"the customs connected with prayer have become varied from one country to another, and most of the people do not understand the words of the prayers, nor do they know the correct ritual procedures and the reasons for them."
Baruch Atah...OK fine, but what does it mean?????
It is interesting to note that Medieval classics like the Rokeach, Shiblei HaLeqet, Kolbo and Abudarham are works that are referenced more than they are learned. Only when one wants to explore a topic are these books revealed in greater detail. I was asked to give a class on the Siddur to which I reluctantly agreed. My hesitation came from feeling that this once a week class would require much thought and preparation for a topic I regarded as less than exciting. Boy, was I wrong!
Every week I've been exposed to these early Medieval Halachic authorities who instead of writing codes, wrote what amounts to brief essays on Kaddish, Pesukei D'zimra, and Baruch. The Talmud has pithy aphorisms in random places that give insight into the meaning of many of these prayers, but these writers extend what have become popular quotations with questions that rarely occur to those who routinely and somewhat mindlessly utter their prayers each day. I count myself among them. Prayer is a time for declaration, not analysis, but analysis of prayer is an appropriate enterprise for learning--I, like many, never got around to doing it.
Last night I lifted a couple of paragraphs from Rav David Abudarham's classic 14th Century work on liturgy. He wrote this book with the following purpose in mind:
He poses the following question: Why is it that most Brachot begin by addressing God in the second person and end by referring to Him in the third person. We begin with Baruch Ata (Blessed are You) and we end by saying Borei Peri Hagafen (the one who created the fruit of the vine). Why doesn't it say, "that You created the vine.
He explains that this is reflective of how we experience God which is primarily through His actions. Because we believe all things come from Him and no other entity, because we believe this, we demonstrate this by addressing God as an intimate. We cannot, however, presume to know God's essence, so that when we attribute what He has made, we switch to the third person. For aspects of God are both present and hidden. This is also reflected in human beings. Our actions are revealed, but the essence of our heart remains hidden within us. Whereas our deeds are connected to God only through mitzvot, our hearts, our thoughts have the potential to be continuously connected to the Holy One.
He also clears up the issue of what it means to say Baruch Atah. We are not blessing God--How would that make sense anyway? We are acknowledging that God is the source of all blessing. Baruch atah means "You are the source of blessing", and then the rest of the Bracha makes sense..."King of the universe, who created the fruit of the vine."
Sometimes one has to be pushed to learn something that he should have known a long time ago.