Call and Response: A D’Var Torah on Parshat Vayechi
12 Pages Posted: 19 Jan 2017
Date Written: January 14, 2017
In Genesis, the last recorded words by sons to their fathers consistently evoke deception or half-truth, irony, or anguish. The Rabbis, however, could not leave it at that. According to Midrash, when Jacob faltered as he was about to bless his sons, they reassured him with the words of the Shema, the Jewish declaration of faith, and Jacob (Israel) responded, “Blessed be the glory of [God’s] Kingship for all time.” This Midrash is one of the explanations for why the line beginning “Blessed Be” is included in the liturgical recitation of the Shema even though it does not appear in the Biblical text. It also links the Shema structurally to the patterns of call and response that mark those few parts of the liturgy that require a minyan. The Shema, although not strictly speaking a call and response, it is in some sense our call to ourselves, both individually and collectively. And silently reciting “Blessed Be…” is thus our individual and collective response, our affirmation that, even in the face of our own half-truths, irony, and anguish, as well as our inadequate acts, we are entitled to praise God in God’s eternity.
This talk also touches on various related questions of both theology and liturgical practice.
Keywords: Judaism, Jewish prayer, Jewish liturgy, Hebrew Bible, Book of Genesis, Call and Response, Kaddish, Kedushah, Shema, Yizkor, Religious Faith, Midrash, Siddur, Minyan
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