Rabbi Gordon Tucker’s “Rega Shel Tefillah”
During Machzor Sheini (Second Session) of kayitz 2023, Rabbi Gordon Tucker shared a regular “Rega Shel Tefillah” with the tzevet (staff) in our Tzevet WhatsApp group!
Here is an archive of these beautiful mini-divrei tefillah from Rabbi Tucker:
The Pattern in our Tefillot: Dear Tzevet (and especially Rashei Edot and Vaadei Tefillah), this is Rabbi Tucker, and I will try to offer a daily fact or insight about Tefillah that may be useful for your Edot. Here’s today’s thought: A recurring pattern in many of our prayers is this three part sequence: (1) Creation of the World, (2) The Gift of Torah (Revelation), and (3) Future Redemption. The Berakhot surrounding the Shema are not random — they follow exactly this pattern. “Yotzer Or” is about the creation of light (the first thing created). “Ahavah Rabbah” is about God’s loving gift of the Torah. And “Ga’al Yisrael” is about God as the redeemer of Israel. This may help explain the logic behind these berakhot. We can explore similar patterns in future postings. Good davening to all!
The Kedushah and the Silent Amidah: The custom throughout Ramah is to begin the Amidah aloud through the Kedushah (this is called, in a Yiddish phrase, a “Heikhe Kedushah” — meaning, a “high or loud Kedushah”). It seems to me that it is generally done here in the best way, i.e. by having everyone say all the words (including the Kedushah) together with the leader, and then finishing the Amidah privately, in a whisper. In Shaharit, especially, this is important so that the berakhah of Redemption (גאל ישראל — yesterday’s posting) is followed immediately by everyone’s Amidah. By the way, although we often speak of a “silent Amidah”, that is really incorrect. תפילה בלחש does not mean silent prayer — it means “whispered prayer”. Whenever we recite the Amidah privately, we should whisper it just enough that our ears hear the words, but no one else does. And if anyone wants more about the “Heikhe Kedushah”, here’s a link to a comprehensive paper on the subject passed by our Law Committee.
Tu B’Av: A note for tomorrow: It is the 15th of the month of Av (also known as “Tu B’Av”). The only real implication for Tefillah is the omission of “Tahanun” (the supplications following the Amidah), and nearly all of our Edot do not have Tahanun in their daily prayer template. (If “Shomer Yisrael” is usually recited, it ought to be omitted). Aside from the minimal effect on the liturgy, however, it would be good to mention this moment on our calendar, because the Mishnah at the end of tractate Ta’anit states that this was a particularly joyous day in ancient Israel. And among the reasons given is this: there had been a rule that marriages had to take place within tribes, so that the integrity of the tribe’s land holdings would be protected. And it was on this day that that rule was repealed, so that love conquered all, even across tribal lines. Thus, it became known as “Yom Ha’Ahavah”, a day to celebrate love. And, the Mishnah describes how young women would dance in the fields that day trying to attract marriage prospects. A lovely element enters into that description: they all wore white dresses for that dance, but all of them were borrowed from others, so that no one who had no fancy dresses would not be embarrassed. Thus, it is not only a day celebrating love, but also a day that reminds us of charity and compassion. Give it a well deserved shout out!
Keeping the Torah Scroll Open: Tomorrow is a Torah reading day, and this is something I offer with no judgment whatsoever, because it is about a practice that is very very common. Still, it is good to know that it is incorrect, and what the correct practice is. When one is called to the Torah, the scroll is opened, the reader locates the place to start, and then…..what? Well, the overwhelmingly common practice is for the person with the aliyah to roll up the scroll, say the first Berakhah, and then open the scroll again. But that often results in the reader looking all over again for the place at which to begin, which is an imposition on the patience of the congregation. The Talmud already dealt with this (it’s in Tractate Megillah 32a), and concluded — in agreement with Rabbi Yehudah — that the scroll should remain open for the first Berakhah, so that the reader does not lose the place in the meantime, and need to look for it again. When the reading is concluded, then the scroll is indeed rolled up before the second Berakhah is recited. This is also codified as the correct practice by Maimonides (Rambam) and by the Shulhan Arukh (Orah Hayyim 139:4). Please try to institute this correct practice.
The Pattern in Birkat Hamazon: Last Sunday, I noted that a recurring pattern in many of our prayers is this three part sequence: (1) Creation of the World, (2) The Gift of Torah (Revelation), and (3) Future Redemption. We saw that the three berakhot surrounding the daily Shema follow that pattern. Now, as we approach Shabbat, when all of camp recites the full version of Birkat Hamazon, it’s a good time to point out how the pattern continues there as well. The first Berakhah speaks of God as creator and as nurturer of all that God created. The second Berakhah focuses on the ברית (covenant) we have with God and on תורה שלמדתנו, the Torah God has taught us. And the third Berakhah refers to the Messiah of the House of David and the complete restoration of Jerusalem to its former glory. [Note: the fact that the third Berakhah ends with “Amen”, said by everyone, indicates that it was originally the end of Birkat Hamazon. The fourth Berakhah was a later addition]. We might also note that the three additional (and signature) Berakhot in the Amidah for Musaf on Rosh Hashanah follow the same pattern of Creation-Revelation-Redemption. A good discussion topic might be why this pattern recurs so much in Jewish liturgy. Shabbat Shalom to all.
The Shabbat Amidah: For this Shabbat, a continuation of yesterday’s thought, but with an important twist. Here’s the continuation: The Amidah for Leil Shabbat is clearly about creation (ויכלו השמים והארץ…..); The Amidah for Shabbat Shaharit is clearly about revelation at Sinai (שני לוחות הוריד בידו…..); and the Amidah for Shabbat Minhah is about a future redemption (מנוחה אמת ואמונה, מנוחת שלום ושלוה…..). But now here’s the twist: on every single day, including even Yom Tov and Yom Kippur, the Amidah stays essentially the same throughout the day, with no change from Arvit to Shaharit to Minhah. No movement at all. The only one exception to this is Shabbat, when we find ourselves, through the changes in the Amidah, moving through time, and anticipating progress. Isn’t it ironic that on the days when we work, and we think we are so busy, we actually aren’t making much progress at all (i.e. our prayers never change); and “davka” on the day when we stop all the hectic activity and focus on our inner lives and our values, we suddenly find that we are actually making progress? Maybe not ironic, but rather reflecting some important wisdom. Shabbat Shalom to all.
Halleluyah: In the Talmud, Shabbat 118b, Rabbi Yosi lists many things that he aspires to do or be part of. One of these is summed up in these words: “May I always be among those who recite Hallel every day.” This astonishes the anonymous voice of the Gemara, since the Hallel is designated only for festival days (the assumption is that Rabbi Yosi is referring to Psalms 113-118, i.e. the festival’s Hallel). But the response is given that Rabbi Yosi is referring to Pesukei D’Zimra, and not the special Hallel. Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, a specialist in Jewish liturgy, notes that this is the basis of what he calls the “daily Hallel”, which he strongly suggests must be the original core of Pesukei D’Zimra, namely the “Halleluyah” psalms 146-150 that follow Ashrei in the morning. All the rest of Pesukei D’Zimra grew up around that core. But having even a minimal but firm foundation of “Halleluyah” — of praise of God and God’s creation — is a perfect way to start each day In a positive vein, and with an uplifted spirit. It doesn’t ultimately matter which, or how many, poems of praise are said, nor even if all of them are found in our Siddur, as opposed to poems that skillfully and with heartfelt expression offer praise of the goodness of the world. There just needs to be a daily Hallel, and we should all aspire to that. When we at camp are careful to recite. and often sing, even an abbreviated Pesukei D’Zimra, we are affirming Rabbi Yosi’s wish for himself, and making it ours.
The History of Hagbeh: Since tomorrow is a Torah reading day, here’s something that’s good to know (and perhaps to share part of it with your Hanikhim): the practice of lifting the Torah (“Hagbahah”), so that the entire congregation gets to see the writing in the Torah scroll, goes back at least to a post-talmudic treatise known as “Massekhet Soferim” (approximately the 8th century C.E.). It states there that it is a mitzvah for all men and women to see the writing in the Torah, and then to say וזאת התורה אשר שם משה לפני בני ישראל (“This is the Torah that Moses set before the Israelites” — a complete verse that appears in the Torah in Devarim 4:44). Although Soferim calls for this to happen before the Torah reading begins (and that is the common Sephardic custom to this day), Ashkenazim follow what is to most of us the more familiar practice of lifting the Torah in this way after the reading is completed. Either way, everyone is seeing and gaining an impression of the calligraphy of the Torah’s words. However, the Ashkenazic practice familiar to us departs in another way from what Soferim put forth. We add the five words על פי ה׳ ביד משה (“by God’s command through Moses”) after reciting Devarim 4:44. Why? Those five words do appear in the Torah but in entirely different places, and what’s more, they do not constitute a complete verse in the Torah. The best conjecture about the origin of this strange custom among the Ashkenazim is cited by Daniel Sperber in the name of Elazar Touitou: since European Ashkenazim lived in a Christian environment, in which the “Torah of Moses” was always said to be deficient and incomplete, adding those 5 words made it clear that what we have seen in the scroll is not just what Moses set before us, but rather that it was done by God’s command. Whatever the origin, the custom of Hagbahah and also what we say when the Torah is lifted are well rooted practices. I hope this helps to explain their origin.
Tahanun: The word תחנון means a plea or a petition. It is the name given to prayers that are traditionally appended to the weekday Amidah, so that after reciting the fixed 19 berakhot, worshipers would be able to address God from their hearts. (Although most of our Edot do not include these prayers in their Tefillah structure, some of them add at least one line from those prayers, namely שומר ישראל.) This sequence of Amidah followed by Tahanun reflects a colloquy in Mishnah Berakhot, chapter 4. There, Rabban Gamliel sets down the daily requirement of the 18 Berakhot in the Amidah (the 19th had not yet been added). But Rabbi Eliezer reacts to this by saying “Prayer that is treated by a person as a fixture is not a prayer of Tahanun”. Rabbi Eliezer seems to be objecting to the fixing of prayers in structure and language, and instituting them at specific times. He doesn’t necessarily object to a designated Amidah being recited at designated times; more likely, he is saying that such recitation of liturgy is incomplete as prayer if there is no spontaneous expression coming from the heart, whenever that happens to come forth. It is ironic, then, and a bit self-defeating, for there to be a fixed set of words that we call Tahanun printed in the Siddur. A suggestion worth considering for us at camp might be to set aside a few moments of silent space after each Amidah so that anyone who might wish to focus on some thoughts and needs from his or her heart will be able to do so. And if those who are not so moved on a given day simply maintain the silence to respect their peers, that’s also excellent.
Kaddish Shalem: Today, we have a simple fact to present about Kaddish. There sometimes is some uncertainty about when we add the line “Titkabel”, so as to make it unto a “Kaddish Shalem” (“A complete Kaddish”). For example — although this does not happen during camp time — it can be intuitively confusing when, on Hanukkah, a complete Hallel is recited but it is followed by a partial Kaddish (so-called חצי קדיש), whereas on Rosh Hodesh, a partial Hallel is recited, and it is followed by a complete Kaddish Shalem! The key to understanding this is that Kaddish Shalem is the capstone of a Tefillah in which there is an Amidah. Having recited the berakhot of the Amidah in God’s presence, we end the whole Tefillah with the request that our prayer be accepted (which is the meaning of “Titkabel”). When there is more than one Amidah — e.g. on Shabbat or Rosh Hodesh, when there is both Shaharit and Musaf — there will be a Kaddish Shalem for each one (this is why the Rosh Hodesh Hallel at the end of Shaharit ends with the first Kaddish Shalem [to close off Shaharit], whereas on Hanukkah there is no Musaf, and thus only the one Kaddish Shalem at the very end). We have Shabbat each week at camp, of course, and looking to next week, there will be two days of Rosh Hodesh, so this should help in our understanding of the structure of the Tefillot.
The Meaning of the Berakhah Recited when Called to the Torah: Thursday, as always, is a Torah reading day, and we’ll take a look at the berakhah recited by each person called to the Torah when the reading is completed. As you know, the words are אשר נתן לנו תורת אמת וחיי עולם נטע בתוכנו. This is conventionally translated as: “who has given us a Torah of truth, and has implanted in us eternal life.” Rabbi Jacob ben Asher, the author of the halakhic work The Tur, explained that תורת אמת — a Torah of truth — refers to the written Torah, and that חיי עולם — eternal life — refers to the Oral Torah, which lives on as long as there is interpretation, and thus is eternal. But the more common understanding of this blessing is that God has done two things: given us the Torah, and also planted some aspect of immortality (presumably, the soul) within us. However, the best text of Maimonides’ Code (Mishneh Torah) records the text of the berakhah a bit differently: אשר נתן לנו תורת אמת, חיי עולם נטעה בתוכנו . This presents us with a different thought; it is not about God doing two things for us. Rather, it is that God gave us the Torah, implanting it (the Torah) within us (ne-ta’ah be-tokheinu) so as to give us eternity. The Torah itself, in other words, teaches us the way to be in touch with that which is timeless. So there are several ways to understand the berakhah, and all are valid and edifying. Finally, if I may, I’ll add a personal reminiscence. I first truly learned the depth of meaning in this berakhah at my oldest granddaughter’s Bat Mitzvah. I was called for an Aliyah, as she was reading. I looked down at her hair, which had the same red-orange color that mine had had at that age, and I listened to the way she read, which was just how I read, because she had learned it from her father, who had in turn learned it from me. And at that moment I had an understanding of what חיי עולם נטע בתוכנו meant — that we do indeed have the capacity to live on, in those whom we nurture and teach.
Shabbat Mevarkhim: This Shabbat is known as “Shabbat Mevarkhim”, where the second word is shorthand for “Mevarkhim Ha-Hodesh”, i.e. blessing the new month. The reason that we add this blessing to the Shabbat prayers each month, just before we return the Torah to the ark, is to ensure that everyone in the Jewish community will know when the new month begins. That is, it is really both an announcement of the date, and a prayer that the month bring blessing to us. It is said on the Shabbat prior to Rosh Hodesh for a reason that should be familiar to us: ours is not the first or only time in which many more Jews attend synagogue services on Shabbat than do on weekdays, so Shabbat was the best time for the announcement! In the coming week, Rosh Hodesh Elul will be observed for two days, on Thursday and Friday, August 17 and 18. The liturgy that we use in the Ashkenazic tradition includes an introductory prayer, which appears in the Talmud as a prayer composed by the third century sage known as “Rav”, a prayer he recited after every Amidah every day. It was later adapted for use as a prayer for the new month. If you were to look up exactly when the new moon occurs (i.e. the exact moment when the sun, moon, and earth are in a single plane — not necessarily in a single line, which would create a solar eclipse), you might find that it does not exactly match the official beginning of the month. For example, the astronomical new moon this coming week will actually be on Wednesday morning. The reason why we sometimes observe Rosh Hodesh a day or so before or after the astronomical new moon is too complicated to go into here, but rest assured there is a method to the madness, which has been endorsed and practiced for centuries. A month from now, by the way, on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, we will not recite this prayer to announce and bless the month of Tishrei. The reason? There is little concern that Jews will not know the official date of Rosh Hashanah (the only holiday to fall on Rosh Hodesh). And there is a nice homiletic reason as well: God is the one who blesses the sacred month of Tishrei, and by the power of that blessing, we are able to bless the other 11 months of the year.
The Symmetry of our Chagim: Since I noted that we are anticipating this Shabbat the beginning of Elul later in the week, here’s a Shabbat thought on the subject that may be a good topic for thought or discussion. It is something that I heard only orally some years ago from Rabbi Arthur Green, and I have found it very compelling as I come back to it each year (actually, as you’ll see, every half-year). The observation is this: all of the sacred days in the biblical calendar fall into one of two envelopes of time, one in the spring and one in the fall. And there is a remarkable symmetry and complementarity about them. From Pesah to Shavuot (neglecting the non-biblical second day of Yom Tov) is a period of exactly 51 days. And at the other pole in the calendar, we have the period of Teshuvah and renewal, beginning a week from today on 1 Elul, and extending to Shemini Atzeret, the end of the fall festivals. Since Elul has 29 days, and Shemini Atzeret is the 22nd of Tishrei, this envelope of time is also exactly 51 days. Neat symmetry. But here’s the additional point of complementarity: the spring period begins with Pesah, which instructs us to celebrate freedom with simple food. And the fall period ends with Sukkot, in which we are instructed to celebrate life with simple dwellings. Simplicity is the common thread, and thus reveals itself as a religious value all too often neglected. It’s worth revisiting every six months, so that we may be able to achieve more modesty and less pretentiousness in our lives, and in that way become happier and more attentive to others. It strikes me as a good Elul preparation to offer to campers (and staff!). Shabbat Shalom from White Plains, NY.
Modeh Ani: A d’var tefillah for the new week: What you find at the beginning of morning prayers in every Siddur — and in the tefillot at Camp Ramah — is the simple two-liner “Modeh Ani”. Like many of the early morning tefillot, this one was primarily intended to be said at home, right upon awakening to the new day, but was also added by some to the liturgy in the synagogue. “Modeh Ani” was traditionally the very first prayer taught to a young child beginning to speak and learn. But it is hardly a young child’s prayer. “Modeh” (related of course to the well known word “Todah”) usually is translated as “give thanks”, and that is correct; yet “thanks” is only its derivative meaning. The primary meaning of “Modeh”, “Todah”, and even “Vidui” is “acknowledge”. When we acknowledge our mistakes, we are confessing (“Vidui”), and when we acknowledge a gift, we say “Todah”. So each day is meant to begin with an acknowledgment of the gift of life and that we have not created ourselves. (In fact, what a person is asked to say as his/her last day approaches, at the end of life, begins with the words “Modeh Ani Lefanekha”. Note the profound symmetry: life is meant to begin and end — and each day of that life is meant to begin — with gratitude. So this is really a follow-up to Rabbi Gelb’s important teaching on Friday — the centrality of gratitude to the Jewish way, and how we will live better if we train ourselves to acknowledge all the gifts we receive.
Parshat Shoftim and the Month of Elul: On Monday morning, the Torah will be opened, and the beginning of Parashat Shofetim will be read, as it was on Shabbat afternoon. These readings are, of course, an anticipation of the formal reading of Shofetim on this coming Shabbat, which is also the first Shabbat of the month of Elul. This confluence of Shofetim and the beginning of Elul actually happens every year, without exception. There are always exactly 4 Shabbatot in Elul, and the first one is always Shabbat Shofetim. (Yes, always; you can take this one to the bank). So is there some connection between this Parashah and the introspective month of self-examination before Rosh Hashanah? The Gaon of Vilna (and after him, some teachers in the Musar movement) thought there was. The Parashah’s first words areשופטים ושוטרים תתן לך בכל שעריך — “You shall place judges and enforcers in all of your [city] gates.” The plain meaning surely is that each settlement should have the means of adjudicating disputes justly. But what the Gaon sensed in these words was something more personal. Each of us has many “gateways”, i.e. ports through which we both take things in and give things out. Our eyes focus on both things both beautiful and ugly, and also transmit silent messages to others, whether compassionate or biting. Our ears listen to all manner of words, both words of wisdom and empty or malicious gossip. Our mouths utter words that can be comforting or cruel. All of these “gateways” to and from our inner selves must be guarded, so that we use all of our abilities for goodness and kindness, and not for self-promotion and recklessness. That self-awareness and the action that it requires are certainly among the main tasks that Elul urgently invites us to take on. And it begins with Shofetim ve-Shoterim — our ability and willingness to judge how we use our gateways, and to learn to regulate their use for good. I needn’t spell out how relevant this message of Elul/Shofetim is for a community such as Camp Ramah.
The Missing Nun verse in Ashrei: What we call ”Ashrei” is actually Psalm 145, preceded by two verses from other psalms beginning with the word Ashrei, and ending with a verse from yet another psalm, so as to end it all with “Halleluyah”. But the core, psalm 145, is arranged as an alphabetical acrostic, each successive verse beginning with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. You have no doubt noticed (many times?) that there is no verse beginning with the letter “Nun”. So here are four possible explanations for that: (i) the author of the psalm forgot to put a Nun verse into the psalm; (ii) the author of the psalm thought of verses starting with Nun, but they were all “downers” and didn’t fit the happy nature of the psalm; (iii) there was a Nun verse, but a person later on who was copying the psalm accidentally jumped from the “Mem” verse to the “Samekh” verse, and that mistake got copied over and over again; or (iv) the author of the psalm deliberately left out a verse to show that no matter how much we try to give the most complete praise of God, we will always fall a little short. Which of these explanations do you think is more likely (we don’t really know the right answer here, so your ideas are totally relevant).
The Biblical Source for Wearing Tefillin: The verses in the Torah (and there are 4 of them) that are taken to be the source for the wearing of Tefillin all say that words of Torah should be לאות על ידך — for a sign on your arm. And this was understood to be directing us to bind words of Torah to our arms (and, correspondingly, on our foreheads). Now one of the greatest Torah commentators in the Middle Ages was Rabbi Samuel ben Meir (Rashbam), who was himself the grandson of probably the greatest of them all, i.e. Rashi. And here’s what Rashbam had to say in interpretation of the words לאות על ידך: “Going deep into the plain meaning of these words, it means that their teaching should be with you as if the words had literally been inscribed on your arm.” In other words, Rashbam is asserting that the plain meaning of this text is a metaphor (and not an instruction actually to bind the words to your arm); it is an “as if”. And yet, Rashbam continued to put on Tefillin each morning, in accordance with the meaning given to the 4 verses by tradition, even though that was not the plain meaning. So here’s the question to consider: can you imagine what Rashbam’s argument (to himself) was, in following a tradition even though he knew that it was a departure from the contextual meaning of the verse? Can you make an argument for yourself — today — that there is room to follow traditions even when they may not be the originally intended meaning of the verses on which they rely?
Sanctifying Rosh Chodesh: It is now Rosh Hodesh Elul (although the first day of the two day Rosh Hodesh is always the 30th day of the previous month, so that the month of Elul proper will not begin until Thursday night and Friday day). The Rosh Hodesh liturgy applies to both days equally, and this D’var Tefillah will focus on the ending of the fourth and middle Berakhah of the Amidah for Musaf. You will notice that it ends with the words מקדש ישראל וראשי חדשים — “[God] Who sanctifies Israel and the beginnings of the months”. You will perhaps also reflect on the fact that the parallel berakhah in the Musaf for Shabbat — or for that matter the Kiddush for Shabbat — ends with the words מקדש השבת — “[God] Who sanctifies the Shabbat”. So why is Israel mentioned in the berakhah for Rosh Hodesh, but not for Shabbat? I.e., why will we not be saying, simply, מקדש ראשי חדשים, words similar to those used on Shabbat?
The answer is a far-reaching one. God sanctified Shabbat at the very beginning, and ever since, every seventh day is Shabbat. No human input can or may change that. It is set for all time, by God’s calendar, as it were. Not so for Rosh Hodesh; in ancient times, the beginning of the month was declared by a human court after receiving evidence of the astronomical new moon (as the sacred month of Ramadan is still determined to this day in certain Muslim jurisdictions). And even today, we use a calendar that was set by human beings — rabbis with the requisite mathematical skills — back in the fourth century C.E. The human court even took it upon itself to deviate deliberately from the astronomical reality for certain necessities — e.g. to prevent Yom Kippur from falling on a Friday or a Sunday (which would have created great difficulties for the timely burial of dead bodies in a time when refrigeration did not yet exist). So taken for granted was the human input into the sanctity of time (after all, determining Rosh Hodesh would automatically determine the days on which Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur would fall!) that there is a Midrash that depicts the angels asking God when the Days of Awe would fall, and God’s answer is “Why are you asking Me? We need to consult the human court and see what they say”! So think of this during Musaf on Thursday and Friday, and then, in contrast, during Musaf (or Kiddush) on Shabbat. It will remind you that we have a tradition in which God and human beings work in partnership to create sanctity and holiness. God sanctifies Israel, who in turn determine and announce the arrival of the sacred times.
Rosh Hodesh Elul: As the month begins, we start reciting Psalm 27 (BTW, my personal favorite out of all 150 psalms) every morning and evening through Hoshana Rabbah. If you do the arithmetic, it adds up to exactly 100 recitations. And there are some wonderful things about this chapter of Tehillim. Among the treasures in it is the 4th verse, which reads: “One thing I ask of the Lord, only that do I seek: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life…..” Such is the pretty standard translation from the Hebrew words שבתי בבית ה׳ כל ימי חיי. But this raises the question of just what בית ה׳ actually means. . You do have to admit that if “Beit Hashem” (the House of God) means here what it usually does — that is, God’s Temple in Jerusalem — then the need expressed here is more than a little peculiar. For how could one dwell in a Temple throughout the length of one’s life? But consider this: is not the entire world itself “Beit Hashem”, or, as we might say, “the house that God built”? So now, suppose we take “Beit Hashem” to mean the entire world itself. And suppose further that we take “Shivti” not to mean “to live in”, but rather more literally, “to be situated or settled”. Suddenly now, the prayer and request in Psalm 27 makes very good sense. For it is expressing what is surely one of the ultimate human desires, namely to feel at home in God’s world. Not to feel at odds with where we are or who we are. Nor to feel alienated from the setting in which we live. This, then, is the newly understood prayer: אחת שאלתי מאת ה׳ — “Just one thing do I ask of God, for it is the one important thing I seek. And that is to be settled in life, and never estranged or alienated from, the world in which that life is necessarily lived.”
What an important wish that is for everyone as we enter the introspective season of Elul and the Days of Awe, when we seek to be at peace with ourselves and with others. I hope that camp has helped all of you, and those who were put in your care, to reach that level of peace and reconciliation with oneself and one’s unique qualities. Throughout the month of Elul, the Shofar is sounded either just before or just after the recitation of this exquisite psalm. Listen to both the wordless sound and the words themselves; each calls us to what we can achieve, which is the best with which God has created us.
Blessings to all. Hodesh Tov, Shabbat Shalom, and Shanah Tovah.