Why “Life to All” is Meaningless

Bear with me through the first paragraph. There is meat after that, I promise.

As previously noted, I was asked about a week ago to create a new packet for use on Friday evenings by my Hillel. A week or so later, earlier this morning, I finished. The speed with which I finished it shocked Hillel’s co-Presidents, liturgy committee, and advisor. It shocked me too, even. It took no time at all to get the Hebrew together. The contents of Kabalat Shabat had been pre-decided (rather arbitrarily, in my opinion) by one of our co-Presidents, the Moroccan, an asshole with far less liturgical knowledge than he pretends. The rest basically follows the text of my forthcoming sidur, Sidur Elu D’vareinu, with one exception. In the interests of inclusivity, I have put in the choice to say either “m’chayeh metim” or “mevi sh’lemut” during G’vurot. Upon delivering this first draft of the service to Hillel for review, I was appointed Head of Alumni Relations, whatever the hell that means.

As for this “mevi sh’lemut” business, I am quite excited to have people actually davening with these words. I shall explain. Traditionally, G’vurot, a prayer about God’s powers, refers to God’s power to resurrect the dead. This bothers me and it bothered our Reform liturgical forebears. Their genius solution was to replace “m’chayeh metim” with “m’chayeh hakol.” This says that rather than God giving life to the dead, God gives life to everything. In principle, I have no problem with the idea of God as a source of life, but this replacement of one things with its most literal opposite has rendered a meaningless phrase.

When we say “m’chayeh metim,” what we are saying is condensed version of saying, “God, when you bring the personal Messiah, son of David, you will raise the dead.” Let us now make to replacements in that statement to render a parallel, Reform version. We will replace “the personal Messiah, son of David” with “the Messianic Age” and “raise the dead” with our new Reform idead “give life to all.” What we are now saying when we pray G’vurot is, “God, when you bring the Messianic Age, you will give life to all.” Gosh. I think that I already believe that God gives life to all and that God’s status as a life-giver will not change because of the arrival of the Messianic Age.

Believing that this new phrase, “m’chayeh hakol,” does not actually say anything of consequence, nor truly address my beliefs about the Messianic Age, I sought a new phrase. A third option, if you will. While discussing this issue one day with a good friend, Matti Barzilai, who deserves true credit for this innovation, I expressed frustration that I could not think of what this third option might say. Matti asked me what I believe about the Messianic Age. I began to outline is to her as a time of complete peace, which all humans will one day work toward in cooperation. The features of peace, completeness, and wholeness came to the forefront as I elaborated. Matti suggested “mevi sh’lemut” as an option. After a few days though, I typed it into G’vurot as my new replacement for “m’chayeh metim.”

Let us test it out. “God, when you bring the Messianic Age, you will bring wholeness, peace.” Yes. That I believe.

2 Responses to Why “Life to All” is Meaningless

  1. Lauren September 27, 2007 at 9:35 am #

    I will not argue that “mevi sh’lemut” is a vast improvement over either the redundant life to all in the afterlife or the problematic afterliving dead. Do you think that it is “enough” to serve its place in the “g’vurot?” I am the last person to claim familiarity with the liturgy, but I thought of “m’chayeh metim” as being a kind of crowning glory to the rest i.e. that any of us mortals could accomplish the other stuff with ourown g’vurah, but only God can bring the Messiah oops, Messianic Age and its assorted miraculous impossibilities. “Sh’lemut” I associate with the sh’lemut we wish on body and spirit for each of our ailing congregants at every service. For me, I think I would add “ha’Olam” to the description. Peace and wholeness of the world — or perhaps even better: l’Olam: to the world or, as it is often used: “forever.” And, such an addition would also bring to mind Olam Haba: the world to come, lending a bit of self referential implication to the matter.

    Just looking for g’vurah suitable for a god,

  2. davidamwilensky September 27, 2007 at 12:36 pm #

    I think you should take a look at G’vurot. There are not things we can accomplish that we are discussing. They are all related to God’s power, not our power.

    The “refu’ah sh’lemah” you are referring to is indeed the same root being used the same way I mean it: completeness wholeness ,etc.

    As for referring to olam haba, I tend to avoid the term because some take it ro refer to some sort of afterlife, which I have no belief in.