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Prayerbook Vocabulary Studies
October 14, 2007
© Rabbi Jack Moline

This past week I had the great pleasure of a massage. Among the techniques the massage therapist used was hot rocks smooth stones that were heat and used to enhance the relaxation of my achy muscles. At one point, as I lay on the very narrow massage table with my face in a "donut," the therapist placed a warm rock in each of my hands, curled my fingers around it, placed my hands by my sides and tucked the sheet and blanket snugly underneath. It was a wonderfully secure feeling I, who am afraid of heights, had no sense that I could ever topple from the perch I was on.

The word of the week from our prayers is "someikh," and it is familiar from a variety of meanings. In its simple sense, it means to uphold, perhaps to stabilize something that is insecure. It carries with it the notion of reliability.

It is also used regarding the sacrifices. Before an animal was placed on the altar, the priest would place his hands on the head of the animal called "s'mikha" to designate that the animal had indeed been designated and found fit for the sacrifice. In other words, you can rely on the kashrut, the fitness of the animal.

It is also used regarding rabbinic ordination. When it comes time for a traditionally-trained student to become a rabbi, his teacher places his hands upon his head and transfers the authority of the title to him. This, too, is called "s'mikha," as if to say to the community "you can rely on this rabbi" and to say to the newly-ordained rabbi "you can rely on your Torah."

When we use "someikh" to refer to God in our prayers, we imply all of the kinds of reliability of the other uses. We can rely on the authority of Torah and the covenant given to us by God. We can rely on the fitness of our relationship and our worship. We can rely on being upheld, perhaps even stabilized in uncertain circumstances.

There on the narrow ledge where find ourselves perched, God's surrounding presence and firmly gentle hand upon us gives us the feeling of security as if we were tucked in with a blanket, warmth and security ours from within and without.

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