The Amida, our most iconic tefillah, known as simply “the prayer” opens with the following words:
“Blessed are You, Hashem, Our God and God of our ancestors. The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. The great, mighty, and awesome God…”
I don’t know about you, but when I read the words “great, mighty, and awesome”, I feel more than a little intimidated. Is this a God I can relate to and speak to in the prayer that follows, or is this a God to quake before?
Our parasha, Ekev, is in fact one of the Biblical sources of these words. Take a look at the following and you may be surprised:
“For God your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords. The great, mighty, and awesome God who shows no favour and takes no bribe; who does justice for the orphan and widow, and loves the stranger, providing them with food and clothing - You too must love the stranger, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)”
Looking at the Torah source shines a new light on these words. Each time we begin the Amida, what would it mean for us to stand before a God whose greatness in corruption-free objectivity, whose might is found in doing justice for the most oppressed in our society, and whose awesomeness is manifest in providing food and clothing for refugees?
That’s beautiful in theory, right? But maybe you're thinking that the world doesn’t reflect all this. Refugees right here in Borehamwood lack food and clothing. The world is filled with corruption and self-interest… If so, then you are not alone. The Rabbis in the Talmud have the same discussion. They look at what Rabbi Elie Kaunfer (to whom I’m indebted for these ideas) calls Biblical intertexts - where one Jewish text conjures up associations with other similar texts. Here is their discussion on an intertext from the book of Daniel:
“Rabbi Pinhas said: Moses established the form of the Amidah: The great, mighty and awesome God… Daniel (9:4) said “The great awesome God” but did not say “mighty”. God’s children have been captured and imprisoned, so where is God’s might? (Talmud Yerushalmi Berakhot 7:3; 11c)
Daniel, through the eyes of the Rabbis, audaciously asks whether God can be said to deserve these adjectives.
Perhaps a little more reverently than Daniel, I see the Torah in this week’s parasha really pushing us to see God’s greatness in acts of loving kindness.
And if the loving kindness in the world isn’t complete? Then read the second part of the line from our parasha above: “You too must love the stranger, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt”
In other words, The God who is “great, mighty and awesome” is so because of acts of justice, mercy and kindness. But the story doesn’t finish there. We are called on to be God’s partners in doing the work. While we can question God, just like the Rabbis of the Talmud, we must imitate every piece of God’s goodness that we see in the world.
What would it mean for us to start each Amida with this intention?