The Blessings Around the Shema

The structure of these three blessings reflects both the historical progress from creation to revelation to redemption and the religious conception that each of these "events" is actually a process.

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The great archetypal instance of divine intervention is the liberation from Egypt, and it is the recollection of that event that is the main subject of the prayer, "From Egypt You redeemed us, O Lord our God, and from the house of bondage you delivered us. Their first-born You slew, and Your first-born You redeemed. You split the Red Sea so that the beloved would pass through and the oppressors would drown; the waters engulfed them and not one was left." Now the miracle at the sea was only one half of the Exodus event described in the Bible; it is completed by the great song of praise sung by Moses and the Israelites, which begins, "I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously" (Exod. 15). The liturgical evocation of the Exodus is similarly divided. Yet while the miracle at the sea is narrated like an event from the past, the Song at the Sea is not only narrated but, in part, sung as if it were taking place in the present. The worshiping congregation momentarily merges with the ancient chorus, acclaiming together the words of Exodus 15: "Who is like You, O Lord, among the mighty?" and "The Lord shall reign for ever and ever."

This collapsing of past and present into a timeless moment of accla­mation functions as a bridge to the final section of the prayer, which pushes the idea of timelessness into another dimension. The awareness of past redemption must of necessity coexist with the awareness of pres­ent redemption. The liberation from Egypt in rabbinic thought is a prefiguration of a deliverance to come at the end of history, when the subjugation to the nations will be broken and the exiles gathered into the land through the agency of the Messiah. This is no fantasy, but God's recorded promise.By recalling the ancient redemption and resinging its hymn of praise, the pray-er reaffirms a belief not only in the future redemption but in the right to implore God to make good His pledge.

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Alan Mintz

Alan Mintz is the Chana Kekst Professor of Hebrew Literature and chair of the Department of Hebrew Language at The Jewish Theological Seminary. Dr. Mintz joined the JTS faculty in June 2001 after ten years at Brandeis University as the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of Modern Hebrew Literature.