Class 14 notes - May 20, 2009

Care package -- contains many of my favorites! And some things which are not my favorite, but we can learn as much from that which is not the best as we do from that which is the best.

An unetaneh tokef for our machines: who by hard drive crash, and who not by hard drive crash...

Kindly send $10 to Ahavat Achim - see info to come on wiki - to reimburse for printing/copying costs.

We have 3 sessions remaining: 14, 15, and 16. We're beginning all of them at this 9:30 hour.

Today: some pieces of core poetry. Also some issues of Y"K, Kol Nidre, vidui.

Next week: vidui, avodah, martyrology, yizkor. Our final session: neilah, maariv, and everying we don't get to otherwise.

Insertion into the musaf amidah. Please open the HHD machzor to any version of the repetition of the amidah by the sha"tz.

In the first bracha, the words of which are so familiar to us all, there's an addition. (Misod chachamim u'nvonim etc.)

Somebody tell me what this is and what it's doing here.

- is this somehow acknowledging all of the insertions?

Why would it need to do that?

- because they're not in the Talmud?

Lots of things aren't in the Talmud. So why would they need to do that, and why does it seem to be unique to R"H and Y"K? Think halakhically for a moment.

- you don't want it to be considered a hafsaka

Why would that be a problem?

- not supposed to interrupt the brachot.

Correct. Someone else explain this?

- you're not supposed to interrupt the brachot from the shema through the end of the amidah.

How is that consistent or otherwise from what R' Zalman reminds us, that the text of the amidah was originally unformed and could be improvised by the baal tefilah?

- originally the sha"tz could elaborate on set themes, but once the text was set, it could have seemed that these deviations were a shift away from the text, so this text is here to make clear that these additions are kosher, as it were

What's the mishna that heightens the idea that interruption is to be taken seriously?

- the thing about the snake?

And about saying hello to someone?

- what distractions are okay when; it's more stringent with the amidah than the shema

Right. If you're in the middle of the shema and someone says good morning, you ignore them. Who should you not ignore?

- the king

Or somebody from the FBI. Someone who sparks legitimate yirah. The fact that the mishna, and gemara expanding upon it, goes to such significant lengths to analyze what precisely is the level of inner agitation that would allow you to interrupt the fixed repetition of these texts or improvisation along already established guidelines tells you that the notion of continuity is very important. The compromise between scribal and pharisaic liturgy which Zahavy speaks about in his book, e.g. "Who is really meritorious? The person who makes a seamless join, who maintains continuity, between the bracha of geulah." Meaning, you take the liturgical unit of shema u-virchoteha and make that a seamless join into the amidah.

And the amidah itself is meant to have a certain seamlessness.

The halakha goes to really extraordinary lengths to identify a continuous and contiguous unity and structure from kriat shema through the end of the amidah. So interrupting that continuity is not a small thing. One interrupts it only with significant trepidation and care. So the insertion of these paragraphs, insertions like zochreinu l'chayyim -- why, in light of what I just said, might those insertions not be regarded as problematic?

- presumably they're older than the piyyutim; and they appear in the regular amidah, not only in the repetition

You make two points and they're both correct. You could say that the real issue that we will come to attack, piyyutus interruptus -- but look at whether the additions that we looked at the last time are of sufficient antiquity, the concepts are of sufficient antiquity, that they are deemed matbe'ah tefilah. So they aren't deemed to be an interruption.

Whereas with a piyyut, you want to maintain the integrity of the insertion. When we do so, whether it's a poem by Amichai or ibn Ezra, we're taking a unit of text with clear integrity and inserting it into the amidah. Two very different literary entities are being conjoined. And this text, misod chachamim, offers the halakhic permission -- though it serves a halakhic purpose it transcends the language of the halaha and adds a poetic-spiritual overarching kavanah also.

- is it possible that Saadia didn't like these as much as others among the geonim? Do piyyutim come from a school of prayer that's less philosophically aligned...?

I think I understand the question. My challenge to you, to make that a really well-formed question, is: could you identify an insertion which you could identify as being from an earlier school that was not deemed so problematic, put in without seemingly needing the trigger misod hachamim?

All of the other insertions that we deal with: how do we know they're seen as part of the matbeah tefilah and not just a poetic insertion? Because they're included in the silent amidah. Whereas misod chachamim is not in the silent amidah, only in the repetition. If we take the silent amidah seriously there is a halakhic perspective which says that the continuity, uninterruptednes of the tefilah is maintained intact by the silent amidah.

- the tone and language reminds me of the hineni; there's something about the role of the sha"tz begging forgiveness before they act on this day when our actions are judged; almost like a plenary indulgence in the Catholic construct

- I looked this up in an encyclopedia of Jewish prayer which says it's not said on the second day of R"H during musaf because on the second day, it doesn't have piyyutim. But I consider something like unetaneh tokef a piyyut!

Now I'm curious... Goldschmidt on 173 has the following footnote [Hebrew] - so the misod chachamim is only germane to the piyyutim technically called krovot, those in the first and second bracha. Piyyutim associated w/ the kedusha or later brachot are not called krovot they're called kedushta'ot and other piyyutim. So misod chachamim only applies to the first two brachot.

There are a few Hassidische congregations which maintain a second day of Y"K, and I'd be curious to know --

- are you joking?

No. There are communities, some Hassidische and Haredim which observe a second day of Y"K.

- that's not logical

It's very logical; what's not logical is that the rest of us don't! It's a concession to human frailty.

What's interesting to me -- I haven't been able to find any particular comment of any commentator to the Reform liturgy. What's interesting to me is that the Reform liturgy does not retain misod chachamim. I don't have the Israeli version -- do they retain it?

- I didn't bring a copy with me; I think it does but I'm not positive

Gates of Repentance does not retain misod chachamim. It's interesting to me why they don't, because there certainly are insertions into the amidah in the Reform liturgy, and shaarei teshuvah was compiled by people who had great liturgical sensitivity.

Who here sees merit in misod chachamim?

- I love to sing it

- I love the words

Existentially-spiritually rather than musically.

- when I daven the words I have the sense that I'm entering into a hall of mystery

Anybody have a critical view?

- I don't have a critical view, but it causes me concern about all of the additions/deviations that we make all the time in services that are not Orthodox to the matbeah tefilah, and nobody's asking permission or beginning forgiveness; how can we say this with integrity?

- I disagree with your interpretation of what the text is saying. It's saying, from the secret wisdom I open my mouth in prayer to awaken the holy forgiveness for everybody. Whereas in hineni, it says, God, even though I can't really say these prayers, pls forgive the people I'm praying for. See the difference?

- this could also be applied to the whole yamim nora'im in general, not just to these words

- but it doesn't adress the question of why don't we beg for forgiveness any time we deviate from the matbeah tefilah

I think Deb is right to ask the question. Here's my answer. It's a little like making a bracha for Torah. You make a bracha on fruit when you have an apple for breakfast, and when you eat another apple you make another bracha. You renew the utterance each time. Whereas in one language paradigm-shift before where we are now, many dcuments would include an opening statement, "The masculine includes the feminine." That introductory point would be deemed to cover an entire book.

So technically Deb I think you're right; you'd say, before every insertion one would insert a text like that, to be parallel with eating fruit. It is often the case with many-times-repeated things like this that it would become meaningless and lose its sense. Reciting it therefore once, even though it technically only applies to krovot, I personally hear it as an umbrella covering everything that we're going to insert.

What's interesting to me is that the text itelf of misod chachamim is inserted 2 sentences after the beginning of the amidah. Why not at the beginning of the amidah?

- we start out the amidah as we know it, and before the first chance we say misod -- like we say a bracha and immediately eat the apple.

Close. Because this is introduced in order to say it's okay to include interruptions, it makes sense to include the "okay for interruptions" as an interruption itself.

My question is: speaking to congregations who do not in any way have the halakhic sensitivity which misod chachamim is designed to address, how would you explain and introduce this text, and at what point might you do that?

- the amidah, for people who are basically only praying the amidah on the high holidays -- this could be understood to be moving along to the next level; we invoked our Biblical ancestors and now we invoke our rabbinic ancestors

- this is where we came from, this is our legitimacy; that's why we're able to see this, and therefore able to go on

I would offer the following thought: I wouldn't do this in the middle of the amidah, but -- The fact that people are gathered together, and we have mixed communities; this is not an unimportant thing, even for those who have phds in the history of liturgy. To take a moment before the beginnign of the amidah, say: as we enter this text, we're entering a historical journey. A continuous flow throughout the year, a base text which is familiar to some of us, which has integrity of its own. To understand the complex, embracing, multifaceted spiritual focus of the text we journey through together, it's important to understand which words that we say are a part of the base, the framework, and what are the innovations and insertions selected and added over the last thousand years, and sometimes by our community itself. What are the counterpoints we have chosen to embellish and express our experience, and how do we understand them as departures from the base? Therefore in the very first blessing we together recite words that remind us that the journey from those words & onwards is a journey through the framework and the counterpoint.

Something like that reminds people of the two-pronged journey being taken. Perhaps some typographic way could also make clear what is a piece of the matbeah tefilah. Use also the technology of nusach.

- the amidah is the time for atzilut; if there's any explanation, however meaningful, it takes us out of the place of that deeper soul-place

I would recommend saying something before the silent amidah, or after the silent but before the repetition. But this point raises something, a kind of historical gestalt broad kavanah and perspective. I agree very much that a reflection like that, I would not choose to put in the middle of the amidah.

But especially on the HHD, where the repetition of the amidah can be very long, it raises different questions for communities that don't do a repetition, but -- at what point are kavanot, explanations or even page numbers necessary even if they in some ways detract from atzilut?

- we go into the chagim immersed in this, but the people we serve often aren't; they may not recognize what's extraordinary because they don't recognize the ordinary! how do we transmit some pearls of this so that it resonates?

- how about doing some of this in davenable English -- like aural highlighter, to lift those pearls out of the text

- could one elaborate on that with handouts? offering the variations, in different colors

- or via footnotes in the machzor; that's part of the step back that happened in the REform movement with mishkan tefilah. People like the information! There should be things in the book that might interest me, hook me back in.

I'm going to be a little objectionable. So unlike me! I like Mishkan Tefilah enormously; I like Kol haNeshamah, the Reconstructionist liturgy; I love Or Chadash, the Conservative commentary on Shabbat and daily version, and I know Reuven's working on a HHD version. Having said that, I am after years of doing interviews with people after the HHD I am extraordinarily sensitive to the profound difference between anything that is written and put in the hands of mitpallelim, and that which is said and expressed aloud. There's a huge difference.

So what you say is absolutely right: there are all kinds of lovely, important, profound things that we can find in existing siddurim or machzorim, or in things that people read -- but what I hear back from people every year is that what is presented verbally strikes the consciousness in a different way.

A number of the divrei tefilah that you have offered would adorn the kavanah of a service even if they were inserted within the amidah.

I entirely agree with Yafa that what I was saying about point and counterpoint is not what she would want to be hearing during the amidah. But I've heard almost all of you present divrei tefilah that I think could fit there. There's a challenge between what would suit us individually, privately, and what are the consequences and privileges of functioning as sha"tz. And there is also the great distinction between silent amidah and hazzerat hashas, and to the extent that we've davened silently I think we become more open to additions.

- is it considered less problematic to have a hafsakah after the silent amidah is finished and before the hazarah? because if you do it before the silent amidah then you're breaking the flow there too.

If you wanted to think from pure halakhic analysis of hafsakah, yes. I'm not aware -- which isn't to say that there isn't -- I would be deeply grateful of anybody who might make me aware -- of any source/opinion that suggests that there's any issue of hemshechiyut between the silent amidah and the repetition. I would add: if we shift our consciousness to musaf, mincha, ne'ilah there are no issues because the geulah l'tefilah item doesn't present itself.

In terms of particular kavanot for particular piyutim, my sense is that to say something about melech/malach anything other than right beforehand will tax the ability of people to hold what you've said in their minds while they daven. It's an insoluble paradox.

- I grew up in a very traditional Conservative shul where there were never kavanot, and yet I understood the meaning of the prayers by the way in which the rabbi led the davening. So I struggle with kavanot. I see how it's meaningful for people, often for me too; but other times I feel like I'm being constantly interrupted by other people's ideas and can't go deep.

In our last session I'll want to say more about that.

Somebody please send me an email to remind me to post the relevant quote about evil spirits and the tongue from my favorite Benedictine priest to the wiki.

I'd like to take a little time to look at El Orech Din. Even in the most abbreviated versions of the liturgy, everyone includes it.

- even Gates of Repentance.

What is it doing here?

- it's a reminder of what we're doing here; the form of the poem makes that hit home, with the repetition of din

Could you move a little further? Anybody have anything to add?

- alphabetic acrostic

- the translations often try to give it a bit of something else; every phrase is an ending phrase of a sentence. "Therefore all should crown you" -- it doesn't make sense entirely even with that; there's something missing here.

- when I recite it, I feel like I'm going through the whole alphabet and not finding the right address

- we are saying to God a series of affirmations: You are so... deep, knowledgeable, You remember, You are, are, are. When you want someone to be their best, you keep telling them so. Manifest what you want by saying what you want.

Let's look at a couple of references. Job 13:18. הִנֵּה-נָא, עָרַכְתִּי מִשְׁפָּט; יָדַעְתִּי, כִּי-אֲנִי אֶצְדָּק.

The parallel is? Orech din and arachti mishpat. Nearly every phrase here is of Biblical origin. I don't want to go through all of them, but look at Proverbs 17:3

מַצְרֵף לַכֶּסֶף, וְכוּר לַזָּהָב; וּבֹחֵן לִבּוֹת יְה

To the extent that the paytanim knew the context, what metaphor is being introduced by this second phrase?

- the physical human body; God can see inside our physical self

How do you understand libot? What do you mean?

- we have a different attitude toward our physical bodies than did premodern. But I believe that you can't see more than I am showing you. My intentions are within my physical self as well as my imaginal self. That's the border of me.

But to the extent that I can only see what you choose to reveal: if I have X-ray glasses, is this anything to do with physical capacity to see inside your veins, etc?

In Biblical Hebrew, what does lev mean?

- mind

When you look at the metaphor here, look at this third pasuk completely. How do you understand that?

- that God is able to recast all of our shmutz; God can burn out all the extra stuff to get to what's really at our core

- maybe we shouldn't read libot as the heart of a person; libat esh is the very heart of a flame, the hottest place. The libot are the hottest, most intense things.

That's a very interesting reread. If you wanted to read lamed/bet/vav/tav, and assume that the vav is a vowel so it's lamed/bet/tav, look at the verb uvochen: what would be the subject and the object, how would it work? If you read it as labat Hashem, the flame of Hashem? I don't think that the verb uvochen would work.

- I understood Hashem as subject and libot as object

So God looks into the fire. But what fire, and why would God care?

It's an interesting disjunction. Uvochen levavot, you have a sense that the process is merely one of inquiry. That God really looks at what is hidden. God looks inside and can see inside even the things that we hide from others. But in that sense, the looking is very passive, non-interactive. God will discern the truth regardless of what we do.

But if you look at the first two parts of the pasuk: refining gold and silver is not a passive process for the gold or the silver. The process of being burned in the crucible actually removes the dross. So the process of having God look into us, refines you.

Psalm 145:20: שׁוֹמֵר יְה אֶת-כָּל-אֹהֲבָיו; וְאֵת כָּל-הָרְשָׁעִים יַשְׁמִיד.

By the time these piyyutim were written, the love of ashrei was well-known. This one should resonate for anyone who says ashrei 3x/day.

And lastly, Isaiah 41:10:

אַל-תִּירָא כִּי עִמְּךָ-אָנִי, אַל-תִּשְׁתָּע כִּי-אֲנִי אֱלֹהֶיךָ; אִמַּצְתִּיךָ, אַף-עֲזַרְתִּיךָ--אַף-תְּמַכְתִּיךָ, בִּימִין צִדְקִי

Fear not, for I am with you; don't be dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I support you with my victorious right hand.

Seeing this as the very last phrase -- imagining that the author in quoting these texts did mean to have some reference back -- what would you sya is the messag eof the last phrase here?

- I'll help you; I'm on your side

- it's like a parent; don't worry, I'm here to catch you

- but it emphasizes those who love him, like ashrei

- right, but we're looking at tomech t'mimav. T'mimim are like children. Pure, naive innocent faith.

All I would add to that is the metaphor from the verse, don't be afraid or dismayed. It's about to go to the kedusha, all of these images of din. Being looked-at by God is like being purified in a furnace! But this says, "I'm there." That goes pretty much straight into the kedusha in most versions that we have. It's a high point of shacharit.

Let's move on to unetaneh tokef.

- byzantine and Latin parallels -- see Dies Irae (Shoshanna reads text aloud)

Most editions of the machzor set this out -- it is deeply problematic and upsetting to me -- you get a paragraph. This really should be set out as poetry.

This is one poetic composition that goes through these 2 or 3 different paragraphs. Beginning at the beginning: [reading/translating]

We wont be able to look at every Biblical parallel, but do look at Habakuk 1:7

אָיֹם וְנוֹרָא, הוּא; מִמֶּנּוּ, מִשְׁפָּטוֹ וּשְׂאֵתוֹ יֵצֵא. / They are terrible and dreadful; their law and their majesty proceed from themselves.

What's the context?

- the line before it is prophesying that the Casdim, the Babylonians, are going the length and breadth of the earth to inherit homelands that are not theirs.

So it's clear that the metaphor of nora v'ayom is one of physical terror.

The Genizah fragment of this -- there's a phrase missing. Specific reference that the kedushat hayom corresponds or parallels. What do yout hink it means by shalosh tekiot hayom?

- tekiah, shevarim, truah?

Possibly. How else?

- the 2 days of R"H and the end of Y"K?

Most unlikely.

What occurs to me is, malkhuyot, zichronot, and shofarot. It could also be tekiah, shevarim, truah. But it associates the kedushat hayom with something specific.

U'vo tenaseh malkhutecha -- Numbers 24:7

יִזַּל-מַיִם מִדָּלְיָו, וְזַרְעוֹ בְּמַיִם רַבִּים; וְיָרֹם מֵאֲגַג מַלְכּוֹ, וְתִנַּשֵּׂא מַלְכֻתוֹ.

Water shall flow from his branches, and his seed shall be in many waters; and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted.

- these are such bizarre references; we're talking about our enemies!

Isn't that interesting?

This is from the prophecy of Balaam. That God will triumph even over the enemies. Think of how these 2 quotes work. Nora v'ayom specifically references the fear we could have of our enemies. U'vo t'nash malchutecha identifies our enemies, indicating that God will triumph even over Agag.

Emet ki ata hu dayan - what do all of these words have in common?

- things that would happen in a court room

And they're all verbs. The first few lines of poetry set the scene: what are the emotions that we come into the poetic context with? With nora and ayom, a sense of kedusha, and then it sets the scene. The activity is happening. These are all active verbs. This is not a passive judge sitting there, waiting for the lawyers to come make arguments. Unetaneh Tokef turns the metaphor of a court onto its head. This is a court where there's no bailiff, no prosecution or defense. It's just you and God.

Listen carefully: what is the transition in the nature of the verbs? (V'tiskor...)

- they're not physical things

There's a subtle difference in the verbs.

- remembering is different from recording

And where does it speak of that? The verb I'm looking at is y'kare; why is it the odd one out?

- it's in nif'al

- what does it mean?

- will be read

Every other one of the verbs is active. God will do, remember, open; and then it shifts into the passive. Such a transition in poetry always suggests to me that a different perspective is happening.

Goldschmidt has a bizarre comment on this: "Me'atzmo nikra." It reads itself.

- that's what me'elav means!

What is the image created here? How does this work?

- it's like something from Harry Potter! God's running around the courtroom doing all of this, and then remembers everything that's forgotten, and you'll open the book and it will read itself.

Why does God need to be reminded in having the book read itself?

- in a sense, we judge ourselves with our own deeds

God knows everything that's forgotten. But how about us? To take Simcha Daniel's metaphor, I would say that the Book of Life is a 24/7 holographic recording device that follows us everywhere we go; we show up on R"H and it automatically rises up and plays itself. Not for God, but for us.

What I think the poem is saying, by invoking that metaphor of bringing this book which was the most technologically complex metaphor that the author of this poem would have had available.

"Every man signed it by their life." Like there's a retinal scan on each day. Each deed that you do leaves its trace on the recording instrument.

[missed a few moments]

Isaiah 27:13

וְהָיָה בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, יִתָּקַע בְּשׁוֹפָר גָּדוֹל, וּבָאוּ הָאֹבְדִים בְּאֶרֶץ אַשּׁוּר, וְהַנִּדָּחִים בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם; וְהִשְׁתַּחֲווּ לַיהוָה בְּהַר הַקֹּדֶשׁ, בִּירוּשָׁלִָם.

And it shall come to pass in that day, that a great horn shall be blown; and they shall come that were lost in the land of Assyria, and they that were dispersed in the land of Egypt; and they shall worship the LORD in the holy mountain at Jerusalem.

Because of Shlomo, we all know the end of this pasuk, from uva'u haovdim. Because Shlomo started his song there, we don't know the beginning of the pasuk. What is the context of this sounding of the great shofar? When is bayom hahu?

- the great and terrible day of the wars

The metaphor is eschatological. Some of that sense of ultimate destiny is construed into this moment. The phrase kol dmama, where does that come from?

- Kings, the story where...

The classic story of Eliahu is...

- I Kings, 19:11-12

We all know the story.

וְאַחַר הָרַעַשׁ אֵשׁ, לֹא בָאֵשׁ יְהוָה; וְאַחַר הָאֵשׁ, קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה.

What's the best translation of that last phrase?

- a silent voice

- a still, small voice

That's the King James version. An interesting essay on dmama. The verb is to be silent. But dmama has an onomatopoeic quality. A couple of translated have suggested murmur. A very fine murmuring sound is heard.

However. In terms of the metaphor of the text, we have kol dmama and everybody knows that phrase. But look at Job 4:16:

יַעֲמֹד, וְלֹא אַכִּיר מַרְאֵהוּ-- תְּמוּנָה, לְנֶגֶד עֵינָי; דְּמָמָה וָקוֹל אֶשְׁמָע.

It stood still, but I could not discern the appearance thereof; a form was before mine eyes; I heard a still voice:

- two different things there; I heard the dmama and I heard a kol, a voice

The reason that I look at that and wonder whether that's not also parallel is the idea that kol dmama will be sounded, which is not quite there in the melachim source. This is what happens in some sense while you're encountering divine presence.

- it almost seems like the aural version of the bright white light; different writers experienced this sound before the revelation

- if you're phonating an "ah" with closed lips the resonator is still there but closed lips prevent it from coming out. It's a murmuring, but it's interesting that the dmama always has that "m," always sound behind it but the lips prevent the sound from coming out. As opposed to "kol," where the k is a vowel slingshot.

One more thing on this: even in the midst of the sounding of the shofar gadol, the tekiah of the great shofar presumably blown by the angels, an incredible blasting sound, something about the kol damama daka is perceivable despite the great shofar.

Amazing transition between the spectacle of this, heavens and earth, eschatology, ultimate encounter with God -- and then it shifts into this pastoral thing, the shepherd and the flock. Notice that the words v'tispor, timneh, tifkod are very like what we saw before. It's not just about the warden of the prison checking the prisoners; the metaphor of the shepherd, in the rabbinic idiom, is always the metaphor of love. See this as an act of love.

And then it enters the classic who by fire, etc.

- one thing about the shepherd that we lose when we talk about it is that a shepherd will look at the flock, count them out, and the ones that go over here to live are the ones who need to fatten up, and the ones who go over there to die are the ones who are fat and healthy and look good to eat.

I think you're looking to read this act of the shepherd as the shepherd acting as dayan. But if you think of sheep who are kept for wool, when the shepherd counts the flock it's not about who's to be slaughtered, it's more about: is anybody missing who I'd need to go and fetch?

If you buy into the metaphor (of slaughter), they're there only to ultimately provide food and necessities for the shepherd. Whereas God, if you try to make the mashal, God is not raising us for the pure purpose of killing us for nourishment.

- because we don't worship molech.

So God's interest is in checking in to ensure that we're all well and safe.

Re: mi ba-esh and mi ba-mayim -- did I post a link to...

- Leonard Cohen?

If you haven't listened to those, please do.

u'tshuvah, utfilah, utzedakah -- how do you understand this?

- return, prayer, and --

What else?

- it's never too late to change

- no decree is etched in stone

- we were talking before, about how our deeds tell the story; this offers us an opportunity to add to what's in the book via sincere intentions and concrete actions in this world that are added to our story

So what is the mechanism, on the most pshat level: what exactly is the mechanism?

- it's assuming that the decree is severe

- makes the assumption that the decree has been determined but you can ameliorate it

Explain ameliorate.

- you can ameliorate the decree by your subsequent actions.

What do you mean by ameliorate?

- if we do acts of teshuvah -- I'm going to hold that off. Doing prayer, giving charitably, and doing acts of teshuvah, maybe go back to the person we harmed and make whole, but also making whole with God, then whatever decree has been determined can be minimized

What do you mean by minimized?

- instead of death, e.g., it could be something less severe.

When you have a moment, there's a very -- again, we have no way of interviewing the author, so looking at original intent, but -- assuming that the author of this text, even though it might well be based on some earlier Byzantine text, is learned in rabbinic sources. The closest rabbinic source to this is Bamidbar Rabbah 44:13. "Shlosha dvarim mvatlim et ha-gzeirah, v'eilu hen," and it's this list of three. Mem, bet, tet, lamed, yud, mem. Write that down and below it write, ma'avirin et roa ha'gzeirah. Those two phrases are parallel. This from mirash is the basis for the phrase in unetaneh tokef. How has it changed?

- from nullify to avert

Which is nullify?

- if I heard it correctly --


- so I heard it wrong

- that says it cancels it out.

To my mind there's one other variant which makes all the difference in the world. It's interesting not only as text-analysis but also profoundly important for any contemporary reading of this.

- roa is in the liturgy but not in the midrash

Right. What is the difference between roa ha-gzeirah and gzeirah?

- gzeirah could be anything, positive as well as negative

- roa - it's the harshness of it; it only changes what is bad in the decree

I want to make this real. Just before R"H, someone is diagnosed with cancer. They come to you and say, if I make teshuvah will that take my cancer away?

- no, but it will transform your life; it will help you accept what is there

So the way that this was read, in the old days -- "Prayer, repentance, and good deeds will avert the evil decree." Ha-gzeirah ha'ra'ah.

The author of this poem was very theolgically sophisticated. You can tell it in many ways, from the sophistication of the imagery. But here the insertion makes all the difference, which makes this fit with contemporary theology. He didn't say mvatlim, which is to imagine there is anything we can do in our spiritual work to change the physical constraints of the world. This author was already in a reality where the world didn't change, no matter how hard you prayed.

L'ha'avir, from the verb avar, is to transform or transition. But without the word roa it would have held out the idea that doing these acts, whether internal or external, in some way can transform the reality of the gzeirah. These things could effect your cancer, your tumor, the tsunami. Roa ha-gzeirah, it seems to me, is your experience of the gzeirah. These 3 things have the power to effect your experience of the gzeirah whether it's tov or ra.

The reason I'm stressing this -- I don't believe that this interpretation is born out of modern theology. I believe that this reading of Unetaneh Tokef is absolute pshat. The piyyut paradigmshifts the midrash.

Shifting Kol Nidre to next week; Shoshanna will present on drama now.

(download pdf of full translation from there)

I'd like everybody, and I'll put this in an email -- I hope everybody will read Shoshanna's paper, and think how you would apply those values to a couple of sections of HHD services. There are sections which really demand this kind of reflection. When we speak about Kol Nidre next week -- it's not only about the text or about the melody, with or without accompaniment, etc. Almost very synagogue has some choreography, some drama, associated with it. From very underdone to extraordinary pageantry. It's no respecter of denomination; Temple Emanuel has huge pageantry around K"N while other places are much more minimalist! Think about what we do, how and why we do it. Especially re: K"N, shofar, and seder ha-avodah, I'd like some responses on the wiki and we'll speak about it in our session, how to take the general values that Shoshanna has articulated and apply them to our service.

Whoever has time: please speak with people from different Renewal communities to get a sense for drama and choreography.