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Frindle and High Holiday Liturgy

Friday, 7 October, 2016 - 12:57 pm

Frindle is the name of a popular (and, in my opinion – a high quality) secular children’s book by Andrew Clements. The gist of the book is that the protagonist, a 5th grader inspired by his Language Arts teacher, makes up a new word for pen - Frindle. It stems from the teacher’s explanation of the background for the words in the dictionary and all world languages, being the idea that a society mutually agrees to use a particular word for a particular object. That term can then be adopted into other languages and so on.

There is one exception to this rule – The Holy Tongue – Lashon Hakodesh (the origin for Hebrew). Kabbala explains that the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet are actually 22 Divine energy streams. When the letters are combined that represents a spiritual energy formula that is the life-force of a particular thing. That letter combination is also its name in the Holy Tongue. Genesis tells us that Adam named all living things. Kabbala explains that he determined the name based on his discerning the energy formula. So a name in Lashon Hakodesh is not just a societal convention but an actual representation of the life-force behind that entity.

This is why our liturgy is so powerful. The sages who composed the words of our prayers were mystics who understood the power behind the words and letters they used. As such each word contains layers of meaning based on the layers of Divine energy within each letter and letter combination. This is especially true of the High Holiday liturgy – which employs acrostics quite often. Not only do the words have individual layered meanings, along with the combined layered meanings as they come together as a sentence, but there is also the additional layered meanings within the acrostic.

This Yom Kippur take a moment to notice the beauty of the language employed in our prayers. Sadly this beauty does not overflow into the translation. We can translate the basic meaning but not the layers upon layers of deeper meaning. But even then we can know that our words contain those layers of meaning and when we say them we have in mind that whatever the sages intended with these words shall apply to our prayers as well.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and meaningful Yom Kippur
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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