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Prayerbook Vocabulary Studies
November 22, 2006
© Rabbi Jack Moline

We now reach something of a dilemma in this series. Traditionally, meaning from inception until this generation, the Amidah opened with reference only to the paternal ancestors of our people. Each of them had a relationship with God meant to resonate with the worshiper – Magein Avraham, Pachad Yitz'chak, Avir Ya'akov. Though each of the maternal ancestors had such a relationship, no pithy names exist to describe them. For the most part, I have to make them up.

The exception is Sarah, whose relationship with God has already been named in our prayer book. It is Pokeid Sarah, based on the first verse in chapter 21 of Genesis. "Pokeid" has four meanings, and each one is a reflection of how Sarah interacted with God.

The first meaning is "visit," with the connotation of an intimate visit. Sarah knew God best through her desire for children and God's "visit" that announced that she bear a child. In another faith community, this kind of "visit" resulted in a divine birth, but in Sarah's case the visit by God simply heralds the news of her fertility late in life. God, to Sarah, is life.

The second meaning is "remember." A promise was made to Sarah and God does not let that promise lapse. God, to Sarah, is dependability.

The third meaning is "charge" or "command." Sarah's relationship with God brings out a sense of mission and the wisdom to do what is necessary. Her conversations with God lead God to tell Abraham to listen to his wife when she insists that he send away Hagar and Ishmael. Sarah is charged with the responsibility of inventing Jewish home life. God, to Sarah, is empowerment.

The fourth meaning of "pokeid" is, in modern Hebrew, not a positive one. It is associated with "pakid," meaning a clerk, and generally not a title many people aspire to have. Colloquially it is used derisively to indicate someone concerned with bureaucratic policy and administrative trivia, but the verb merely means "count." To count is to notice individually, and that is what God does with Sarah. Perhaps it is ironic or just illustrative that Sarah is an old woman before God makes her count – it has been thousands of years since Abraham and Sarah, and it is only in the lifetimes of today's adults that women have come to be counted in public Jewish life – worship, scholarship, leadership. This late inclusion of Sarah in the matriarchal versions of the Amidah brings her and her descendants a deserved recognition (whether or not any particular worshiper or congregation mentions her name in prayer). God, to Sarah, is recognition, however belated.

Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, there will be no posting on prayer next week. Other interruptions in weekly installments will take place over the next six or eight weeks. I'm not lazy -- we have a weekend with a Hazzan in Residence, the joint service at Beth El and a week or two of my vacation to contend with.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!


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