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Prayerbook Vocabulary Studies
October 26, 2007
© Rabbi Jack Moline

Except for in love, nobody wants to fall. There are only two reason you fall: one is that you suddenly lose your balance and find yourself tumbling from the upright to the prone, and the other is that for some reason the support on which you rely has been removed --whether the ground beneath you or whatever holds you above a void. And of course, you can fall as a result of something internal, such as a bout of dizziness, or something external, such as a shove or being dropped.

The process of falling is frightening because of the complete loss of control. Even those who have come to appreciate the sensation those who (for reasons beyond my comprehension) jump for sport out of airplanes or off of bridges, depending on lengths of cloth or elastic to prevent them from stopping abruptly are excited by the visceral sense of helplessness that is modified only by the assurance that something will prevent them from a high-speed encounter with a solid object.

That's what the words built from nun-pei-lamed (n-f-l) mean. "Noflim" are those who are falling, whether they have stumbled or jumped or been pushed or dropped. And when I thought about God as "someikh noflim," the one who holds up the falling during the many thousands of times I have recited those words, they began to sound familiar from another disconnected place. And then I found it:

"Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around - nobody big, I mean - except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be."*

God is our catcher in the rye.

*J.D.Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, chapter 22.

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