Leona Uchitelle

Leona Uchitelle

The three words that come to mind when I think of religious services are “amen,” “blessings” and “prayer.”

What is the difference between a prayer and a blessing? I looked up the definitions on Dr. Google.

A blessing is an expression of hope. It is usually offered to someone by another.

It is an act of giving. It is a link between the person giving the blessing and the one receiving it.

Remember the rabbi in “Fiddler on the Roof,” when asked if there was a blessing for the czar? After thinking about it, the rabbi said, “May God bless and keep the czar far away from us.”

When we say a blessing, we aren’t just saying “thank you” but making ourselves aware of where the blessing is coming from.

The word for prayer in Hebrew is “tefilah.” It is derived from two root words that when combined mean “to judge oneself.” One benefit of praying in Hebrew is that it gives you a link to Jews all over the world.

The Yiddish word for prayer is “daven,” which comes from the Latin “divine.”

It is said that you should pray in whatever language you understand.

This story is probably attributable to a rabbi, too. A young child couldn’t pray in Hebrew, so he was heard reciting his ABCs. When he was asked why he was doing that during a service, he said that that was all that he knew and that God could put the letters together and make the words.

A prayer can be a request for forgiveness or a favor, or to praise God or as an act of gratitude. It is having a two-way relationship with God. You talk and He listens, or He talks and you listen. I read where prayer is an opportunity to spend time with God.

In Judaism, we usually stand when praying. Our rabbi at the Jewish Congregation of Venice tells us to stand if we can and if we can’t, then sit up straighter in our chair.

We have the Amidah, or standing prayer. We stand as if we were standing before God.

There is a tradition of taking three steps forward and then three steps backward when we say the Amidah. The three steps forward when we begin the Amidah is as if we were approaching God and then three steps backward at the finish signify that we are returning to the mundane.

Melodies are sometimes used in prayer services to help us focus and block out extraneous thought.

“Amen” is a Hebrew word that means “so be it.” It is usually said communally to affirm a blessing.

“Amen” is thought to be a transliteration that is pronounced in every language the same way as it was in the original language.

It may be the most widely known word in human speech. In Deuteronomy 27:15-26, Moses says to the Levites, “Then all peoples shall say: ‘Amen.’”

My favorite “amen” story is of a rabbi visiting a class of young students in a Sunday school class. He asks what the word “amen” means and after several kids give their definition, one boy says that to him it means “count me in.”

I have always liked this thought. And it is the definition that I go with.

With Thanksgiving coming at the end of this month, my blessing for everyone is that you share your thanks with loved ones and in peace. And let us say, amen.

Leona Uchitelle is active in the Jewish Congregation of Venice.


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