Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Thursday, January 17, 2019

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Walk Article



Rabbi David Walk 


It's always embarrassing to miss the obvious. A case in point: I drove by a certain strip mall every day for years, but never noticed a prominent feature. Here's what happened. I was whining to other teachers at Bi-Cultural Day School, Stamford, CT, about having to renew my Connecticut driver's license, and was dreading the inevitable hours long wait at DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). One of my colleagues informed me that I could go to the American Automobile Association and renew there for a small fee. I would gladly have paid a DMV Commissioner's ransom (assuming anyone would agree to pay) to save being held hostage in a DMV office. Then I asked where the nearest AAA office was, and my friend from the social studies department told me it was on High Ridge Rd. I laughed, 'That can't be! I drive by there (usually twice) every day, and I've never seen it.' Well, it was there. Bright red logo shouting out for attention, but I totally missed it hundreds of times. I was in and out in ten minutes, but still miffed that I had never paid it any heed, because I consider myself observant, both visually and religiously. 

Well, have you ever davened Shacharit? I hope that you've noticed that there are 3 repetitions of the Kedusha proclamation. One in the blessings surrounding the recitation of Shema, one during the repetition of the Shmoneh Esreh (KEDUSHA), and a third during the UVA L'TZIYON prayer towards the end of davening. Of course, this declaration of God's sanctity and power has three components: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole universe is full of His glory (Yeshayahu 6:4), Blessed is the Lord's glory from His place (Ezekiel 3:12), and what's the third? Did you notice it changes? Twice we recite a verse from this week's parsha and once we switch it for a verse from Psalms. Why? Why, indeed, and that's what the rest of this article will try to explain. 

This week we read the Song of the Sea, which was sung joyously as the Children of Israel miraculously escaped the might of the Egyptian army. Perhaps, the climatic verse of this paean to God's wonders is: God will rule for ever (Shmot 15:18)! That's the concluding verse of the doxology (Fancy word warning! A liturgical praise of God), It is famously translated by Onkelos: The Lord's kingdom is established forever and all time. But the Midrashic translation of Yonaton ben Uziel adds (in part): God changes reality without being changed, whose Kingdom is inclusive of all kingship, and is the King of kings in this world and the world to come. So, this statement is a pretty comprehensive praise of God the King. So, why do we exchange this verse for another in the Kedusha of Shmone Esreh? 

Let's look at its replacement. The final verse of Psalm 146 goes like this: The Lord shall reign forever (so far, it's familiar), Tziyon, God is your Lord from generation to generation, all praise God!' What did we add? 

The Malbim, in his great grasp of linguistic nuance, points out that there is a significant difference between L'OLAM (forever) and L'DOR V'DOR (from generation to generation). L'OLAM describes the unchanging nature of eternal time. While L'DOR V'DOR points to time as discreet packets of years attributed to differing generations (maybe dynasties) or periods. For the physics geeks out there, time as unchanging waves or differentiated particles. 

What's the difference? Well, allow me to make a suggestion about things beyond my ken. From God's vantage point time is an unchanging flow, Ol' Man River. From humanity's point of view, time is a succession of events and historic eras. We describe a particular historic time frame by the dominant characters: the Romans. the Tudors, the dinosaurs. None of this makes much difference to the Divine Time Keeper. 

Why is it significant to change our mode of expression? In most of our davening experience, we're attempting to describe the glory and greatness of God. This assignment is best accomplished with expressions of our awe in the presence of Divine greatness, like the verse from the Song of the Sea. However, in Shmoneh Esreh we're working on a different job: We're applying to God for national and personal help. In that mode, the verse from Psalm 146 makes more sense. 

In our application for Heavenly help, we reference our long-standing relationship with God of our ancestors. In this endeavor the ultimate verse from Psalm 146 makes sense. God is the Lord of Tziyon, our national home, but more importantly God's relationship with our people spans historic eras. All other ethnicities have their day in the sun and then fade from history. We, Jews, on the other hand, continue on and on, regardless of which superpower dominates the world stage. That's why we reference L'DOR V"DOR. 

Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (1740-1810) pointed out another difference in the two statements. We change the word order. Moshe sang Hashem YIMLOCH; the Psalmist chanted YIMLOCH Hashem. Why? During the life and times of Moshe, God aroused our spirituality from on high through miracles and wonders. Centuries later when this TEHILA was written (big debate whether that's 10th C BCE or 5th C) was written we had already been given Torah and mitzvot and we had the obligation (and honor) to generate spirituality from down here, and we had the obligation to declare God's Kingship through our Divine service. We were no longer just witnessing God's greatness; we were searching for it and declaring to the world. 

There's a big difference between the declarations in these two verses. The shorter and older is more passive; the newer and longer verse implies a duty to maintain what Moshe began. We must work hard at this job, but it is rewarding to ourselves, our nation, our world. When we proclaim this role, it does make a difference. Did you notice? 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

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