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Haiti Mission with Rabbi Lindemann

Avinu She-BaShamayim

The Hebrew words above may sound familiar. They could comprise the opening of a number of prayers in the Siddur. At Have Faith Haiti Mission Orphanage, they are recited every day, in their English translation — “Our Father Who art in Heaven.” So now, I am sure a number of you recognize the phrase as the beginning of a prayer Christians call “The Lord’s Prayer,” because, according to the Book of Matthew, it was taught by Jesus. Here, the kids call it the “Our Father.”

The minute I heard it, on my first trip to Haiti, I was transported back to elementary school, where we recited it at the beginning of every school day. I don’t remember if it came before or after the Pledge of Allegiance, but from that daily ritual I learned the “Our Father” by heart: “Our Father Who art in Heaven, hallowed by Thy name…” In English, it registers as Christian. In Hebrew, well, you tell me: “Avinu She-BaShamayim, Yitkadeish Sh’mekha.” Change that English word “hallowed” to an alternative translation, “Sanctified,” and you get the very Jewish concept of Kiddush HaShem — the sanctification of God’s name through those values by which we live, and for which many have even been willing to sacrifice their lives.

I thought this would be a good place to begin teaching my class about prayer — meet the students where they are, begin with something they know…or think they know. So, at Evening Devotion, when it was time for them to recite “Our Father,” I stood up and told them why I, a rabbi, know that prayer so well. Then, I pointed out that Jesus certainly never spoke those words in English, and not in Creole or French, which the kids also speak. The commonly spoken language of his day was Aramaic, and he may have prayed in the vernacular so people would understand. However, the language of prayer was Hebrew, so it is quite possible that he prayed in the traditional way.  And then I recited it in Hebrew.

The next day, in my class with the high school age students, I began by noting that whenever we say a prayer repeatedly such that we know it by heart, the recitation may become so mechanical that we fail to take it to heart. (Happens to me. What about you?) That’s where we began our discussion of what the words mean.

First word — Our — what’s the meaning? Djuline got it immediately: “It means all of us,” not just Christians, or Jews (remember Jesus was Jewish), or Muslims (there were none at the time), or Greeks, or Romans. “‘Our Father’ means we are all children of God.” Widley added that part. And so it went, line by line.

                             (Djuline on left)                                     (Widley on left: Louvenson in middle)

“Give us this day our daily bread.” In Haiti, everybody gets this line. Many of these kids were brought to the Orphanage because their single parent couldn’t afford to feed them.

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Quick excursus:  Yanel, the COO of the Orphanage, went out to Aux Cayes on business and was approached by a mother with three children she could not feed. The baby was a couple of months old and living on sugar water, because the mom couldn’t get enough nourishment to be able to nurse the baby. At six months, the baby weighed seven pounds.

Yanel called Mitch and said “we have to act right now.” They flew the baby back to the hospital and then Mitch and Janine took her to the US. She has been living with them and thriving, as you can see in the photos taken just a few months later.

What immediately comes to mind is the passage from Masekhet Sanhedrin: “One who saves a single life saves an entire world.” The Have Faith Haiti Orphanage is up to 57 kids now.

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Okay, back to the class. “And lead us not into temptation…” Theologians say this is the most complicated and troubling line of the prayer, hardest to understand. Why would a good God lead one into temptation? Of course, we know that God tested Abraham and Job. But maybe that’s the Bible’s way of saying that in God’s world there is always temptation. We are all tested, and we all have free will. Louvenson came up with that. He’s a budding theologian. (Picture above)

I did a little research and was able to add that the Christian Bible makes a similar point in the Book of James (1:13): “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God Himself tempts no one.”

As we were about to move on, Bianka raised her hand.

“I don’t think that’s the hardest line of the prayer, I think it’s ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Why? “Because it’s not easy to forgive or say you’re sorry.” And so, we were moved from theology to personal encounter with prayer. By the way, that line of the prayer begins “S’lah Lanu.” Sound familiar? Straight out of Yom Kippur liturgy. (Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are tomorrow’s lesson. After all, I am Rabbi Steve.)

Time to wrap up today’s class. The last line of the text: “For Thine is the kingdom, the power and glory for ever and ever.” Classic Hebrew from what was clearly a very Jewish prayer: “Ki L’kha HaMamlakhah V’HaG’vurah V’HaTiferet L’Olmey Olamim.” (Mitch took a video.)

And to that, I think we could all say “Amen.”

Mon, September 26 2022 1 Tishrei 5783