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Prayerbook Vocabulary Studies
October 29, 2006
© Rabbi Jack Moline

"Elohei Avraham" means literally "God of Abraham." But before we can understand what that phrase actually means, I have to spend a couple of minutes on Moses, who is not mentioned at all in this brakhah.

Though there are any number of times that God initiates contact with Moses, Moses himself famously pleads with God only once to see God face to face. Of course, God refuses, saying, "No one shall see My face and live." But as an apparent compromise, God hides Moses in the cleft of the rock and passes by him in all of God's glory. Upon emerging from the nook in the rock, Moses is able to perceive where God has been.

What happened to Moses happens to all of us. No matter how much we plead for a relationship with God, in the end we only know God has been present by the aftermath of the experience. When we are in the moment, when we are in the life, it is impossible for our mortal minds to engage the facets of God we encounter. Only after the fact can we begin to describe them. And if we are fortunate, we begin to recognize a pattern.

God tested Abraham ten times in his life, and Abraham succeeded in all of the tests. Looking back on his life – or perhaps when later generations looked back on his life – Abraham's relationship with God was defined by the phrase "magein avraham."

I will discuss the word magein more thoroughly when we encounter it at the very end of this brakhah, but for now I use the common and simple translation, "shield." That word itself has two meanings. A shield is something with which an individual is protected – we often think of medieval knights and their armor, fending off lances and maces. But a shield is also a crest, an emblem that incorporates and communicates the nature of its owner. When we speak of the Magein David, the Shield of David, we do not think of the six-pointed star as battle armament, but as that which represents who we are, an emblem of our identity.

Abraham experienced God as the One who defined his identity. The God of Abraham is God, our identity.

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