judge, and among other things the King had the power to sentence his subjects to death. Every time we say melekh we are stating that our lives are at His mercy. When addressing God as a King we use the word pasha'nu, we rebelled against You. We disobeyed You. We don't excuse ourselves as before.

abinu and malkneu often come together to express that God is the One who granted us the gift of life (abinu), and He is also the One who can take life away from us (malkenu). The tension between these two words is solved at the end of this berakha: "Barukh Ata haShem, hanun hamarbe lisloah" we say that HaShem is merciful, and that He forgives abundantly. At the end of this prayer we assert, and simultaneously wish for, that God as "our father" prevails over God as "the King". As a loving parent He will see our sins as mistakes, not rebellion. And He will be waiting for us to come back to Him.

אני שלום וכי אדבר המה למלחמה


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Rabbi Binyamin Musafia (1606-1675)

Rabbi Binyamin ben Emanuel Musafia was born in Spain in 1606. He belonged to a family of "conversos", Jews that were forced to convert and pretend to live as Christians, while studying Tora and observe Jewish law in secret.  In Spain he studied medicine and at a young age he went to Hamburg where he was able to practice openly his Jewish faith.  

While in Hamburg he was invited to serve as a physician in the Danish-Norway Monarchy. He was the personal doctor of King Christian the IVth. Here in 1640 he composed his first book in Latin:   "Sacro-Medics" a book that contains 650 different medical advices, cures and antidotes coming from the Hebrew Bible. He signed his name in Latin  "Dionysius Manuel"

In 1642 he went to Amsterdam. When his wife died, six years after their wedding, he composed in her honor a book called "zekher rab", in this book he took all the nouns and verbs of the Hebrew Bible in thematic order and composed for each term pomes of praise and prayer to haShem.  This extraordinary book was reprinted in Germany in 1868 by rabbi Naftali Hertz with footnotes mentioning the sources of each term.  To download this book click  here.   

At his old age Rabbi Musafia served as the rabbi of the Sephardic community of Amsterdam (Spanish -Portuguese). At this time he wrote a commentary on the Talmud of Jerusalem which was never published.  In those days 1664-1665 the false Messiah Shabbetai Zebi was acclaimed by most Jewish communities and Rabbis.  The community of Amsterdam was no exception, and apparently, rabbi Musafia was also a supporter of Shabettai Zebi until the false Messiah converted to islam in 1666.   As rabbi David Margaliot explains, unfortunately most rabbis of that time fell naively into this belief, more for psychological than from philosophical reasons.  

The main contribution of Rabbi Binyamin Musafia is a book called "Musaf he'arukh", a supplement to the famous book "he'arukh". The book "he'arukh" written in the 11th century by Rabbi Nathan ben Yehiel from Roma, is one of the most important books of Jewish linguistic. A comprehensive dictionary of difficult words found in the Talmud and Midrash.  The sefer he'arukh was extensively used by great rabbis, for example, Rashi (see TB Shabbat 13b) who quoted the 'arukh as an authoritative book . Rabbi Musafia wrote a multiple-volumes supplement to that book: "Mosif he'arukh".  Rabbi Musafia was an expert in classic literature and languages, and the Talmudic Literature contains approximately 3000 terms coming from Greek or Latin. His contribution was thus priceless. 
He died in Amsterdam in 1675. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

'amida (Berakha 5) The gift of repentance

כי לא תחפוץ במות המת, כי אם בשובו מדרכו וחיה 

In this berakha we ask God to assist us in the process of our teshuba (=repentance). Literally, teshuba  means "coming back", returning to the right path.  

We say in this berakha:

Bring us back, our Father, to Your Tora...

The Rabbis define sinning as temporary insanity en adam ba lide het... 'a person would not sin, unless he is possessed by a [temporary] spirit of foolishness'. When we are seized by ambition, lust, jealousy, etc. our mind is clouded. Once we recover our wisdom, as we have requested in the previous blessing, the first thing we realize is that abandoning the right path, the path of virtue, was not a good idea. Still, the way back is not always simple. Thus, we ask for divine assistance to come back to the path of the Tora. 

And bring us closer, our King, to Your service (la'abodatekha).

'aboda  is God's service. It consists in the application of what we study in the Tora. That is why we assert that first we should get back to study Tora, which would lead us to serve God. 

And make us return to You...

When we say: "bring us" , "make us",  we do not mean literally that we expect God to do these actions for us, while we remain passive.  We are in complete charge of our moral actions.  We, humans, were blessed with freedom of choice. What we are asking God is for His help, assistance and inspiration to come back to Him and His Tora.

Baruch Ata.. haRotse bitshuba.  Blessed are you, God, who desires (our) repentance. 

We assert now that God "wants" us to return to Him.  A very important Jewish principle is that God loves us like a father loves his children. As a loving father, God does not take enjoyment in punishing a bad son. All God wants from His children is for them to coming back to the right path. That is why we dare to ask God to assist us in our return to Him. We know that God "wants" our repentance, because He loves us and He desires our good.