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September 19, 2010 / howgood1

Ahavat Olam

The second and final introductory prayer before the recitation of the Sh’ma is Ahavat Olam.

Great is your love for Your people, the House of Israel! You have taught us Torah and Mitzvot, laws and precepts. Therfore, Adonai, our God, when we lie down and when we rise up we will meditate on Your law.

We will think of them day and night for they are the life and the length of our days. Your love will never leave from our hearts. Prasied are You Adonai, Lover of Israel.

This prayer declares our belief that G-d loves us, which is the reason why he allowed us to receive the Torah.  Just as we give gifts of great value to the people we cherish, G-d did the same when he gave us the Torah.  We promise G-d that in appreciation, we will always remember this gift, day and night, and use it as well to guide our lives.  How often do we receive wonderful gifts from our loved ones that go unused or unappreciated?  As Jews, we promise G-d that his greatest gift to us will always be remembered, which itself is a form of returning the love He gave to us.

September 16, 2010 / howgood1

He Who Brings On The Night – Ma’ariv Aravim

The focus of the evening service is actually the Sh’ma Yisrael and the Amidah.  After the call to prayer represented  by the Bar’chu, the Sh’ma is “sandwiched” between several prayers.  The first of two prayers which lead up to the Sh’ma is Ma’ariv Aravim.

Praised are You Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, who word brings on the evening. God’s Wisdom opens heaven’s gates; God’s understanding makes the ages pass and the seasons alternate; God’s will controls the stars as they travel trough the skies.

Creator of day and night, You roll light away from the darkness and darkness from light; God causes day to pass and brings on the night; the Eternal sets the day and night apart; Adonai is the God of Hosts

May the living and eternal God rule us always, to the end of time! Blessed are You Adondai, Your word makes evening fall.


Now why would we thank G-d for bringing on the night when I mentioned in a previous post that the first prayers are supplications that He let us survive this frightening time of darkness? A time and atmosphere that he himself created! Well, it’s time to look on the bright side of nightfall, so to speak.

Along with the changing of the seasons, and the movement of the stars which are also mentioned in Ma’ariv Aravim, we are grateful for the unflinching laws of nature which G-d set in motion.  While we may be surrounded by the chaos and uncertainty of daily living, often caused by the inconstancy of our fellow human beings, we know that we can count on these truly otherworldly celestial events day in and, pardon the pun, day out.

Thank you to Temple Beth Am of Framingham, Massachusetts for posting this and other prayers online here.

September 16, 2010 / howgood1

The Bar’chu – A Call To Prayer

After the opening verses from the Psalms, if there is a minyan, the Bar’chu is recited.

The Bar’chu is essentially a call to the community to come to prayer. It is traditionally recited standing up with those reciting the prayer bowing briefly at the beginning of each sentence and straightening back up before singing “Adonai”, G-d’s name.  The chazan or person leading the prayer service chants the first line.  The congregation then chants the second line which is the repeated by the leader.

Some say that the source of the Bar’chu, or at least the traditon of bowing comes from Chronicles I 29:20 – “And David said to all the congregation: ‘Now bless HaShem your G-d.’ And all the congregation blessed HaShem, the G-d of their fathers, and bowed down their heads, and prostrated themselves before HaShem, and before the king.”

The following is an elaborate choral arrangement of the Bar’chu composed by Salomone Rossi, one of the few composers of classical music that worked with Hebrew prayers.

September 15, 2010 / howgood1

V’hu Rachum

On weekdays the Ma’ariv service opens with Psalms 78:38 and 20:10.

וְהוּא רַחוּם יְכַפֵּר עָוֹן וְֽלֹא יַשְׁחִית וְהִרְבָּה לְהָשִׁיב אַפּוֹ וְלֹֽא־יָעִיר כָּל־חֲמָתֽוֹ

Psalm 78:38 – But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them; often he turned away his anger, and did not stir up all his wrath.

יְהֹוָה הוֹשִׁיעָה הַמֶּלֶךְ יַֽעֲנֵנוּ בְיֽוֹם־קָרְאֵֽנוּ

Psalm 20:10 – Save, Lord; the king will answer us on the day when we call.

Reasons given for reciting the first of these verses have to do primarily with the idea that although we have perhaps committed sinful acts during the day, G-d will forgive us and not cause us to expire during the night because of them.  The verse itself refers to the fact that G-d chose not to destroy the children of Israel during their wanderings in the desert despite the fact that they lacked faith and rebelled.  It is also said that since the verse had 13 words, we are reminded of G-d’s 13 attributes of mercy.

Nighttime is often a frightening time as darkness descends and many of the world’s wonders which are easily observed during the day are obscured.  Anxiety increases regarding the following day’s schedule and for some the ability to get a good night’s sleep.  We trust that G-d will allow us the ability to experience the wonders of our world again and pray that we will not again take them for granted.

The second verse is the final verse of Psalm 20.  It is a reaffirmation that we believe that G-d will hear our prayers in times of distress as the dangers of nightfall approach. The verse also serves as an introduction to recite the Barchu (when a minyan is present), the communal call to prayer.

September 14, 2010 / howgood1

Ma’ariv – The evening service

Ma’ariv is the first of the three regular prayer services that are recited daily (although on Shabbat and Holidays there may be additional services).

Here is a paragpraph describing the history of the Ma’ariv service from the Jewish Virtual Library:

ARVIT (Heb. עַרְבִית; “evening” prayer), one of the three regular daily services. The popular name Ma’ariv (going back at least to the 16th century) is derived from the occurrence of this word at the beginning and end of the first blessing preceding the *Shema. Its recital was originally regarded as optional (Ber. 27b, following R. Joshua against the view of Gamaliel II) since the evening service did not correspond to any set Temple sacrifice (unlike the morning and afternoon services). Tradition attributed the institution of Arvit to the patriarch Jacob (based on Gen. 28:11; cf. Ber. 26b). In the Talmud, opinions differ as to whether a third daily prayer is obligatory or optional but Psalms 55:18 and Daniel 6:11 are cited to support the view that prayers must be said three times daily. In common with the other services, its recital is the duty of the individual even outside the synagogue and congregational service.

Psalms 55:18 – “Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice”

Daniel 6:11 – And when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house–now his windows were open in his upper chamber toward Jerusalem–and he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.

September 13, 2010 / howgood1

A New Day

According to Jewish tradition, each new day actually begins at sundown.  One doesn’t have to read too far into the chumash (bible) to find the reason why.

Genesis 1:5  And G-d called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

My Jewish education has been quite extensive for someone not educated in a yeshiva or Jewish Day School.  However, I actually know very little about one of the most important aspects of Judaism.  What is in our siddur (prayer book), what is the significance of each prayer, and what is their origin?

I’ve decided that from now on, instead of just zipping through the Hebrew on the currently infrequent occasion that I decide to daven or go to shul, I want to understand the true meaning of what I’ve been for lack of a better phrase, trained to do, for the last 40 years.

I make no promises to post here every day and I’m guessing I should take off for Shabbos and holidays.  Nevertheless, I hope that by sharing what I learn I can help in some small way to keep Jewish tradition alive and create a map for those who unfortunately may regard the siddur as confusing and without meaning, even when translated from Hebrew into their native tongue.

My next post will focus on the origin of ma’ariv, the evening prayers, the first prayers of the new Jewish day.

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