Parashah of the week: Ekev

“For the Lord your God is God supreme and Lord supreme, the great, the mighty and the awesome God” Deuteronomy 10.17


These words from Moses in our portion provide the source for the famous address to the Divine in the first blessing of the Amidah, our central prayer: Ha’el hagadol hagibbor vehanora, “the great mighty and awesome God”.

Such a concept of God could put some off from praying just as they’re starting, because, at least, on its surface, this language seems to valorise an anthropomorphised, almost macho, mighty presence. Yet, a fuller understanding of what these terms describe in our Torah portion can transform our experience of prayer, and our relationship with God.

The professor of prayer Reuven Kimelman explained that the meaning of the liturgy “exists not so much in the liturgical text per se as in the interaction between the liturgical text and the biblical intertext. Meaning, in the mind of the reader, takes place between texts rather than within them.”

So when we say the terms Ha’el hagadol ha’gibbor vehanora, addressing the “Great, Mighty and Awesome” in our prayer, we carry with us their meaning from when Moses says them. What is their meaning there?

Moses, in fact ,says more fully; “For the Lord your God is… the great, the mighty, and awesome God, who shows no favour and takes no bribe, but upholds the cause of the orphan and widow, and befriends the stranger and widow, providing food and clothing — you too must befriend the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19).

It turns out that the defining characteristic of the Most Powerful is care for the potentially powerless, for the widow, the stranger, and orphan. Our concept of power has been inverted. Furthermore, worshipping such a power immediately calls on us to emulate this behaviour, to turn to the vulnerable ourselves, for you too should befriend the stranger. 

Once you know what these words actually mean in our portion, those beautiful meanings occupy your head and heart when you say them in the Amidah. The act of prayer now becomes the expression of the hope that the vulnerable will win out, that care for the vulnerable will defeat earthly tyranny, and that you and I will contribute, however we can, to this.

As war still rages in Ukraine, and elsewhere in the world, creating orphans, widows and refugees, our prayers to the Great, Mighty and Awesome God are needed as much as ever — along with our accompanying actions.

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