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Last Week in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe Monday and Tuesday 

After a long trek to the Great Zimbabwe and meeting with Dr Rabson Wuriga, I spent most of Monday relaxing and catching up on sleep and much needed rest.  On Monday evening I was picked up by a man named Pastor Gary Cross who grew up with my dear friend and congregant Amir Harnoy.  It is a small world!  I went to dinner at the pastor’s home and had a wonderful home cooked meal with great conversation. We talked about our spiritual paths and how we both work in our own communities to achieve the same thing.  It was fascinating to hear about his work—placing orphans in homes rather than institutions, ministering to people in need and supporting causes that help the under-served. He has a wonderful wife and four daughters, one of whom is at Calvin University in Michigan.  It used to be Calvin College, but now with the name change I told Gary that it just means that they can charge more—we had a good laugh.  A beautiful family living in a city that is stricken with poverty, lack of electricity and in places running water and very high unemployment. But each one of Gary’s family is committed to the work of the church and that is a machaya. 

On Tuesday we had lessons at 11:00 am.  We reviewed the Ma’ariv service for Shabbat, and then went on to the Birchot Hashachar, Psukei D’zimra and the Shaharit services for Shabbat morning.  Hamlet wrote a fantastic melody for the Birchot HaShachar, the morning blessings—we talked about the blessings and how they relate to starting our day. We got to one of my favorite parts of the service which is a metrically compelling wording that through repetition of the word Mah (what) asks the questions: What are we? What are our lives? What is our loving-kindness? What is our righteousness? What is our salvation? What is our strength? What is our might? What shall we say before You Lord our God and God of our ancestors? In the words of my teacher Hazzan Abe Golinkin this is like a mini tachanun— a cry out to God for answers and a wake up call on how we should live our lives. 

We looked at the sections for study and particularly at the principles for understanding and interpreting the Torah and the Talmud. And then, of course the Kaddish d’Rabbanan. Oh and I taught them the Sheyebane Beit HaMikdash.  Then we got to psalm 30, mizmor shir hanukkat habayit—the song of the dedication of the Temple—and it’s relation to the holiday of Hanukkah.  Baruch She’amar we learned Craig Taubman’s melody and I pointed out that this among other prayers were written by the Men of the Great Assembly.  The rest of psukei d’zimra we talked about the different prayers and how we deviate from the weekday on Shabbat and Holidays.  Hoshea et amecha has ten words which we use to count a minyan instead of counting people as numbers—which is dehumanizing.  I talked about how particularly evil and calculated Hitler was to brand numbers on Jews in concentration camps.  We learned a few melodies, my Y’hiu l’ratzon and mi ha’ish among others.  We talked about the halleluyah psalms 145-150 and that the word halleluyah means praise God.  Most wonderfully, the sound of the hey with the dot (dagesh) in it creates a breathy sound so that Yah, one of God’s names has in it the source of life—-our breath which was breathed in to us when we were born. It is so that we can sing kol haneshama t’hallel-ya. All of our soul (breath) praises God. 

We talked once again about the ayin and dalet being large in the shema, particularly to remind us that the word eid means witness— when we say the shema we should all feel that we were there receiving Torah—all Jews even those not yet born were there including Lemba, Abayudaya, Jews of Choice, Jews by birth—everyone.  I also pointed out that the aleinu prayer has the same formula—the beginning of each paragraph starts with ayin and the ending is a dalet. 

Oh and BTW we talked about the Shema appearing early in the siddur, so that those listening for the shema, a forbidden part of the service in some periods of history, soldiers would not be expecting it so early in the service and miss the recitation—also the same reason is used for the shema in kedusah in the music service. 

Kol haneshama t’hallel-Yah is repeated at the end of ps 150 to indicate in ancient times to a public without siddurim that the section of psalms was over. We also talked about ps 145 is in alphabetical order, without the nun—taken out because of its negative implications. 

The next section includes paragraphs from Tanach and so we stand in honor of those sections.  The first is from Divrei Yamim which is Chronicles. I pointed out the section of the Torah service which is from that paragraph—it is fun to realize where specific prayers come from—Tanach and piyutim, religious poems. 

We came to the Shirat Hayam, song of the sea and I pointed out that the melody that the shul sings is from the Portuguese tradition. It also contains the mi chamocha and we talked about Nachshon’ mouth being filled with water and only able to say CHamocha instead of Kamocha. And the Macabees name taken from the men, chaf, bet and mud first letters of the phrase.  Once again Adonai Yimloch L’Olam Va’ed is repeated to indicate the end of that section. 

Barechu we reviewed the meaning of the word and its many forms and we also talked about yotzer or uvorei choshech, Blessed are you God who created light and darkness. However the words from Isaiah read “created light and evil.” This did not sit well with the sages and thus here is another example of changing the wording to suit intent of the prayer. 

There are many beautiful melodies that Hamlet has written for this section of the siddur, the blessings before the shema.  especially the Eil Adon—I thought that it was from somewhere else, it sounded so beautiful.  That surely brought a smile to his face. I pointed out that Eil Adon is in alphabetical order, and yes, the nun is there as Moderick pointed out.  Once again we have the prayer for creation, and the prayer for revelation leading to the shema and the prayer of redemption before the Amidah.  Also I talked about the Kadosh kadosh kadosh section before the shema, that section being called the “kiddushah d’yeshiva.”  This is literally the “sitting kedushah.” Comprised of many of the same verses that we read in the Kedushah of the Amidah, it is a recreation of the angels appearing before Hashem in Isaiah and Ezekiel in the Prophets.  There is also the kedusha d’sidra found at the end of the morning service on weekdays, the mincha for Shabbat and other places. All have in common this dramatic scene from the Prophets. 

The word Amida I pointed out is like the word yeshiva. It is the noun form of the verb to stand as yeshiva is the noun form of the word to stand yoshev.  Hence the Amidah can be called the Standing Prayer, Ha’tefillah THE prayer or the shemoneh esrei (the 18 blessings—really 19).  The Amidah for shabbat has 7 blessings representing the seventh day, Shabbat.  There are a standard three in the beginning and three at the end, with the middle being the “holiness of the day,” and ends with Mikadesh HaShabbat. 

We learned where to bow and how to do it and going back three steps at “Adonai S’fati Tiftach,” and three forward at “ufi yagid t’hilatecha.”  The idea is to approach the space of prayer and also to remember that we carefully approach the King. 

We sang some melodies for the repetition including Hamlet’s v’shamru and my L’dor Vador. We also recorded vshamru this week. We went on to the Torah service—Hamlet, once again has written some beautiful melodies for that section as well. You have to get a copy of the Lemba Jews of Africa—Ancient roots—new traditions. Let me know if you want to buy one—all monies go back to the Lemba. 

Side note—we recorded five new songs with my little MacBook Air and Studio One.  Hamlet is an amazing musician and composer and it was a delight.  The only drawback was some tech difficulties, but we managed to record mbira, lead voice (Hamlet) and harmony voices (George, Sharon and Nomsa).  Can’t wait to mix and see what we have.  I left Hamlet with my audio interface in the hopes that he will be able to create his own studio in Harare. 

I let Moderick know the standard form of the Torah service—calling up aliyot, misheberach, hatzi kaddish, maftir, etc.  Also to be aware of when we do the Birchat HaChodesh, the blessing for the new month, the community needs some Hebrew calendars!  I sent out printable calendars to Moderick when I returned.  I loved reading in Dr. Rabson’s book about a bowl of water’s reflection of the moon indicating the new moon in Lemba history.  The new moon was a festival and a very important part of Lemba life. 

We went through the musaf service and learned melodies for the kedushah and others.  We talked about ein keloheinu being an acronym (first letters of each verse) for AMeN and Baruch Atah Adonai.  We are at the end of the service and say amen but always we continue on with our worship, represented but the Barach Atah… 

Next blog will be about the trip home and the continuing work going on her in the USA.