Return to Previous Page
Rabbi Jack Moline Website
Home | Profile | Works | Links
Prayerbook Vocabulary Studies
January 12, 2008
© Rabbi Jack Moline

Generically, "ba'al" means "master." In ancient Hebrew and even modern usage, it also means "husband." The problem with the translation is not one of the implied male-ness of the word. Instead, it is the fact that Ba'al was the common name for Canaanite gods of various kinds, and eventually the symbol of all pagan gods in Biblical times.

Of course, we would never think to associate the God of the Amidah with paganism. So what can the word mean here?

The notion of complete mastery of a realm or a skill underlies every meaning of the word. As such, a ba'al is not so much a person of power as of talent. We are familiar with its usage in all sorts of forms. When we refer to "ba'al habayit," or its Yiddish form "balabos" (feminine, "balaboste"), we mean, to quote "Les Miserables," master of the house, that is, the person who runs things at home. When we refer to a skilled Torah reader, haftarah reader, or service leader, we call that person ba'al korei, ba'al maftir, ba'al tefillah. A talented artist may be called ba'al kisharon. And of course the individual who had deep and gifted abilities to relate to and about God was known as the Ba'al Shem Tov, "Master of the Good Name."

The reference to God in the Amidah and elsewhere in our liturgy is a reflection of God's particular attributes of perfection. Here, God is "ba'al g'vurot," neither a manifestation of valor nor the one who controls courage and strength, rather the skilled practitioner, the one with exceptional talents, the master of bringing life out of death.

Certainly, we will never reach God's perfection in any realm or domain. However, we can aspire to develop a mastery of all we do and thus imitate this aspect of our Creator's nature.

Home | Profile | Works | Links

Comments or Questions? Email