A couple of days ago I barged into my daughter’s room and asked, “Do you want to hear something terrible?” She looked up at me meekly and said, “No, not really.”
We both laughed, and she added, “What kind of person would say ‘yes’ to a question like that?”
This, of course, made me think about the interpretation of the Amidah that I’d been asked to write.
Really?? you ask. What convoluted train of thought got you there? Oh and by the way, Singer, what the hell are you talking about??
Calm down. I promise it’ll make sense. Eventually.
The Amidah, for those of you who don’t know, is a central part of the a Jewish prayer service and consists, loosely, of 19 blessings. As Lawrence Hoffman puts it, “the Siddur [prayer book] is filled with blessings, a uniquely rabbinic vehicle for addressing God, and the primary liturgical expressin of Jewish spirituality.”
Rabbinic, by the way, not as in the rabbis of today, but rather those of the early centuries of the Common Era who did a whole lot of thinking about how to be Jewish in the absence of the Temple in Jerusalem, and therefore unable to perform the cultic rituals that are essential to Biblical Judaism. But I digress.
This summer I’ll go back to Prayer Camp (aka the Davvenin’ Leadership Training Institute, aka DLTI) for a week, and to prepare we were asked to write our own interpretation of the Amidah.
Which on the surface doesn’t seem too difficult. Just write some pretty poetry to convey the message of the original liturgy. There’s a problem, however. (For me, anyway. I can’t speak for the other prayer campers.)
The problem is that some of the prayers don’t exactly resonate for us moderns. For example:
May there be no hope for slanderers, and may all wickedness instantly perish, and may all your enemies quickly be destroyed. May You quickly uproot, smash, destroy, and humble the insolent quickly in our day. Blessed are You, God, who smashes his enemies and humbles the insolent.
And by the way, that’s the modern version. Some of the originals were downright nasty, and made mention of specific groups of heretics at whom this malediction was hurled (after all, you can’t really call it a benediction).
Why would we want to pray for something bad to happen to someone, even if that someone is wicked? Which, frankly is a question I’d rather save for another day. I just don’t have it in me.
What I do wonder, however, is why we gravitate towards the negative stuff. Anyone who’s ever glanced at the front page of a newspaper knows that good news doesn’t sell papers. We humans seem to thrive on the bad stuff. The answer to Sarah Jane’s rhetorical question is, “virtually everyone.”
So I have decided to become the bearer of good news only. No gossip. No dissing the Republicans. No complaining about airports and sitting on runways for hours in sweltering aircraft (did you see how craftily I slipped that one in?). And most of all, no more complaining about how busy and stressed I am. Because it’s all in my head anyway.
Welcome to the new, perpetually sunny Jennifer! At least for now. Not sure how long I can keep this up.