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Prayerbook Vocabulary Studies
February 27, 2009
© Rabbi Jack Moline

Just about everyone knows that "dor" means "generation." And almost as many people already know that the idiom "l'dor vador" means "from generation to generation." It is a resonant phrase in our prayer book, and more so in Jewish culture.

I once had the chance to speak briefly at the inauguration of a new postage stamp that was issued simultaneously in the United States and Israel each place with its own currency, of course. Since the Hebrew word for "post" is "do'ar," I said that this stamp would reinforce the connection between the US and Israel "l'doar vado'ar." The Ambassador was very tickled, but it was lost on the Postmaster General.

At its room, dor carries the meaning of circle, perhaps not quite geometrically as much as the way we use the word to mean enclosure. In fact, the word morphs into meaning "dwell" in Aramaic, seemingly blending the idea of enclosure and the word "gur," meaning to reside.

A generation is an age cohort, a fancy way of saying people of your own age. It is the conceit of every generation that it is the first of its kind, and the attributes that define it are unlike any generation previous or future. Each generation has its defining moments cultural, political, environmental, historical. Whether it is rock and roll or the second World War or the Great Depression or walking five miles to school, uphill both ways, the events that include an individual yet are much larger than the individual allows each person to be t-t-talkin' `bout my generation.

But the fact is there isn't so much difference from one generation to the next. The essential matters of life remain the same. They may not be eternal, but they link not only individuals in a generation, but the generations one to another. The enclosure of experience and age and defines a generation is not so much a circle as a link in a chain. To use the phrase "l'dor vador" is to recognize that generations do not merely touch, they overlap. The literal translation to generation AND generation conveys that notion.

In the prayer book, the use of l'dor vador is as close as we can come to a human approximation of the omnipresence of God. There is something unending about the human experience that allows our constantly changing cast of characters nonetheless to remain perpetually in God's presence. It is from generation to generation that we can taste eternity.

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