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Prayerbook Vocabulary Studies
July 3, 2009
© Rabbi Jack Moline

This particular word sounds especially familiar because it appears in the sequence of rhythmic pronouncements in the second section of Kaddish. In the Amidah, however, it stands in a little more isolation. And the idea behind it appears throughout prayer and in spiritual concerns in general.

First of all, as usual, it helps to clear away the grammatical structures that add tense, person and verbal construct. When you do so, you are left with "romeim," an intensive form of the verb "rum," more often pronounced "ram." Ram is a word we are all very familiar with because of its long association with the camping arm of the Conservative Movement, Ramah. The root meaning has to do with elevating something physically or praising something – that is, rhetorically raising it above other things.

The notion of lifting something up is familiar in matters of prayer and praise. Think of all the images of lifting in our practice – the Torah scroll, the Kiddush cup, the havdalah candle, the plate of matza, the lulav and etrog, raising off our heels during the kedusha, to name a few. One of the three ways God blesses us is to lift up the divine presence. And the Psalm we call "ashrei" is actually introduced by two borrowed verse that begin "ashrei;" its first word is really "aromimkha," meaning I will elevate with praise God the Sovereign.

So this word "v'yitromam" has more to do with space than anything else. It points upward, higher than the ground on which we stand, no matter how high that ground is to begin with. In using this word, it appears as if we locate God's presence and the holiness that accompanies it above us.

It is worth remembering, however, that both in the Amidah and in the Kaddish, "v'yitromam" is coupled with "yitbarakh." Though the specific meaning of that word, as we discussed many months ago, deals with empowerment, it also carries the meaning of bending at the knees and bowing low. If "v'yitromam" points upward, "yitbarakh" points downward. Pairing the two of them together creates a spatial image God's presence that is comprehensive, even as it makes for a physical hierarchy that puts God above and us below.

We lift up God's name in praise and are lifted by that praise to higher ground. There, we bless the opportunity by humbling ourselves with a sense of awe in God's presence. Up or down, wherever we turn, there we find God.

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