Shield of Abraham, Guardian of Sarah: The Week's End, Friday, May 12 2023
May 12th 2023

This year the Torah portions Behar and Behukotai are combined. The Haftarah for Behar (Jeremiah 32) is not publicly recited. This haftarah includes Jeremiah’s prayer of exaltation to God, even while sitting in prison for uttering the oracle of the fall of Jerusalem, which was fulfilled in the calamity of 586 BCE. The prayer is a “covenantal history,” similar in language and style to the prayer of David that we recite every morning from the book of Chronicles toward the end of the preliminary service. A third, much longer “covenental history” is the prayer of Daniel (chapter 9). Each of these prayers is replete with phrases that become standard in our daily, Shabbat and festival liturgies.

Every blessing we recite begins with Barukh Atta Adonai, “Praised are You Lord,” which comes from the prayer of David. The words elohaynu, ‘our God,’ and avotaynu, ‘our fathers,’ appear throughout the Torah. Jeremiah prayed Ha’el Hagadol Hagibor, ‘Great and Mighty God.’ Daniel prayed, Ha’el Hagadol v’Hanorah, ‘Great and Awesome God.” Historically, the Deuteronomist combined these phrases into Ha’el Hagadol Hagibor v’Hanorah (Deuteronomy 10:17)At the burning bush, God told Moses that He is elohay Avraham, elohay Yitzhak, velohey Ya’akov, ‘God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob.’ When King Melchizedek of Shalem brought bread and wine to Abraham (Genesis 14), he described God as el elyon konay shamayim va’aretz, “God on High, Creator of Heaven and Earth.’ The words heaven and earth are a hendiadys for the creation of everything, hakol. Combined, we have the opening passage of every Amidah: Barukh atta adonai, elohaynu vaylohay Avotaynu, ehlohay Avraham, ehlohay Yitzhak vaylohay Ya’akov. Ha’el, hagadol, hagibor, v’hanorah, el elyon . . . ‘Praised are You, Lord, our God and God of our fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, great, mighty, awesome God . . . Creator of all.’

Following the pattern outlined above, the newer Conservative movement prayer books have added ufokayd Sarah, ‘and guardian of Sarah’ to the conclusion of the opening blessing of the Amidah. This is based on the opening words of the Torah reading on the first morning of Rosh Hashanah: Vadonai pakad et Sarah ka’asher amar ‘The Lord took note of Sarah as He had promised.’ (Genesis 21:1) Barukh atta Adonai, magen Avraham ufokayd Sarah, ‘Praised are You Adonai, Shield of Abraham and Guardian of Sarah. Combining the names Abraham and Sarah in the blessing creates a second hendiadys, that the Lord is the lord of all of us. 

Shabbat Shalom.