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Prayerbook Vocabulary Studies
December 27, 2007
© Rabbi Jack Moline

I have a small amount of trepidation in writing about this word because I have somewhat famously written about it in a very different context: "Mi" is "who." But that is what the word means, and though it is often translated as a pronoun or a word that introduces a rhetorical question, the fact is that "mi," like "who," always implies an uncertainty about identity.

In the Amidah, its appearance cannot be understood to raise an actual challenge to the sovereign eminence of God. And yet, "who" always, always cause the speaker, listener or reader to pause momentarily to consider the alternatives and identities that present themselves by the nature of the word itself.

This column is brief because there is not much more to say about this very tiny word, except, perhaps, this: asking questions that begin with the word mi/who is the activity that most addresses a sense of place in the world. If for no other reason, the first appearance of "mi" in the Amidah reminds us of the importance of that quest.

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