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Prayerbook Vocabulary Studies
October 24, 2006
© Rabbi Jack Moline

Having spent all this time focusing on the supposedly inviolable formula for a brakha, it is ironic that I now turn my attention to the one brakha that is the exception to the rule – perhaps the most familiar blessing to those who pray with regularity. It is the first brakha of the central prayer of every formal worship service, the Amidah. And it begins with words we have examined before: Barukh ata adonai eloheinu (P2-P6). But where every other brakha continues with "melekh ha'olam," this brakha continues with the phrase "veilohei avoteinu."

The word "veilohei" we already know. The "v" means "and" and "eilohei" is the conjunctive form of "elohim" (P5), therefore meaning "and God of...."

The next word is the one that concerns me in this brief lesson. Of course, the "-einu" suffix means "our." So we are left with the word "avot," the plural of "av." Avot means fathers or ancestors.

Because we pray with such frequency and using the same liturgy, it is hard to read the prayerbook the way we should (and the way we should read the Bible) – as if it were the first time. Everyone wants to acknowledge that "our fathers" are Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but if you were to pause after "avoteinu," you would come to a very different conclusion. My ancestors are Dolly and Herb, and before them, Sylvia and Nate and Sarah and (well, my grandmother was married three times, so it gets a little complicated). The God of my ancestors/fathers/parents is not a God I must reach back three thousand years to find. When I speak these words, I am acknowledging that I am the most recent point in the legacy that moves backward from me, as well as (God willing) forward. My name will fill that momentary pause for my children the way my parents fill that pause for me.

And frankly, it doesn't matter if your father's name was Sven or your mother's name was Esmerelda and they worshiped God by a different name because you have embraced Judaism later in life – it is the same God. In fact, it does not matter if the praise of God was regularly on your parents' lips or not. This brakha makes the point of God's dependable presence in our lives before our lives even began.

To be sure, the brakha continues with some very specific ancestors – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (and, by inclusion or inference, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah). But at this moment, God's presence in history is very personal and immediate, and yet another manifestation of God's universal power.

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