Thursday, March 20, 2014

The L-rd's Prayer in Jewish Tradition

The following is excerpted from "Brother Jesus" by the Jewish author Schalom Ben-Chorin:

pg. 89 "In all of this, Jesus operates within the Jewish tradition of his day, as Bultmann rightly recognizes:  'The unique character of the Lord's prayer as contrasted with Jewish prayer does not consist in any special originality of formulation or content.  On the contrary, all petitions have parallels in Jewish prayers' (Jesus and the Word, 181).
     Not only do they have parallels in Jewish prayers, but the prayer that Jesus teaches his disciples is a Jewish prayer from the first word to the last.  On a personal note, whenever I am present when the Our Father is recited, I always pray along, without feeling that I am abandoning or violating my own Jewish faith in the slightest.
     The prayer that Jesus teaches his disciples (Matt. 6:9-13) begins with the invocation 'Our Father in heaven.'  ....'Avinu shebashamayim'...To be sure, Jesus recommends praying not (only) in the synagogue but at home, and yet for the individual the invocation 'Our Father' is still proper, for no individual in prayer is alone.  And the Jewish individual, as a member of a distinctive union of people, is particularly cognizant of his bond with God and therefore rightly utters the words 'Our Father.'....
     In both the prayer invocation and the parables, in the sermons and the conversations of Jesus, the name of God, the never spoken....The intimate father-child relationship that characterizes the faith of Jesus, who cries out 'Abba' (Mark 14:36) in childlike despair....
     Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
    The formula 'hallowed be your name' corresponds to the Kaddish prayer in the synagogue.  The Kaddish is an old prayer.  Although predominantly Aramaic, it also displays Hebrew components that may well derive from the time of Jesus.  The Kaddish begins with the formula 'Glorified and sanctified by his great name in the world which he has created according to his will.  And may he establish his kingdom in your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of the entire house of Israel, speedily and soon, and say, Amen.
    ...In its original form the Kaddish was a hymn with a prospective view of the kingdom of God; the experts in scriptural law used it to conclude their exegesis (derashoth).  This form is still known today in the synagogue as Kaddish derabbanan and is recited after an instructional reading.  This helps to explain wh the Our Father is adjoined (in Matthew) to the Sermon on the Mount.
     Your kingdom come.  Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.     
    ...The Kaddish too begins with the request for the kingdom of God.  In the prayer of Rav (early third century)...'Therefore we wait on you Lord our God, to show us quickly the glory of your victory, to expel and exterminate the godless from the earth, to order the world for the kingdom of the Mighty One.'  Even today the holy service in the synagogue ends with this prayer, known as the 'Aleinu.
    Give us this day our daily bread.    
    It is right that people, even while expecting the kingdom of God, should pray for daily bread.  In Hebrew we would probably read this as lechem chukenu, 'the bread due to us.'  But to pray for more does not seem right to Jesus.  We must especially recall that Jesus rejected the accumulation of material goods, an attitude consistent with the pharisaical ideal of his time.
    And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.     
    We have adduced talmudic passages above, according to which only those people will be forgiven in heaven who themselves forgave on earth.  Jesus elaborates on this thought in the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:23-25).
    Jesus, who deeply understands human nature, knows that people are exposed to temptation daily.  He thus concludes his prayer with this request:
    And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from evil.    
    'And do not bring us to the time of trial' has an almost literal parallel in the daily morning prayer in the synagogue:  Velo liydei-nissayon, 'and not into the hands of trial.'  Deliverance from trial can also be conceived of as deliverance from evil, though not in the sense of the evil one, the Devil.  In Jesus' language use, the Devil is simply called Satan, whom he had seen fall from heaven in the form of lightning (Luke 10:18)."

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