Tefillah Tuesday: Light and Darkness

Continuing the theme of last week’s post, in which I discussed the opening blessing before the Shema, which speaks of God as “creating all.” This is a euphemism, softening the Bible verse [Isaiah 45.7] that God makes both light and darkness, “makes peace and creates suffering,” or “creates well-being and woe.” The Talmud [Berakhot 11b]… Read more »

Tefillah Tuesday: Yotzer Or

The three paragraphs of Shema Israel are nestled among liturgical blessings: one always recites two blessings before Shema, and afterwards, either one blessing each morning or two each evening. The first blessing before is an ode to the dawn’s light. Nowadays, our relationship to light is shaped by our easy access to electricity. We stay… Read more »

Tefillah Tuesday: Perpetual Prayer

Prayer is not the same thing as liturgy. They are related, of course: the words in the prayer book are the form in which Jewish communities worship. But reciting the text of the siddur is not itself an act of prayer. Genuine tefillah is a turning toward God in love, awe, hope and gratitude, amplified… Read more »

Tefillah Tuesday: Bowing at Barekhu

Tefillah is a poetry recitation accompanied by a few cool dance moves. In the ritualized choreography of communal worship, we sit, we stand, we sway. And we bow. A standard time to bow is ברכו/Barekhu, which transitions from the introductory sections to the formal liturgy: the three biblical passages of the שמע ישראל/Shema Israel and… Read more »

Tefillah Tuesday: Proclaim Blessing!

After months of Tefillah Tuesday journeys through the prayer book, we’ve reached the formal beginning of שחרית, the morning service, with the section of “Shema and blessings,” which begins in fanfare and grandeur: the call to prayer, ברכו, [Barekhu, or “Proclaim Blessing!”] The prayer leader announces: “Proclaim Blessing to Adonay, the Blessed!” The congregation replies:… Read more »