Stephen’s Prayer Teach

Some of you were kind enough to ask for a copy of the remarks I shared with Sixth & I on Friday night.  They are below.  Just imagine a goofy redheaded kid sharing them and you’ll have the full effect.

The prayer teach is a component of the Sixth in the City shabbat and service hosted by Sitxh & I Synagogue on the second Friday of each month.

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Shabbat shalom!

The last time I prayed was nine years ago.  I was 17, and a senior in high school.  I prayed to God to help me get really good grades, and I prayed that he somehow trick my high school crush into asking me to the fall formal.

God went 0 for 2.  I thought this was statistically significant, so I stopped praying.

But I still believe there’s a lot merit to the textual analysis of prayer, so I said “yes” when the Sixth &I crew asked me to say a little something about the Mi Chamocha prayer.

Mi Chamocha is the prayer that we sometimes sing at Sixth & I that goes a like – *** sing *** — except it sounds a lot better when Rick Recht, Erika Ettin, and the like sing it.

It’s the prayer that the Israelites sang after allegedly crossing the Red Sea that Moses split.  And – as we are celebrating Passover – it’s appropriate for this time of year.

Translated – courtesy of Yahoo! Answers – Mi Chamocha reads:

“Who is like you, Adonai, among other gods?

Who is like you, glorious in holiness, awesome in praises, doing miracles?

 

With a new song, the ones You rescued praised your name at the sea shore.

All of them in unison gave thanks and praise Your rule, and said: ‘Adonai will reign for ever and ever.”

 

Now, in all likelihood, this prayer was probably just intended to be a simple flattering ode to God in the hopes that he would reward us with tasty manna in the desert.

But, in the spirit of modern academia, I’m going to say three things about Mi Chamocha that the original author undoubtedly didn’t mean.

 

Number 1:  This prayer serves a litmus test for your type of personality.  Before there was the Myers-Briggs INTJ personality test, there was Mi Chamocha.  If you’re like I am, then you likely read this prayer and said, “Nice work God, but where the hell were you for the previous 400 years of slavery?”  This means you’re likely the type of person who complains when it’s 65 degrees as being both simultaneously too hot and too cold.

Alternatively, if you’re the type of person who reads this prayer and says “This is a really nice prayer.  God definitely deserved thanks,” then you likely can appreciate a pretty flower in the middle of torrential downpour.

I suspect that the latter of these two outlooks produces the happier life.  But I similarly suspect that my disposition toward the former is immutable.  Oh well.

 

Number 2:  Mi Chamocha teaches us that we can celebrate victories of freedom even when our when our enemies suffer death and misery.  After all, this joyful prayer and song comes on the heels of the drowning of the Egyptian army and on the heels of ten plagues of Egypt – both pretty big on the scales of death and misery.

But there’s a caveat to our celebration.  The song or celebration should be about our savior or defender, not the death of our enemy.  Accordingly, regarding the death of Bin Laden, our celebration should have focused on the merits of either the administration, the US Armed Forces, or Seal Team 6.

 

Number 3 and last point, because, let’s be honest, this needs to be over:  The Mi Chamocha prayer challenges the notion of the self-made man.  Can any person really have great success simply under his own steam?  Even though it seemed that the Israelites did a lot under their own steam, they always had God helping them.

The same holds for most of today’s highly successful people.  President Obama had Dick Durbin to help him launch his electoral success.  Mark Zuckerberg had investor Peter Thiel.  For most success stories, it’s a supportive family that enabled success.

This message has been carried through up by the Western Cannon:

In Leviticus – the book we’re reading during this time of the year – it says:

“Any man of the House of Israel, who slaughters an ox, a lamb or a goat inside the camp, or who slaughters outside the camp, but does not bring it to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting to offer up as a sacrifice to the Lord before the Mishkan of the Lord, this [act] shall be counted for that man as blood he has shed blood, and that man shall be cut off from among his people.”  (Lev. 17:3 – 17:4)

John Donne said that “No man is an island.”

Fabulous and Ne-Yo rapped that:

You plus me it equals better math
Your boy a good look but she my better half
I’m already bossing already flossing
But why have the cake if it ain’t got the sweet frosting?

I’ma need Coretta Scott if I’m gonna be king

I’m a movement by myself
But I’m a force when we’re together
Mami I’m good all by myself
But baby u make me better
U make me better [X8]

 

And last, but not least, consider the Harry Potter novels.  The force of good, and the eventual victor, Harry Potter, even when he seemed like he was going it alone he depended on people like Dumbledore, Hermione, Sirius.

Voldemort, on the other hand, was famously independent: he didn’t want friends, and he didn’t even want to drink unicorn’s blood because it would make him dependent on another creature.

 

And so, in the spirit of Mi Chamocha, I want to quickly say that though it has been my privilege to take some of the credit Gather the Jews, it absolutely could not have been done without the amazing GTJ team (such as Mike Weinberg and Jon Halperin), and it could not have been done without an amazing Jewish community.  Following on the heels of Julia Moss’s speech last week, it is now my turn to say goodbye.  I will be leaving this summer, but it has been an amazing four years in DC, and I appreciate the DC Jewish community for really making me feel like this has always been my home.

Happy Passover.