For the week ending 24 December 2005 / 23 Kislev 5766

Matriarchs in Prayers

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From: David in PA

Dear Rabbi,

I have been a subscriber of your publications since October 1999, and finally have a question worthy of public discussion.

Our Conservative congregation has floated the idea of adding the Imahot (Matriarchs) to the Amida [silent prayer – Ed.] in the places in which the Avot (Patriarchs) are mentioned. So far, there has been no suggestion of adding the Imahot in other areas where the Avot are mentioned.

What are the reasons for the Imahot not having been included originally, and what are the pros and cons of adding them?

Dear David,

From a technical standpoint it would be inappropriate to use G-d of Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah as there is no such Biblical reference. Furthermore, technically, when the siddur mentions the G-d of Abraham or Isaac it is not simply the possessive form; rather it indicates a Name of G-d, which represents a manner in which the Creator interacts with the world He created — through the characteristics that each of these Forefathers demonstrated. More conceptually speaking, one purpose of prayer is to enable us to access the Divine flow of good into our minds and hearts and to realize the nature of true blessing so that we can recognize it when it comes. The structure of prayer, leading up to the Amida service itself, seeks to draw us out of the physical limitations of the world in which we live and connect us, step by step, to the inner core of our own being, and to the inner courtyard of the Divine Presence. By the time you are standing in silent devotion, if you have done it well and with proper intent, you are spiritually standing in the inner sanctum of the King of Kings.

So powerful is this experience meant to be, that the Talmud relates that the early righteous people would prepare for this process for an hour, remain in this state of inner connectedness (in prayer) for an hour, and it would require an additional hour to come down off that spiritual peak. In fact the linguistic root of Tefillla (prayer) is p'til which means thread — the thread of connection. In that context, each one of the Avot (Forefathers) represents a connection to the Creator through a different aspect of self. The loving kindness of Abraham, the moral discipline and courage of Isaac, the perfect synthesis which is the truth of Jacob, all represent different facets of our ability to form a relationship with G-d when we cultivate those aspects of ourselves and acknowledge their source. "HeAvot Hen Hen HaMerkava" — the Forefathers represent the chariot, the vehicle through which G-d's presence and the ability to relate to that Presence became possible in the world.

The Foremothers Sara, Rivka, Rachel, and Leah represent the capacity to take these ideas out of the realm of the theoretical and to make them actual — to actualize them — in our finite world. Through the lives they led they forged a path of integration between the material and the spiritual. It is their example that taught us how to make a tent into a sanctuary in which all of the mundane is infused with transcendence. It is their inner vision that allowed our Divinely-inspired mission to be illuminated and to take hold in the next generation. In prayer, we are trying to create that same flow so that we can access that same energy our forefathers did before us. Only when our prayer is done does the work of the Foremothers begin. The job of making these concepts live and integrating them into our everyday life is what we do for the rest of the day after we have prayed. In the Amida we ask G-d to help us and grant us some of that same flow of spirit that rested on Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; while the ability to respond and actualize, that which is done after the prayer is finished, has its roots in Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah and is totally up to us.

  • Source: Written by Mrs. Debbie Greenblatt — would like to add that Mrs. Greenblatt is a well known lecturer for the Gateways Organization and has a popular class for women on this and similar subjects if your synagogue is interested.

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