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Prayerbook Vocabulary Studies
July 20, 2007
© Rabbi Jack Moline

This column talks about salvation.

We tend to giggle or roll our eyes at the word in English because it seems to be the central concern of others, but the fact is that some form of this word "moshi'a" appears very frequently in our liturgy. It is a central concern of ours as well.

In fact, a line in the very familiar "Aleinu" relating to this notion was excised by medieval censors from the Church. In English, the words mean, "They bow down to vanity and emptiness and a god who does not save," the last words in Hebrew being "l'eil lo yoshi'a." Jesus' name in Hebrew is "Yeshu'a," and even though the prayer was written long before there was such a thing as Christianity, the censors believed it to be an insult to their faith. Today, some editions of the siddur (and some individuals) restore the line in prayer.

While our vocabulary word, moshi'a, bears some resemblance to the word "mashi'ach," whom some people think of as the savior, the words are not at all related. In large measure, it is because the meaning of "being saved" has nuances in Hebrew, just as it does in English. In fact, in this section of prayer it has a different connotation than in the very next paragraph.

"Moshi'a" is a name for God's activities that reflects the very plain (and not so theological) sense of "being saved." It follows ozeir (which means being rescued from danger) and precedes magein (which means being protected from danger). In this context, moshi'a carries a notion of being enabled to pass from narrow straits to wide open places we were saved at the Sea, when we left Mitzrayim (literally, "the Narrows") and entered the boundless wilderness. In the sequence rescues, saves, protects we describe our God who is increasingly close to us in an often hostile world.

From a literary point of view, it may very well be the closing of parentheses that open (traditionally) with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God rescued Jacob many times from those who sought his life; God saved Isaac at the binding; God protected Abraham, as the Torah describes.

No matter what history brings us, we have the assurance in the beginning of the Amidah that God is aware of it and will respond on our behalf out of the personal and collective relationship we have in every generation.

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