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Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 01_03_2013
01/02/2014 12:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon

January 3, 2014

I read it in the Houston Chronicle on New Year’s Day that the word “awesome” isn’t awesome any more. I can have the word back. That’s really good news for people like me who depend on that word to describe things that really are awesome. I look forward to using it again if only sparingly. I’ll use it like a choice word to describe only those ideas, images or things that represent our highest standards and most unique experiences. For example, in the wedding service we like to say, “O most awesome, glorious and blessed God, grant your blessings to the bride and groom.” That’s where “awesome” belongs, but for a long time it felt trite. Teenagers had co-opted the word to describe everything from new sneakers to pizza delivery. It rendered the wedding words ridiculous. It didn’t help my image, either. When the rabbi uses the word “awesome” but he’s the only one who knows that it originated in sacred texts and not with teenagers, it’s hard to explain to a congregation or audience that he was just being rabbinic.

Happy to have the word back again, here are a few examples of how the word is used in truly sacred times and occasions. “Awesome” is used in the Amidah (Tefilah), the central prayer in our worship services. The Hebrew word is “Norah” and when it’s translated we read it in context, “We praise you, Adonai our God, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob…great, mighty and awesome God, God supreme.” It fits perfectly here as a rising crescendo of praise to God while standing to recite it.

On the High Holidays we further enhance our praises to God. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, at the Holy Ark, while holding onto the Torah, we add the word “Norah” to our praise and exaltations. Upon removing the Torah from the Holy Ark, we sing Shema followed by “Echad Eloheinu…Kadosh v’Norah Shemo” Our God is One, Adonai is great; holy and awesome is God’s name” Another example On Yom Kippur is found in the concluding service (Gates of Repentance, p. 508). There we sing “El Norah Alilah” God of awesome deeds, grant us pardon as the gates begin to close.

Beyond worship, “awesome” can still be used during times in our life that reflect God’s presence all around us. A baby being born, a couple getting married, a first anniversary, a natural wonder, or another sacred time are all appropriate occasions to exclaim “Awesome!” and really mean it.

I know that teenagers like to speak their own language, but I was disappointed when they borrowed a word that held such promise to identify sacred times when our senses were taken to new heights and we were without any other word to describe the experiences. I can think of many words to describe new sneakers, and for pizza, well, there are too many words to begin to list them. But, when it comes to God’s presence in life’s wonders there are fewer words to choose from, as it should be. In Hebrew “Norah” and in English “Awesome” we highlight God and God’s wonders in the world that are beyond description and which require special words just to begin to speak of them.

As the first week of the secular new year 2014 gets underway, keep looking for extraordinary joy, gratitude, and blessings in your life. Then, and only then, may you use the word “awesome” unsparingly!

Shabbat Shalom.





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