Stories We Pray: insights into the inner-work of Jewish worship (notes on the book by Joel Lurie Grishaver)

These are my own gleanings from the book by Joel Lurie Grishaver, Stories We Pray: insights into the inner-work of Jewish worship (2012, Torah Aura Productions). I hope they encourage you to buy the book. I have paraphrased in order to clarify my own understanding, but there are also direct quotations from the book. The notes in square brackets are my own thoughts and responses, rather than ideas gleaned from the book itself.


  • 1 Robert Bly: myth is “a truth frozen in a story”
  • [Metaphors of prayer are mythically true, and help us retune ourselves.]
  • 3 Nachman: camouflage truth so the soul can absorb it [NB story of Truth borrowing Parable’s coat]

Introduction: the power of narrative, p.5

  • 5 siddur is creedology and repetition for internalisation
  • 7 Liturgy as drama of the heart
  • 1486 = first printed siddur

Jewish Prayer, p.9

  • 11 Enter & accept the metaphors
  • Find & create newness within fixed prayers
  • Pay attention even though the path is familiar

Waking Ritual, p.13

Modeh Ani

  • 15 First words on waking
  • [Each day God creates the world anew – we are recreated too, and we can recreate daily. Nachman: we can start a new life each day.]
  • First act of the day is a God-connection, and acknowledgement of dependence on God [Schonfield: ambiguity of modeh that means both gratitude, and the more neutral, formal ‘acknowledgement’]
  • See the world anew, with fresh eyes
  • Story of the shoes that got turned around in the night so that the little girl returns to her home town thinking it is different and better than the one she left.
  • 16 [Use prayers to see the world and ourselves differently.]
  • 17 Every night, God gives our soul wisdom [so we can start new day with fresh inspiration and possibility]
  • Story of ‘Educating the Soul’. “God took the souls that would become Adam and Eve and showed them not only their life, but also the future of all the their children. … When they understood that each thing they did could either help or hurt, when they understood that every action has a consequence, their souls were ready. God made sure that the wisdom would remain but the knowledge of the future would be gone. And so people were born. God prepares every human soul in the same way. And every night the soul returns to God again to be given wisdom and to come very close to its Creator. Every single morning God returns our soul to us and we begin a brand new day.”
  • [What makes today a day for new possibilities?]

Birkhot Hashachar [#1]

  • 19 connect each daily action with God
  • Asher yatzar – body, functions, & God
  • Elohai n’shamah – God is our life force
  • Our essential nature is purity
  • Asher yatzar / body, Elohai n’shamah / soul, birkhat hatorah / intellect
  • 21 Mah Tovu
  • Like Bilaam, turn from turbulence to blessing and God-consciousness
  • Turn attention to creating prayer space physically and internally
  • [Our experience is coloured by the filter we choose to look through—transform our vision to see the positive. E.g. I survived the night, my body works, sun has come up, God teaches, good can be found even in the worst situations. This is not empty, naïve optimism, but the shaping of intentions and subsequent action to make this true.]

Birkhot Hashachar [#2]

  • 23 Each blessing has a literal and metaphorical meaning “an action and an insight”
  • Remember each blessing we receive could be paid forward; we can be God’s agent to bless others. “Rabbi Harold Schulweiss, author of Those Who Can’t Believe: overcoming the obstacles to faith (Harper Collins 1994), teaches that we should add the words ‘through me’ to every prayer. When we praise God for ‘straightening out the bent over,’ we should be asking, ‘God straighten out the bent over through me.’ Every time we praise God for doing something, we are committing ourselves to the same action.”
  • These blessings are not prescriptive content, but are suggestive of content.
  • [Make a physical blessing, and play with finding an inner / metaphorical meaning.]
  • Connect myself to me, and also to God.

Asher Yatzar

  • 25 We’re created with the attribute of wisdom, unique to humans, so we can receive Torah and reason
  • God gives and removes: spirit, breath, eyesight, hearing, speech, walking, undwerstanding, discernment
  • God tells Adam in a dream about the righteous of the future, so Adam dreams of a better world, and we inherit that same dream.
  • The body is a divine creation for a divine purpose (Torah) and therefore the body is not ‘bad’.

Elohai n’shamah

  • 27 Soul is a uniquely human phenomenon
  • The soul takes a journey through life, and endures the death of the body, and has a future beyond that (and a past before birth)
  • Soul discerns good and evil, and enables us to receive and study Torah
  • Soul “gives us access to eternity”

Birkhot Hatorah

  • 29 A blessing is empty unless it’s followed by the action we bless.
  • Talmud teaches us to study other sources besides Tanach
  • [We’d be poorer without Torah, and we’re richer with Scripture. Out tribe’ll survive with the Bible. We’d be a whole lot less if we failed to bless. Life without t’fillah is a killer.]
  • How do we consciously live the truth that Torah and God are ‘water’ that we ‘fish’ live in? (NB story of fish, river & fox)
  • Chaim Potok: Judaism is ‘deedology’ rather than ‘creedology’

P’sukei D’zimra

  • 33 All the psalms in this section of the service are connected in a continuous flow; also number patterns, especially ‘15’
  • First step in prayer is praise [or gratitude, or Heschel’s ‘radical amazement’ – i.e. the first step is looking for, and seeing, what is good, appreciation. It trains us to respond to life from a fundamental orientation of abundance, hope, life affirmation, resourcefulness, and therefore increasing the chance of success.]
  • Moses praised God before petitioning God.
  • P’sukei d’zimra are part of the hour of preparation before prayer.

Baruch she’amar

  • [Morning blessings are ‘warming up’.]
  • 35 P’sukei d’zimra = ‘dialling up God’


  • 37 Thanks.
  • Nun found in sameich line as part of the word nof’lim (fallen)—God lifts up the fallen [Godliness lifts up our fallen self.]
  • We can / must life up others (because we have God in us) and we can let the God in others lift us up.
  • What we thank God for is what we need to become—we need to become our prayers.
  • 39 All letters can be good or bad
  • We need many different letters / qualities to express God
  • Beit begins baruch and b’reishit of the Bible; aleph too humbles to start the Bible, but starts the 10 commandments
  • 40 Be compassionate even if there is no obligation to be so
  • [Think of a mitzvah as something we should be / do even if there was no commandment to be / do so.]

Psalm 150

  • 41 When God says Ayeka ‘where are you?’, Adam is singing Ps 93 (Adonai Malach) in praise of God and Creation
  • King David brings about Ps 150, but the frog says that he praises God more than David does

Nishmat Kol Chai

  • 43 Midrash: Isaac under the knife takes his apparent last moment to say ‘the soul of every living thing praises Your name’—so we can learn to praise God in our darkest moment
  • Doing good deed can prepare / orient us toward praising, and praising can orient us to doing a good deed.
  • Praying teaches [reminds] us we are not God.


  • 47 Fifteen praises before baruch, and fifteen afterwards
  • Fifteen = yod/10 + heh/5 = YH = God
  • Fifteen = steps to God’s throne = steps in Pesach seder
  • Fifteen songs of ascent

Zimmun (The invitation)


  • 51 Minyan needed
  • Draws congregation together and starts the service
  • Brings us to each other, brings God in
  • Ten because of conversation between Avraham and God at Sodom

Shema u’virchoteha (Shema & her blessings)

  • 55 See God by looking at Creation
  • Thanks for all our Sinai / learning moments
  • Every moment of liberation & anticipation of a repaired world
  • Shema: God’s Oneness & centrality of mitzvot as our ‘practice’

Aravit (evening service)

  • 57 [Evening / night: entering dreamtime; transformation; deep processing of issues beyond conscious self; healing; making new; surrendering to God; entrusting my unprotected self; let the day go; mini-Shabbat; soul communes with God]

Ahavat Olam

  • 59 from Jer. 31:3 “I conceived eternal love for you then.”
  • Torah as love from God


  • 61 First two blessings (before shema) are in the present tense; G’ulah is in the past tense, but Hebrew past tense can become future (so redemption can be in the future)
  • Creation (blessing 1), with the help of Torah (blessing 2) can be redeemed and made perfect (blessing 3)
  • Iraqui fable of the slave boy made king—once a day, he would creep away and re-dress himself in rags for an hour to remind himself of where he came from, and how we was redeemed from his poor state – the magic crystal in the story that he used to guide his decisions was a metaphor for the Torah.
  • What is my current enslavement? [What expression of God will free me from it?]


  • 65 Painting the Passove lintel with blood is a choice to be Jewish
  • Hashkiveinu = continuation of G’ulah
  • Before and / or after Exodus, praying at night for safety / deliverance

Shacharit (morning service)

  • 67 BRachot 26a ‘Abraham rose early in the morning to the place where he stood before God.’
  • Amidah – because Abraham stood; take a stand for what we believe in

Yotzer Or

  • 69 Creation, light, good, evil
  • Adam & Eve say Yotzer Or on the morning of the first Shabbat, see the light for the 1st time, after being created just 1 hour before Shabbat
  • Isaiah text: ‘creates evil’. Persians had a good god and an evil god; rabbis changed this text to ‘creates all’, so that there was no doubt that there was one
  • Besht – special light of first three days found in Torah
  • Light of God can be found anywhere and everywhere

Ahavah Rabbah

  • 73 Torah = love letter from God [our ketubah]
  • All nations turned it down. We said yes, because we were threatened with the mountain being dropped on us.
  • Each person holds a unique piece of the living Torah to teach
  • Torah as weighty, trembling responsibility – and as gift, joy
  • Giving of Torah = ‘Sinai moment’ – whenever we receive a deep ‘aha’
  • By studying Torah we come closer to God
  • By studying and living Torah, we make the world a better place


  • 77 Shemaall mitzvot; morning and evening; t’fillin; tallit; teach Torah; Oneness of God
  • Replaced reiteration of 10 commandments in Temple – so people realised there were more commandments
  • 79 Midrash: Jacob’s sons say, “Hear that we will commit to God as you did.” Jacob replies with relief “Baruch shem k’vod …”
  • Shema as reminder of Oneness and continuity
  • 80 Moses steals the Shema: persuades the angels that humans, not angels, need the Torah to keep them on track
  • Angel of Death says tzedakah, t’shuvah, t’fillah will keep it away.
  • 81 Moses steals ‘baruch shem’ song of the angels. We whisper it because it’s a stolen verses, but at Yom Kippur we say it out loud because we’ve done tzedakah, t’shuvah and t’fillah.
  • Shema as reminder of ethics.
  • Baruch shem originally only said in the Temple. This takes us back there, and our Oneness as a people with God.


  • 83 The mitzvot can permeate all times and places in our lives
  • [Shema is the main contract. Lev 19 Holiness Code is the small print. If we really want to know what’s involved in the contract, we must read all of Torah, Talmud, and our consciousness.]
  • [Tzitzit – if only in shul, and mezuzah in doorway, what about the rest of the time?]
  • [What one symbol could keep me on the Godly path, straight and narrow? Do I need to make it one, unchanging thing, or is it better to refresh myself with a new symbol from time to time?]
  • How to love God with a) heart, b) soul, c) resources?
  • Seven beds Talmud story – when are we most tempted to do what we know is wrong (‘whoring after your heart and after your eyes’ in the shema), and what can we use to step over ourselves?
  • 84 Death of R. Akiva: fox & fish story – the fish fears the land more than being caught in the water – fear absence of Torah more than [antisemitism or] persecution.
  • Akiva’s ‘echad’ in the shema was said with his last breath, before his death through matrydom

Mi Chamocha / G’ulah

  • 87 Song of Reed Sea (shirat hayam)
  • God has helped and will help us
  • When have we been liberated, and in what ways do we need it?
  • 88 Golem of Prague story: emet = truth; without the aleph, it means death
  • 89 Women had hope; they planned ahead for celebration of redemption (and had tambourines with them)
  • 90 Nachson’s leap of faith: one person’s action can make the difference; miracles need our participation; was he pushed, becoming a leader by accident?
  • 91 Women held hands to start crossing together; miracles come from working together
  • We have to stretch to our limits before the miracle happens; go as far as we can before God steps up to help
  • 92 Don’t celebrate the misfortune of others, or at the expense of others


  • 95 Amidah = standing – like angels and Hannah [declaring what we stand for]
  • [Hannah praying fervently & silent lips moving, to have son Samuel, is Rabbinic model for Amidah and kavanah.]
  • Shemoneh (18) Esreh – mentions of God in Shema; sentences including Abraham, Isaac & Jacob; 18 specific prayers by individuals in the Bible; 18 ‘joints’ in spine, a support metaphor for God
  • T’fillah – root ‘to ask for’ or ‘to check out’ (i.e. to do a self-check)
  • Choreography: 1) stand like Abraham every morning to pray 2) face Jerusalem/Temple, where we affirm our Oneness as a people 3) three steps forward (Moses Deut. 4:11 get through 3 elements of ‘darkness, cloud, fog’ to reach God’s Torah), or like a child learning to walk towards parent (Besht), 4) whisper like Hannah (R. Levi Yitzchak ‘no need to yell’) 5) feet together, like angels (Ez. 1:7)
  • 19th blessing: protect Isaac from enemies
  • Praise / 3 appreciations, [make positive, committed relationship], 13 petitions (or honour Shabbat), thanks for granted requests
  • Grishaver: Petitions come from a place of lack, need, sadness—not things one should dwell on at Shabbat. NB Hannah, from whom the style of the Amidah is taken, called herself marat nefesh, horse radish soul (bitter) when she prayed.

Adonai s’fatai tiftach

  • 105 We’re battling with sin when ‘I want this’ is stronger than ‘I know this is wrong’.
  • Talmud: we’re given speech so that we can say sorry, and ask for what we need [we can also praise and say ouch]
  • 106 “Doing the wrong thing [as King David did, Ps 51] puts us in exile.”

#1 Avot v’imahot 

  • 107 Start prayer with praise
  • God forgive for Golden Calf when reminded of ancestors [everything is in vain if descendants of escapees from Israel are destroyed]
  • Our God, not just our tribe’s God
  • Individual God for each person
  • 108 Choreography: Arrogance and egotism distance us from God. Bowing symbolises humility. Talmud: bowing too frequently is trying to look humble, and an act of pride.
  • Straighten before Adonai, because God keeps us from falling
  • Zohar teaches: Gadol = Abraham’s ‘big’ relationship with God. 109 Gibor = Isaac who was strong, brave, disciplined when offered as a sacrifice, a hero in the face of being terrified at God’s requirement. Nora = Jacob dreaming of the angels on the ladder (how ‘awesome’ is this ‘place’ of God, heaven), wrestling with the stranger.
  • 109 Sarah – welcomed strangers, ‘mother of souls’, ‘God has made laughter’
  • 110 Rebecca – doesn’t want to be an agent in bringing down disharmony into the world [reversed traditional order in society to ensure the right person, Jacob, was given the right role]
  • Leah & Rachel – help each other
  • 111 Amat’la-I = mother of Abraham. Talmud & midrash tell that she protected her baby from Nimrod. Her prayer showed she was the first monotheist: ‘May God be with you. May God never fail you. May God never leave you.’
  • 112 Aspire to be like [the best part of] our ancestors.
  • 113 [Abraham’s tzedakah – after battle, restores enemies’ belongings to them, and takes nothing for himself]. Abraham helps his family; helps his community; sees God as his shield
  • 114 Shield of Abraham protects us; shield with which we take on the injustices in the world
  • 116 Pokeid – visit, remember, care for childless, Sarah, or Israel in Egypt
  • Sarah as healing presence
  • Grishaver: God visited Sarah’s tent when Shechinah smelled Shabbat challah. Sarah died & Rebecca took over to cook for Isaac. Years later, Shechinah asked Moses to put 12 loaves in tent after the Golden Calf incident, to make it like old times.
  • 118 Rachel ends the exile: kind to Leah, to give her to Jacob and not expose her.

#2 G’vurot 

  • 121 Praise; g’vurot; renew life; based on Ps 146; God uses power to empower people and make things better; rain renews life
  • Where do you see renewal?
  • Gadol, gibor, nora – Moses after Golden Calf
  • M’chalkeil – Joseph sustains family
  • ‘raise the fallen’ Ps 146
  • Judge after death – Daniel [remembered as good?]
  • [We can be ‘reborn’, renewed each day – Nachman]
  • Isaac restored to life in Akedah
  • [Makeover – recover from trauma, loss, abuse]
  • God does good deeds: clothes Adam & Eve; buries Moses
  • Rebecca kind at the well when Jacob’s servant comes to find wife for him
  • When do I need God’s help?
  • When must I be God’s agent to help others? [Lift up the fallen or falling.]

#3 K’dushah

  • 127 Kiddush haShem – sanctify God’s name
  • Reciting k’dushah makes us holy
  • Zohar – we do this through doing mitzvot
  • 128 Lev 19:2 “You shall be holy, I am holy.” Midrash: you shall be ‘separate’ – from your urges (Rashi: power to resist yetzer hara) – different
  • Ex 19:6 be a holy nation
  • 128 Jacob moment: at ladder, angels say the chatimah “blessed are You … haeil hakadosh
  • 129 Zohar: angels are a portion of God’s strength
  • 130 Isaiah moment (Chap 6): m’lo kol ha’aretz k’vodo ‘the world is full of Your glory’ – immanence. Isaiah says he’s not worthy. God sends angel to ‘clean’ his lips, and asks who He should pick. Isaiah says, ‘send me’.
  • [We’re told to be kadosh. The Tabernacle had Hakadosh Holy Place, and Kadosh Hak’doshim Holy of Holies. Ez 20:33, 2 Chron. 3:10, Yoma 51b How to interpret 3 announcements of kadosh? It’s qualitatively different being beyond the physical place the High Priest went once a year. We can go there only as pure spirit.]
  • [A way of bringing God’s k’vod into oneself.]
  • 131 Ezekiel moment: “blessed is God … mim’komo” – Transcendence – God is incomprehensively distant

#4 V’shamru (#4 on Shabbat)

  • 133 Vay’chulu – Creation – Friday evening – Gen 2:1-3
  • V’shamru – Ex. 31:16-17 – Saturday morning
  • Midrash: Moses negotiated with Pharaoh for Shabbat [rest even—perhaps especially—in harder times]
  • Vayinafash – extra soul at Shabbat
  • Adam & Eve sang Tov l’hodot (Ps 92) on Shabbat [Re-enact this as a visualisation.]

#5 & #17 R’tzeih

  • 137 Also called Avodah
  • Thanks #1
  • Accept prayers and return Shechinah to her home
  • Metaphor: closeness to God

#6 & #18 Birkat Hoda’ah (Modim)

  • 141 Thanks: lives, souls, miracles, gifts throughout day
  • Bow at beginning and end (or we are considered to be like the ‘ungrateful’ snake)
  • Chatimah is what angels sang when David was forgiven after Solomon built the Temple and acknowledged to the gates that David ruled with honour.
  • [NB Amidah opens with David’s contrition from Ps 51, & at the end of the Amidah, he’s forgiven.]

#7 & #19 Birkat Shalom

  • 143 Asks for universal and personal peace
  • Morning = Sim Shalom, evening = Shalom Rav [compare with 2nd Shema blessing: Ahavah rabbah + Ahavat Olam]
  • Used to be Priestly Blessing Y’varech’cha in the Temple
  • “Great is peace. It is in the end of all brachot.” (Sifrei, Num. 42)
  • Shalom contains all other blessings (end of Talmud)

Sim Shalom

    • 145 After 40 years of trouble in the wilderness, and 7 years war in Canaan, Israelites finally realised shalom was most important. Then the angels sang the chatimah.

Shalom Rav

    • 147 Gen 28:21 Jacob “let me return to my father’s home in peace”
    • Esau sees brother Jacob limping, surrounded by women & children, and is no longer threatened by him. They reconcile. Angels sing Shalom Rav ‘Much peace place on Israel’.

Oseh Shalom

    • 149 Gen. Rabbah 8:5 Ahavah / Love said create people because they will perform acts of love. Emet / Truth said people will lie. Tzedakah / Righteousness said people will do righteous deeds. Shalom / Peace said people will get into conflicts. God said bury emet-truth to make shalom-peace possible.
    • Oseh shalom ends Amidah and Kaddish
    • Three steps back: subject leaves monarch; Moses leaves the burning bush; priests step back over 3 stones; Moses leaves Sinai through a i) cloud, ii) fog and iii) darkness (Deut 4:11)
    • Start of Oseh shalom: nod to 3 places, left right middle—chesed, gevurah, tiferet

#4 Atah Chonen (#4 on weekday)

  • 153 dei’ah knowledge; binah understanding; sechel intelligence
  • Ask for all of these before any other requests
  • Solomon asks for wisdom & knowledge before all else
  • Birkat binah

#5 Birkat T’shuvah

  • 157 ‘returning’ to a good relationship
  • Malachi 3:7 ‘If you return to Me, I’ll return to you.’
  • Sin puts distance between us and God, and us and others.
  • Where do I need to change?
  • Where can I help others return?
  • How can I close the gap between myself and God?
  • Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance 7:2 – sins are like hard-to-break addictions, and can be broken with determination
  • We can offer counsel for any sin & repentance, because when we look hard enough, we can find that sin in ourself [but we have to find it in ourself first!]

#6 S’lach Lanu

  • 161 Birkat s’lichah
  • What do I need to do a) to be forgiven, b) to be able to forgive?
  • Who do I need to forgive?
  • Who needs my help in earning forgiveness? [Who needs my help in offering forgiveness?]

#7 R’eih Na V’onyeinu (See our suffering)

  • 165 Birkat G’ulah – redemption from immediate problems
  • “we give God credit for the people who have redeemed us” e.g. book of Esther
  • 166 Teenager explained about the Shoah to Grishaver: “God did stop the Holocaust. God did it through us. It just took longer than we would have liked.”

#8 R’fa’einu

  • 167 From Jer. 17:14
  • God as ultimate healer
  • Pray in community
  • [Structure of Amidah: 3 praise; 6 individual needs & current needs; 7 group needs & future needs (14 Jerusalem & 15 Messiah used to be one blessing); 3 thanks]

#9 Barech Aleinu

  • 169 Birkat hashanim blessing of the years (what the angels sang when they saw the work that Isaac put in)
  • For material providence (rain & dew)
  • We ask God for help, but like Isaac, we also put the work in and dig the wells.

#10 T’ka B’shofar Gadol

  • 171 Kibbutz galyut gathering of the exiles
  • First of 6 steps to Messianic era
  • Collective deeds
  • Bringing together what / who had been separated
  • Repairing and making whole again
  • [Jacob is never told what the brothers actually did to Joseph. But … Rashi Gen 49:23 the ‘quarrelsome archers’ were the brothers who let Joseph down, so Jacob did]
  • [Nobody should remain exiled. All people and all attributes must be integrated, not kept as Shadow.]

#11 Hashivah Shofteinu

  • 173 rule of law & justice, fairness
  • Where can I contribute justice?
  • In the bribes – disregard personal gain
  • Judges at all levels of scale
  • [Pay attention to small as well as big matters.]

#12 Birkat Haminim

  • 175 The 19th blessing
  • ‘slay informers’
  • Defeat evil, but don’t hate people or demonise, or be vengeful [compare with Tazria-Metzora and instruction to isolate the illness (rather than the ill person).]
  • NB midrash God calls Egyptians His troops … [evil plays a part in God’s design]
  • God removing evil à removing choice / free will à removing potential for people to repent, change, grow
  • 177 ‘let sins cease’ – pray for this, and then the wicked will have repented, and no longer be wicked – pray for people to change [and what we can do to get people to change] Berachot 10a Story of Bruria, wife of R. Meir, advising him

#13 Al Hatzaddikim

  • 179 righteous, elders, scholars, converts, us
  • Those most likely to bring the Messianic era
  • Tzaddik – one who does many acts of tzedakah

#14 V’li’y’rushalayim

  • 181 Jerusalem = city of yira awe of shalom peace
  • Story of two brothers who, at night, add to each other’s store of sheaves
  • How do I help build Jerusalem?
  • Jacques Brel “If we only have love, then Jerusalem stands” [translator’s addition, not Brel’s]

#15 El Tzemach David

  • 185 Sprout / shoot of David à first signs of Messiah
  • Sanhedrin 98a: Messiah will come “today, if you hear God’s voice” (Ps 95:7)
  • Pirkei Avot 2:6 “We are not required to finish the work [i.e. be the Messiah], nor are we free to desist from it.”

#16 Shema Koleinu

  • 187 petition for petitions being answered
  • Sh’meia t’fillah hearer of prayer
  • Surrender to the Higher Power
  • Pesach redemption began with people crying out to God for help, and God hearing

Blessings #17, #18, #19 – see #5, #6, #7


  • 189 Psalms 113-118 (six)
  • Pesach (incl. seder), Shavuot, Sukkot (3 pilgrimage festivals) & Chanukah
  • Pesachim 117a-118a: said when Israel is in danger (call on God when we need help); traces history of Jewish people (Exodus; crossing Reed Sea; giving of Torah; giving Eternal life; coming of Messiah); keep the order because starts in past, leads to present, faith in future (God will take care of us, having done so in the past)
  • Ps 113 Praise the name à awe of God’s k’vod, what God has done/made, is synonymous with praise of God even if one is atheist
  • [What is my personal history with God, as distinct from Israel’s?]
  • Ps 114 What is my mitzar-pit, tzar-narrowness? What must I do to free myself?
  • [What will I do with my freedom?]
  • 118:19 Pitchu Li – have I done enough for the Gates of Righteousness to open for me?
  • 191-2 Story of David as child wondering about the point of God creating spiders, but then as an adult fleeing the wrath of Saul, hiding in a cave, and being saved by soldiers not looking inside because a spider weaves a web across the opening. Chatimah: “Blessed is God … help and shield.”

Torah Service [Torah #1]

  • 197 Berachot 8a/b: mitzvah to read Torah 2x in Hebrew, once in translation, the latter to a congregation
  • We were all at Sinai
  • Rabbi Elimelech of Lyzhansk ‘each of us remembers who stood next to us at Sinai’ [i.e. receiving Torah is a collective experience, and we all have a unique piece of it]
  • Studying Torah returns us to Sinai [I show up, I study, I receive]
  • Bava Kamma 82a: three days in the desert without water – do don’t go more than 3 days without Torah
  • Ezra: Torah service is a class – learn on Shabbat if you’ve missed Torah during the week
  • Moses finds Akiva who learns from the crowns on the letters [new Torah insight from the old words], which is why Moses doesn’t recognise the Torah teaching (despite having written it)
  • Zohar 1:$b God kisses the words of Torah when they are spoken [… which releases new revelation from them]

Beginning the Torah service [Torah #2]

  • 201 begin by declaring the primacy of God, so no one thinks we worship Torah
  • Rebuild Jerusalem – symbolically in our hearts, in the world. How to use Torah to do this?

 The Ark is opened [Torah #3]

  • 205 Contents of Ark: two tablets, broken fragments, jar of mannah, Torah scroll
  • 10:35-36 – inverted letter nun before v35 and after v36, the two verses where the Ark is picked up, and then set down. [Different midrashic explanations for this.]
  • Torah procession is like being led by God through the desert
  • Torah to go out of Jerusalem – hope for Torah values to permeate the world
  • Rabbah 4:20 Levites struggled to life the Ark, and then it carried them. Kristalnacht – story of grandfather carries boy, who speeds up the grandfather.
  • Last kopek [small coin] in the village, argument on how to spend it – Messiah therefore doesn’t come, and Jerusalem is not built

Prayers before the Ark [Torah #4]

  • 211 Sh’ma in Torah service returns us to Sinai (Deut. Rabbah 2:31 Moses led this)
  • Gadlu ladonai Ps 34:4 – six words, so take six steps. David stopped regularly when bringing the Ark into Jerusalem (Sanhedrin 6:13)
  • L’cha Adonai – verses from Chronicles & Psalms about the establishment of the Temple, and its place for Torah [also name-checks the lower 7 sefirot]
  • Rabbah 2:31 – God said Sh’ma Yisrael­­, and the people said the next 4 words Adonai eloheinu Adonai echad – Moses said the baruch shem
  • Story: the synagogue that cried because the siddur prayed for itself, and not the world

Torah blessings [Torah #5]

  • 215 Monday & Thursday morning – 3 aliyot (call-ups); 7 on Shabbat
  • Like with a meal, bless before & after
  • Blessing says ‘gave’ and also Giver – i.e. present tense ‘who gives’
  • Ezra lifted Torah, had it read for everyone, hard copies made for every community
  • Bar mitzvah – parent is freed from duty to punish-discipline a child
  • Gomeil prayer (Ps 107:8) – after surviving serious illness
  • Mi shebeirach – add tzedakah
  • Making a blessing à commitment to God to help the blessing come true

Haftarah blessings [Torah #6]

  • 225 Thanks for prophets & their truth; God’s words are true; Jerusalem reborn, ingathering of exiles; Messiah; Shabbat and foretaste of paradise
  • Prophets à justice
  • 227 “Does my life reflect Prophetic values?”
  • Story: Elijah gate crashes a wedding disguised as a beggar, and is thrown out. Returns disguised and dressed as a rich man, and is welcomed. He puts each course of the meal in one of his pockets, and at the toast, pours the wine on himself. He reveals himself and explains to the guests that he fed his clothes since they clearly welcomed his clothes rather than the person. And he laughs and vanishes.

Ending the Torah service [#7]

  • 231 Prov. 3:18 ‘It is a tree of life to those who hold fast to it.” [‘Eat’ from the Torah ‘tree’ and we live.]
  • Chofetz Chayim teaching his ex-student Archik, now a communist and atheist: everyone has access to the Tree of Life if they live well, even if they’re not religious or Jewish.
  • Chadeish yameinu k’kedem – renew our days
  • Torah living is to bring about Messianic era

Concluding service

  • 235 Ein Keiloheinu mentions God 20 times, Baruch and Atah, and Amen is encoded from the verses that begin with Ein, Mi & Nodeh.
  • [Atah = aleph-tav whole alphabet of Creation, and heh (God) à all of Creation = God]
  • Final verse = incense. Saying the formula for incense is equal to burning it, and the prayers go to heaven like incense. Saying Ein Keiloheinu takes our incense-prayers to God à we want to reach God.


  • 237 Yehoshua (Joshua) means ‘God will save’ (name change from Hosheia ‘He will save’) à reminder that achievements are God’s, not ours
  • At Jericho, Joshua reminds the people Aleinu ‘l’shabeiach, that we must praise God for what has happened.
  • “The story of tikkun olam is the ‘Humpty Dumpty’ of Jewish mysticism. It’s where all of us work hard and put God back together again.”
  • Isaac Luria – light and sparks of Creation myth – What am I doing to gather the sparks and repair the world?
  • Story of crack in the ruby being transformed by carving it into the shape of a rose


  • 243 Five types of Kaddish yatom mourner’s kaddish. Kaddish d’rabanan teacher’s.
  • Introduced after Torah study, to introduce ‘order’ so that the world might endure (Sotah 49a)
  • Seven times a day (Ps 119:164)
  • Ten expressions of praise
  • Needs a minyan (ten people)
  • Mourner stands, others sit
  • Experience of community
  • 1) Departed soul gets credit for gathering 10 souls (Zohar), which is added to their good deeds 2) [God praised by community because of departed soul] 3) [Connects next generation to Judaism.]
  • Qu’ran: Any good deed that engenders other good deeds means those deeds are added to your own.

Adon Olam

  • 247 Last verse suggests this might have been an evening prayer
  • Gen 15:5, Berachot 7b – Abraham was the first to say Adon
  • From deep study of things
  • [Song of radical amazement]
  • [Song for whatever is the core of our yearning. Yearning opens our heart, motivates us, stirs us to action, propels us to seek what is of most concern, what some call ‘God’.]
  • 248 “Adon Olam puts God at the center. God is the Ruler we were always seeking. If God doesn’t work for you, enjoy singing with energy, but ask, ‘What am I seeking at the center of the maze of my life?’”

Kabbalat Shabbat

  • 249 Structure: Ps 95-99, ps 29, poem; L’cha Dodi; Ps 92 (Shabbat), Ps 93.
  • Talmud: R. Chanina best clothes, R. Yanna ‘Come, O Bride’
  • 1490s Jews fled from Spanish Inquisition, settled in Tzfat – became a centre for kabbalah

Lecha Dodi

  • 251 Eight verses, first letters spell Shlomo Halevi
  • Shabbat, Jerusalem, Redemption
  • Every day has a partner; Israel is Shabbat’s partner
  • Jerusalem is an idea of wholeness

The Shabbat Seder

Shalom Aleichem

  • 257 Angels: praise God; do God’s work; carry people’s messages to God
  • [Angels intervene for good in people’s lives; messages from God, reach out to people]
  • [Mem-lamed-chet = king. Mem-lamed-aleph-chet = ambassador-angel i.e. added aleph of God energy.]
  • [Each Shabbat observed builds the habit, and propels us to the next one.]

Kiddush p.259

  • 20:7 Shabbat celebrates Creation & rest
  • 5:12-15 Shabbat celebrates God liberating us from Mitzrayim [Egpyt-narrowness]
  • Kiddush makes time holy

Birkat Hamazon p.261

  • [Bentsh – Yiddish, from Latin benedicare to bless]
  • [Preceded (Ashkenazi) by Ps 126 Shir Hamalot, Ps 145:21, 115:18, 118:1, 106:2, the T’hillat Adonai praise of God on Shabbat and holidays]
  • [Followed by Rabbis’ sequence of Harachaman blessings ‘May the Merciful One]
  • [Deut. 8:10 v’achalta v’savata ‘When you have eaten, and are satisfied, you shall bless your God for the good land that He has given you.” Brachot 21a cites this as the origin for Birkat Hamazon.]
  • [Ramban: say the blessing after eating to guard against haughtiness. Deut. Verse afterwards: Moses warns against forgetting God as the Origin.]
  • Four key elements (Berachot 48b): 1) who feeds all (Moses thanks for manna) [Birkat hazan] 2) for the land and food (Joshua) – entering Promised Land [Birkat ha’aretz] 3) who rebuilds Jerusalem (David, Solomon) [Birkat y’rushalayim] 4) who is good and does good (after Bar Kochbar) [Birkat hatov v’hameitiv]
  • Table becomes a place of worship
  • Two challot à double portion of manna on Friday
  • Daily manna à God-King gets visit from us-prince every day to collect day’s provisions
  • Daily meals à daily thanks à daily God-connection
  • Story: heaven-hell, long spoons – we could choose to go to hell, because we now know how to help people there (teach them to feed each other)
  • Kiruv = bringing people closer to God [korban sacrifice etc]
  • Story: baker brings bread each Shabbat evening, and it’s taken away; baker thinks God likes the bread; the shammes (caretaker) thinks God is providing it every week; Ari tells the rabbi that both conclusions are ‘true’. [NB We are God’s hands.]
  • [Mezuman = prepared gathering. Zimun = invitation to this.]
  • [When 3 people gather, starts as call & response. When there are 10, God’s name is added.]


  • 267 God showed Adam & Eve how to make fire, and keep themselves warm after the first Shabbat (Pesachim 53b)
  • Fire made from rocks representing shadow of death & darkness [creativity can and must be made in the face of mortality or adversity – they become the very materials for creativity, like Jung saying that pure gold can be found in the Shadow]
  • [Story tells us the Messiah is not here, but we can live actively with hope & creativity.]
  • Story: Elijah gives man two coins that make him rich, then takes them back and man becomes poor again; will be made rich again if he promises to be kind to the poor. [Allegory for receiving Shabbat each week, and then losing it at Havdalah. Shabbat is our taste of richness – we must use that for the good of others.]
  • [“A person whose house wine is not poured like water has not attained blessedness.”]


What is a Brachah?

  • 271 Bless; praise
  • Brachah gift from God; request; thank you
  • Connection to God; acknowledgement of God as source of what comes to us
  • Asking God and thanking God both make a difference [do it and we can find out what that difference is … sometimes. Remember that there are benefits for tikkun olam that are not revealed to us. And we must make brachot]
  • Story: shortest grace after meals [brich rachamana]
  • Brachah must tell the truth.
  • Rambam: brachah is the ‘rent’ we pay so as not to ‘steal’ from God.
  • God was here: Jacob’s ladder dream; burning bush; Moses sees God’s ‘afterwards’.
  • 275 “A brachah is a way of saying ‘God has been here.’ What was the last thing God did for you?”

Mitzvah Brachot, p. 277

  • [Write your own sefer torah (Sanhedrin 21b) – from Moses I Deut 31:19. Not enough to use the Torah, laws, stories and teaching we’ve been given. We must discover, make and pass on our own, leaving a legacy.]
  • 278 “’No idols’ meant ‘Don’t ever think that you are God.’ It also meant, ‘Don’t think that you can make up your own gods who will tell you what you want to hear.’ And most of all ‘No idols’ meant ‘Don’t think that you can decide that right is what you feel like doing.’”
  • 278 God picked Abraham’s family, and said, “We are going to make a deal. I will work with you (in private lessons), and when we figure it out you will teach everyone else.” [Actually, we don’t teach, which might be an arrogance unless our student asks us to, but we can be, by example, a ‘light to the nations’.]
  • 279 “It is hard to be a Jew. Torah comes with a lot of things to do and not do. But being a Jew also offers a patch to becoming happy by letting the best you emerge and join with others to make a much better world.”
  • 279ff Story: Hebrew letters flying from rich community’s Torah scroll to poor community’s scroll because the poorer people lived Jewish ethics and mutual care.