The Roots of Jewish Prayer

The Majestic Center

with Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton

The second word in this exploration of the key words of Jewish prayer invites us to experience blessing and prayer as an invitation to a great and majestic ball.

The six-word blessing formula names Divinity in a number of ways.  I can imagine that there could be several titles on an invitation to a formal event hosted by royalty.

So if we consider the basic blessing to be a kind of royal summons, the appearance of the word MeLeKH, meaning king or sovereign, shouldn’t surprise us.

However, it does take many of us aback, or back to unwelcome imagery of God as a King on a Throne with a Beard. No wonder then that we ponder how we can engage in prayer honestly, when kings and sovereigns may at best be foreign to our experience. Many feminist revisionings of liturgy have excised or replaced the word, and worked to redress the verticality of the concept.

Examining the possibilities inherent in the word, we find a path that may be neither masculine nor hierarchical, while still holding up a sense of reverence and magnitude.

The three root letters of the word Mem, Lamed, KHaf, are grouped together in the center of the Hebrew alphabet, the letters appearing in the word in reverse alphabetical order.

As we discovered with the first blessing word, BaRuKh, letters that involve mouth, lips and voice create a vibrating connection that is possible to carry through the sounding of the word. The humming Me then carries us to LeKH, which letters create the word for: go! We’re carried, with vibration and an allusion to momentum, to enter further into our prayer.

I imagine a kind of aleph-bet bridge. See the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in a row, linked together. Then visualize them in an arc – or, as I did, write down the numbers 1-22 with 11-12 at the top. The highest point is shared by the KHaf and the Lamed, with the Mem propelling them forward. 

MeLeKH, hugging the heart-place of the prayer aleph-bet and our blessing formula, provides images for the core notion of transcendence, and of reaching towards connection to something beyond ourselves. Each blessing brings us to the next step on the prayer journey we are taking in that moment. MeLeKH inhabits so many of our prayer moments. If we can inhabit the place of MeLeKH – within ourselves as well as what we are reaching for, united in the sounding of the word – we may tap into something truly majestic. 

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