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Prayerbook Vocabulary Studies
July 12, 2007
© Rabbi Jack Moline

Progressing word-by-word through this extended b'rakha makes it difficult to maintain a sense of the whole. To this point, the translation (or, perhaps, paraphrase) of the Hebrew text of this first paragraph of the Amidah would read:

Empowered are you, my Compassionate One
Our Judge, God of our ancestors
God of Abraham's identity
God of Isaac's fear
God of Jacob's strength
God of Sarah's recognition
God of Rebecca's fulfillment
God of Rachel's remembrance
God of Leah's noticing
The one God, of fulfilled potential, the Hero, who inspires radical amazement
God in the highest
returning our very best to us
claiming everyone and everything as God's own,
keeping vital our ancestors' loving kindesses
and bringing a redeemer to their children's children
for the very sake of it, with love.

I would be very happy to end the blessing right there, with a profession of love at the end of our historical journey to an appreciation of God. Unfortunately, there is more - just four words, but they pack a punch.

"Melekh," a word conveying ultimate authority, was discussed earlier. The word "ozeir" means "help." And, of course, there are two kinds of help. The one we would like to associate with God is the kind of help that implies aid or assistance. "Do you need some help with that package," we might ask someone. "Can you help he open this jar? Can you help me reach the top shelf? Will you help get my candidate on the ballot?" In this meaning of the word, we are partners in an endeavor. Our efforts are necessary to accomplish a task with a shared purpose.

But the other kind of help, perhaps better understood as "HELP!!!" shouted in a panic, is really the meaning of ozeir in this context. This kind of help is a rescue, not a collaboration. The helpee is entirely dependent on the helper - there is a need to be saved. And for better or for worse, the experience of Jewish history (the subject of this blessing) has been one of constant danger. For all of the righteousness and loving kindness of our ancestors, they always needed to be rescued, and so do we.

Sadly, it is a cynical view of the Jewish historical experience. But as any cynic will tell you, the difference between realism and cynicism is the naiveté of the observer.

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