With all that has been happening in Israel these days, this poem/prayer — especially written as we gather on the High Holidays — expresses the hope that somehow we unite, respectfully listening to each other as family. It is a Kavannah L’Ahavat Yisrael, a meditation for the love of the Jewish people. Lu yehi, lu yehi — if only, if only.
|A pintele Yid
A lonely Jew
A vulnerable Jew
A pintele yud
A yud aside another
Unity is never uniformity
Dear dear God
And the test of family
May we be careful with our words
May we not question
Sing and dance
Illuminate the Hasidic vision:
Help us, help us declare:
|אַ פִּינְטֶעלֶע יִיד
א פינטעלע יו”ד
נִצֶּבֶת יו”ד בְּצַד יו”ד
אַחְדוּת לְעוֹלָם אֵינֶנָּה אֲחִידוּת
הוֹ, אֱ־לֹהִים הַיָּקָר
נַקְפִּיד עַל מוֹצָא שְׂפָתֵינוּ
לֹא נְעַרְעֵר עַל
הָאֵר אֶת חֲזוֹנָהּ שֶׁל הַחֲסִידוּת:
עֲזֹר לָנוּ, עֲזֹר לָנוּ לְהַכְרִיז
This “Kavannah” was composed by Rabbi Avi Weiss, translated into Hebrew by Prof. Avigdor Shinan, and vocalized by Araleh Admanit. Rav Avi wishes to thank Rabbi Ezra Seligsohn, Gaya Aranoff Bernstein, and Rabbi Aaron Frank for their input and encouragement.
* * *
A pintele Yid: This phrase is normally understood to refer to the spark (nitzotz) in every Jew. No matter how distant, every Yid, deep, deep down, has a Jewish inner soul, with the potential to grow. Here, we take a different approach, understanding pintele as a small, lonely Jew. And yet, two Jews aside each other, no matter how vulnerable, can find relief.
I first heard this thought many decades ago during the first International Conference for Soviet Jewry, held in Brussels. At its close, a tall, young man was given the floor. Sharing that he came from Buenos Aires, where, as a Jew, he felt particularly isolated and alone, like a pintele Yid, he looked out at the thousands in attendance. Through tears he shared, “and now, standing with you in unity, in common cause, I feel like a yud near another yud, together spelling the name of God.”
A Jew beside another: The yud, an inanimate letter, is aside another yud. In contrast, a Yid, a person, a Jew, stands beside an other, the other being a fellow or sister Jew, with other views, other opinions.
God sees it is good: A play on the Genesis I phrase, “And God saw it was good.”
Unity…uniformity: This thought is inspired by the Midrash describing the evil ways of the people of Sodom. As one entered the city, they were placed on a cot. If they were longer, their feet were cut off. If shorter, their feet were stretched. The goal was to create automatons, everyone looking and thinking in absolute sync — in uniformity.
Dear, dear: This in the spirit of the Midrash, which comments that God’s calling out to Abraham twice, “Abraham, Abraham,” just as he was ready to sacrifice Isaac — is the language of endearment. So, too, “dear, dear.”
Help us know: The biblical term “know – yada” speaks to the closest of relationships between people, “And Adam knew his wife Eve.”
We are family: Genesis is the story of a broken family that becomes whole. It is when all of Jacob’s sons receive blessings that Genesis closes and the Book of Exodus begins. This is the book that deals with the birth of our nation – teaching that the best model of nation is family. In fact, the Genesis covenant, the Covenant of the Pieces, can be called the Covenant of Family – a proper precursor to the Exodus Covenant of Sinai focusing on the nation of Israel. And so, my custom: whenever hearing of a community within the nation of Israel in need, I substitute the word “family” for “nation” and try to act accordingly.
Words we say can lead to harmful, fatal deeds: Of course, improper words themselves can be deeply painful. The old saying, “sticks and stones can break my bones but names can never harm me” is not true. Names, bad words, can hurt.
Today, however, we must be especially careful with our words and slogans as they could lead to violence, to God forbid Jews raising a hand against other Jews.
May we not question the motives of the other: This, in the spirit of Pirkei Avot, reminds us to judge others favorably.
Listen to the other: As one who is hearing impaired, I know, firsthand, the precious nature of this sense. Still, hearing is a far cry from listening, that is, taking words said and integrating them into our deepest selves. When counseling and trying to help another, perhaps, as suggested by many, we should see the word “WAIT” in front of us: Why Am I Talking.
Illuminating the Hasidic vision: Often attributed to the Ba’al Shem Tov and evoked under the chuppah (wedding canopy) with the lights referring to bride and groom. Here, it refers to any two individuals.
With you: A loving call to join God in prayer. The ultimate You, the “I-Thou relationship,” as explicated by Dr. Martin Buber.
But an extremist in loving other Jews: Extremism is often associated with the far right and left; it can, however, also refer to the center. In a world where many are machmir (stringent), following the strictest of halachic positions, we should find a way to be absolutely machmir on the mitzvah of Ahavat Yisrael (loving one’s fellow Jew).
Ahavat Yisrael: Of course, ahavat Yisrael does not contradict ahavat habriyot (loving creation), our responsibility to love humankind. This kavannah, intention, however, is an ahavat Yisrael moment — a moment that, given the difficulties of this past year, is desperately needed.