Siddur Ba-eir Hei-teiv --- The Transliterated Siddur

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Learn to sing Avot --- the First Benediction of the Amidah Print E-mail
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All transliterations, commentary, and audio recordings are copyright © 1997, 1998, 2002, 2009, or 2016 by Jordan Lee Wagner. All rights reserved.

Here are some melodies for Avot:

  • Here is Avot chanted in traditional nusach.

Avot (Spiritual Ancestors)

...The ancient sages realized that talking, as a strategy for establishing intimacy with the transcendental, can feel ridiculous.  Prayer is often an unnatural act, particularly on the occasions of fixed congregational prayer.  They sought to promote the reasonableness of prayer. 

One result of this is that the central petitions of the Amidah are preceded by three benedictions that are designed to promote the idea that prayer is reasonable in the mind of each individual.  The first benediction is a reminder that, in attempting to pray, the worshipper is merely continuing in an ongoing activity of the worshipper's parents and ancestors and community; working jointly at an effort that so many have deemed important for so long.  Therefore participation is probably reasonable even if one does not yet see how... 

means "fathers" or "ancestors." "The Avot" are the Patriarchs.  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are thought of here as peo­ple of the high­est spiritual character, who put aside their own desires and served the greater cause.[i] Their personalities have been idealized in Midrash (extra-biblical narrative) and folklore over the millennia. They are also thought of as the people who began di­vine service and bequeathed it to us, their spiritual descen­dants.[ii] They are the spiritual "fathers" of the Jewish people.

The Patriarchs are cited in this benediction because they are also thought of as the instituters of prayer. A midrash[iii] suggests that Abraham instituted the habit of morning prayer, Isaac afternoon prayer, and Jacob evening prayer.[iv] The popular word for pray­ing, davening, is widely regarded as stemming from the Aramaic word for "of our fathers."[v] Thus they are thought of as having brought the presence of the divine to the Earth.[vi] For this reason they are sometimes called "God's chariot" in ancient Midrash.[vii]

Abraham is credited with the invention of monotheism. Although all three Patriarchs are cited in this prayer, only Abraham is cited in the chatima (climactic conclusion) of the benediction, which is: "Baruch Atah Adonai, Shield of Abraham."[viii] The phrase "Shield of Abra­ham" comes from Genesis 15:1.[ix]

Jews are proud of the merit of the Patri­archs, and the memory of the merit of the Patriarchs is still thought to animate behavior.[x]

Recitation of Avot evokes recognition that we are connected to the individuals of the past. We are part of an eternal corporate entity. Thus we are the link between our ancestors and their ideals. We determine their future. "May their memory be for a blessing."

In addition to our responsibility for our own actions, our responsibility to their memory creates a Jewish societal responsibility for the behavior of all Jews. "All Jews are responsible for each other."[xi]

This connection to the past is spiritual rather than genetic. A Jew-by-choice and a born-Jew recite all prayers identically, including common phrases like "God of our Fathers" and "Abraham our Father," and Avot.

Avot can also be experienced as an appreciation of kind­ness. Merit is re­warded with kindness. In part, it says: "...and although He is Master of Everything, He still remembers the kind deeds..."

[i] c.f., Sifre Deuteronomy Piska 336.

[ii] c.f., Sifre Deuteronomy Piska 59.

[iii] c.f., Talmud Berachot 26b.

See also Yerushalmi Berachot 4:1 for a naturalistic explanation of why they selected those times.

Another tradition finds the personal character of each Patriarch reflected in their choice of time for prayer. (C.f., Avraham Weiss, Women at Prayer, page 20; published by KTAV (1990).)

[iv] Another tradition says that the Patriarchs wrote the first three benedictions of the Amidah. Abraham instituted Avot, Isaac instituted Givurot, and Jacob instituted K'dushat HaShem.

[v] But another theory suggests that Rashi took it from the Old French, so it has the same root as the English word, "devotion."

[vi] c.f., Sifre Deuteronomy Piska 313.

[vii] Some less traditional congregations have recently begun inserting a reference to the Matriarchs (Sarah, Rebeccah, Rachel and Leah) after the reference to the Patriarchs, although it was Hannah who taught our sages how we are to pray. If the subject of Avot is the reasonableness of prayer (see pages 111-112), its originators, and its most effective practitioners, then Hannah (and not the Matriarchs) is an appropriate citation.

[viii] This is in fulfillment of Genesis 12:2, which says: "...I will make your name great, and you shall be a [standard by which] blessing [is invoked]."

[ix] Avot also contains phrases from Exodus 3:15, Deuteronomy 10:17, and Gene­sis 14:19.

[x] c.f., Sifre Deuteronomy Piska 184.

[xi] c.f., Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvot #205.

--- adapted from "The Synagogue Survival Kit" by Jordan Lee Wagner, publ. by Rowman & Littlefield. 1997.

Last Updated on Monday, 14 December 2009 19:44

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