Tuesday, January 11, 2011


It is possible to identify Jewish prayer using several physical movements. For more on those movements, I refer you to this article found on My Jewish Learning. However, the article lacks one movement that is central Jewish, or any prayer, the lips. Without the lips, expressing words is very difficult. This is not to say anything bad of meditation, silent prayers, or internal examinations of personal thoughts. So working with the assumption that we are orally expressing our prayers, lip movements are essential. Lip movements can lead to mumbling the words, and mumbling is my topic of discussion.

There are at least three places in the Bible where we are informed about the lips. First, in Psalms 51:17 we ask God to open our lips before reciting the Amidah. Second, in Psalms 19:15, after concluding the Amidah, we ask God to accept the words that our lips have just offered. And finally in Samuel I 1:12, Hannah offers her prayer in front of Eli the Priest, and all he can see is her lips moving. Based on these three verses alone, we can see a strong scriptural support for at least moving our lips while praying, as opposed to merely reading the words with our eyes.

I can remember going to synagogue as a child and hearing all of the old men mumbling. I marveled at how they could read anything that fast, let alone a foreign language. Since then, I have come to appreciate mumbling in t'fillah. In my experience, certain words come out louder than others. It is important to note that mumbling does not mean skipping or skimming over the words. Rather, it's a recitation of the words under your breath in a way that hopefully only you are able to hear. Over time, I found that mumbling helps me significantly in my t'fillah, making it more like a conversation with God and less like a recitation. I would encourage you to attempt "project mumbles," following in the footsteps of our Biblical references. For some it will work, for others, perhaps not, but experiment and see what feels natural to you. I think we owe it to ourselves and to the t'fillot.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Morning Revelation

Among the other brachot offered during the shacharit (morning t'fillah) we find one that is about the creation of light and darkness. The text reads "Blessed are You God Master [king] of the universe, who forms light and creates darkness, makes peace, and creates all."

I have long been confused as to the placement of this blessing. I know there is a blessing later on about God as the fashioner of light, however this blessing seems to be about creation itself, while the other is more about messianic redemption. As part of birkot hashachar, we thank God for a number of aspects of our lives, and it would seem that this blessing might fit better if it was located earlier in the t'fillot. According to Sefer Abudraham, the bracha fits perfectly given what follows. Furthermore, the Abudraham locates a versein Isaiah (45:7), where a similar formulation is found (although the siddur edits the verse). Given both the scriptural reference, and its place between the Barchu and shma, and the Abudraham's explanation, I can begin to understand the bracha's placement. We have just declared that God will be praised forever, it is followed with a blessing touting the universal accomplishments of creation, before the siddur leads us to the Judeo-centric declaration of Shma.

Even after taking this closer look, I was still slightly unsatisfied...until this morning. The day began in Jerusalem with a thick cover of clouds and fog. Although there was light, there was very little direct sunlight to be found. After saying Barchu, I glanced out the window while reciting yotzeir or (the name of this blessing), and the sun broke through. I am sure many of us have witnessed sunrises in dramatic locations, but none of my sunrise experiences were directly tied to the recitation of this bracha. With the reading of the verse in Isaiah, internal siddur geography, this morning's experience, and Abudraham's help, that I am not only comfortable with this bracha and its placement, but also confident enough to say that I experienced a morning revelation vis a vis yotzeir or.