Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Poetry of (Amida) Prayer

Shemoneh Esreh has a message for the Jewish People. It is not only a glorified laundry list of Man to God; it also can teach us about ourselves and our destiny. Anshei Knesset Hagedola--the great tribunal of sages--poetically inserted a moving message in the supplication section of the Amidah. This section should be split into two equal sets of six blessings: the first focuses on individual needs of knowledge, repentance, forgiveness, redemption, health, blessing; the second is devoted to nationalist aspirations of redemption.

Ingathering of exiles
Justice system
Enemies from within and without
Restoration of Jerusalem
Messianic resumption of the Davidic line

Were the rabbis in the first centuries after the destruction of the Temple and the exile from the land providing for us a random list of nationalist desires, or were they hinting at a recipe for the return from exile and the re-establishment of the monarchy?

I believe the latter.

Somewhere in the protracted exile the persecuted, wandering Jews misread the code of these six blessings and substituted the process for an acquiescence that only Messiah son of David can miraculously return them to their native land. But the PROGRESSION in these six blessings intimates otherwise.

Consider the process:
First return to the land, naturally, physically. Then, once the Jewish people have returned to their homeland, set up a justice system built on the idyllic partnership of divine inspiration and human application--"Elohim nitzav beadat el, bekerev Elohim yishpot" (God stands firm in the congregation of judges, amidst the judges He discerns".

After we have the people and we begin the process of developing a justice system we will have to contend with schisms, corruptions, and downright evil individuals attempting to torpedo this nascent society. In response and somewhere in the middle of the process we will desire true leaders who are an extension of the builders of the land and the progeny of the returnees to the land.

Finally, after the more physical necessities are in place the time will come to re-establish Zion as God's throne and reignite the Davidic monarchy, paving the way for God's ultimate salvation.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Summing It All Up

Over the course of the year I have been teaching, guiding, administrating and developing a group of girls who came for a year experience Israel. Wide-eyed, open-minded, with a Faustian desire to soak in as much as possible about Israel, I attempted to create an atmosphere of learning, living, and loving Eretz Yisrael.

If I had to sum up the philosophy and actualization of Midreshet Tzvia I would choose psalm 48, verse 9: "kaasher shamanu, ken rainu" "As we have heard, so we have seen". What is so unique about this simple verse?

1 A song, a psalm of the Sons of Korah.
2 Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise,
in the city of our God—His holy mountain.
3 It is beautiful in its loftiness,
the joy of the whole earth.
Mount Zion, the summit of Zaphon, it is
the city of the Great King.
4 God is in her citadels;
He has shown Himself to be her fortress.
5 When the kings joined forces,
when they advanced together,
6 they saw her and were astounded;
they panicked in terror.
7 Trembling seized them there,
pain like that of a woman in the throes of labor.
8 [You destroyed them] like ships of Tarshish
shattered by an east wind.
9 As we have heard,
so have we seen
in the city of the Lord Almighty,
in the city of our God:
God makes her secure forever, selah.
10 In Your temple, God,
we meditate on Your unfailing loving-kindness.
11 Like Your name, God,
Your praise reaches to the ends of the earth;
Your right hand is filled with justice.
12 Let Mount Zion rejoice,
the satellites of Judah be glad
because of Your judgments.
13 Walk around Zion, circle her,
count her towers,
14 consider well her ramparts,
pass through her citadels,
so that You may tell of them to the next generations.
15 For this God is our God forever and ever;
He will lead us eternally.

Psalm 48 is about Israel. It is grammatically divided into past, present and future. After describing the unique qualities of Zion--beautiful, joy of the whole earth, summit of Tzafon, the city of the great king--the psalm records an historical event in which God rained down trepidation and bewilderment to Jerusalem's would-be attackers.

The event could be associated with Abraham's battle against the four kings; Hezekiah's miraculous survival at the hands of Sennacherib; Maccabees against the Seleucid Greeks, or many other miraculous events in ancient history.

The psalm then provides us four magical words which anyone touring and learning about Israel experiences day n day out: That which we have learned as being part of ancient history when God overtly protected Jerusalem and the nation inhabiting it--that which we heard, we too have seen in our own modern day, contemporary lives.

Take off the blinders and you will see every corner of Israel as part of this truly remarkable continuous narrative of 'ir Elohim' the city of God, 'ir eloheinu' the city of Our God.

The Psalms concluding message--circle Zion--is the indubitable secret to our victory: circle her, count her towers, consider her ramparts, pass through her citadels. This will enable us to continue to tell the story of Jerusalem, our Jerusalem, God's Jerusalem, for eternity.

At Tzvia we consistently experienced the magic of Israel. Whether through the geography or the history; the social interaction or its creativity; of course through it all using Torah as our supreme guide, I can now confidently say--As we have heard, so too we have seen.