Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Drama on the Parkway

It was the second day yomtov, sukos. I was making my way up Ocean Parkway, headed for the Bodners. I had just gotten through davening at the Mir, shacharis and musaf including, of course, the duchaning. We were going to have the yomtov se-uda. It was to be very yomtov-dik, the tables set majestically and the suka walls adorned magnificently with no-i suka. Lighting fixtures would be found gallantly suspended from the spaces interspersing the expanses of sechach, illuminating the interior and enhancing the ambiance immensely. The suka was to be filled to capacity, bla”h, family surrounding the methodically configured tables, sitting in neatly arranged chairs, close-together enough to economize, small enough to fit, but big enough to comfortably accommodate. Children would leap to and fro, making joyous noises, music to the ears. Obedient they would be, cleaving to every order to quiet down and stand still as to the roar of a royal trumpet. At length the masterly recital of the Kidush would commence, each word enunciated articulately and rendered melodically. All attention was concentrated on the blessing over wine, the intention, on the part of all assembled, to be yotzei through the reader’s agency felt palpably. Then would come the washing, then the betzi-as hapas, then the fish, and then, finally...the question.

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Something on the order of an hour before, as I stood listening to the shali-ach tzibur as he repeated the amida and anticipating his arrival at the section designated for birchas kohanim, I found myself caught by surprise by something on the page of the sidur. It had to do with the nusach of vesei-areiv (other say, veserav) that is recited in the midst of the birchas avoda during the chazaras hashatz of musaf, just ahead of the enunciation of the duchening. The birchas avoda begins in retzei and, ordinarily, concludes with vesechezena eineinu beshuvecha letzion berachamim, whereupon the chasima, baruch ata heshem hamachazir shechinaso letzion, is recited. The formulation of vesei-areiv is, when it is recited, inserted toward the end of retzei.

In the nusach that we, benei ashkenaz, follow, the vesei-areiv addition, which is, indeed, incorporated into retzei, occupying the trailing part of it, closes with vesechezena eineinu beshuvecha letzion berachamim. And in this respect it resembles the ordinary birchas avoda (which is to say, retzei). However, there is something that contravenes this similarity. After the usual vesechezena, and before the final chasima, there occurs the following insertion: vesham navadcha beyira kimei-olam uchshanim kadmoni-os. This is something that is not usually said in retzei. And in conjunction with this change, there occurs another, this time affecting the chasima of the beracha. Instead of concluding, as we usually do, with baruch ata hashem hamachazir shechinaso letzi-on, we conclude: baruch ata hashem she-osecha levadecha beyira na-avod. I found myself puzzled by this realization and couldn’t put my finger on the reason for it.

As I pondered the perplexity, I noticed something else in the sidur. It featured an alternative formulation that it imputed to the benei eretz yisra-el – displaying the two formulations side-by-side. In this other formulation, which in most respects concurs with the first, ashkenazik one, the words vesham na-avadcha... occur not immediately following the words vesechazena but, on the contrary, right before them. Concomitantly, the beracha concludes in the way in which it ordinarily does, with the vesechezena clause. In addition, the chasima takes its ordinary form, baruch ata hashem hamachazir..., as well. This only added to my consternation. After all, both formulations were of the same content, but for a seemingly minor juxtaposition of clauses toward the end. More than being puzzled by the difference in the two formulations of the inner content, I found myself bewildered by the differing chasimos. Given that the content of the two formulations was identical in both cases, why should a slight modification in the sequencing occasion a major change in the chasima?

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As I sat at the suka table partaking of the delicacies and enjoying the ambience, I took the initiative to pose this question to the host. It did not take him long to respond with a ringing reply. He made the (now obviously simple) point that a beracha’s chasima reflects the content of the closing segment of the beracha’s inner content. This is something of which I had not been fully aware. I had thought that it simply reflected the inner content as such, without regard to whether it occurred later or earlier in the formulation of the beracha. On the basis of this assumption of mine, I deduced that, the content in the two cases being substantially the same, there ought not be any difference in the respective chasimos. This is something on which Reb Moishe (Bodner) corrected me (in effect). He made the point that a chasima reflects the specific content that closes the inner formulation of the beracha. And since, on the reading of nusach ashkenaz, the close reads vesham na-avadcha..., the appropriate chasima is, indeed, she-osecha levadecha beyira na-avod.

As to why the two formulations differ internally, this is an interesting historical question.

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When it was over, I had Reb Moishe & Co shychyu to thank not only for the delectable se-uda and festive atmosphere, but also for the splendid insight into the davening

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