The first benediction of the Amidah is the Avot, the fathers. Before we pray it, we say:
My Lord, open up my lips so my mouth can speak your praise.
Then, before we pray it, we bow and walk forward three steps, drawing near to the holy.
We remain bowed through the opening blessing:
Blessed are you, HaShem our God and the God of our forefathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.
We pray standing for respect and with out feet together for attention. Many of us sway back and forth, which is called shuckling. For me, it adds concentration to my prayer. I also can’t help but feel I am bowing repeatedly to the holy.
There are many themes I could choose to muse on in the Avot, the first benediction of the Amidah. But I choose the theme of beginnings and endings, the spiritual bookends, if you would, of our faith. From the Fathers to the Redeemer.
Blessed are you, HaShem our God, and the God of our forefathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob; the great, mighty, and awesome God, the supreme God who bestows beneficial kindnesses and creates everything, who recalls the kindnesses of the Patriarchs and brings a Redeemer to their children’s children for his name’s sake with love.
O King, Helper, Savior, and Shield.
Blessed are you, HaShem, shield of Abraham.
What does it mean to you that your faith has come through a chain of people all the way back to Abraham?
Let me share with you how Jacob expressed it when he blessed Ephraim and Manasseh:
And he blessed Joseph and said,
“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day…Genesis 48:15
Jacob had made many mistakes. He was no spiritual giant. He was like us.
Jacob had tried to live his life on his own. He tried tricks and schemes. He made bargains with God. If you do this for me I will do this for you. Once he thought he found a place where God gave out blessings. He thought of God in limited ways.
Yet God kept blessing him more than he deserved. Even when he did things the wrong way, there was still a blessing that came with his life.
So as Jacob passed it on to the next generation…
The God before whom my fathers, Abraham and Isaac walked. You and I can pray that. Non-Jews also can pray it, since Abraham is the father of all who have faith as well as the father of the Chosen People, Israel.
Paul said of Israel in his day, “As regards the good news of Messiah, they are enemies for your sake, but as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers” (Rom. 11:28). That is, even though Paul felt his own generation in Israel was missing out, messing up, and missing God, they were still connected. Through the fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
When you pray this benediction, it places you into something bigger. When we pray with Israel, we pray to the shepherd of Israel. We include ourselves in the blessings of Israel.
That is the beginning, the first bookend. But this prayer also speaks of the ending, the final bookend.
It speaks of a Redeemer coming to their children’s children with love. Whose children? The children of the Patriarchs.
There are many ways to think of Messiah. He is the Son of David. The king like David who restores Israel. He is the righteousness of Jerusalem. He is the sin-bearer of Isaiah 53. He is the righteous judge. He brings a kingdom to end all others. He shatters history’s feet of clay. He is the Suffering Servant, the Anointed Conqueror. He is the King.
But the first benediction of the Amidah reminds us of another concept of Messiah. The whole benediction is in the context of Abraham. It brings to mind…
and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.
This verse is multi-layered. Seed is a collective plural. It can mean one or many.
In the sense of seed being many, it means all Israel, all the children of Jacob. The nations of the world will be blessed through Israel.
But seed is also singular. The Seed of Abraham is not only Israel, but more specifically…Messiah.
These are the BOOKENDS of history. Abraham — Messiah.
Abraham, the father of our faith. Messiah, the goal of our faith.
Abraham the beginning. Messiah the blessed end.
From one man, Abraham, God brought blessing and faith to many. In one man, Messiah, all those hopes find their ultimate rest.
God brings a redeemer to their children’s children with love. From Abraham to Messiah. From faith begun to faith realized.
The Amidah begins with a sweeping view of the beginning of faith and God’s family to the destination or goal.
Where does it leave us? As we are swaying back and forth, reverently mumbling like Hannah praying at the sanctuary so many centuries ago. Where does this prayer locate us in the continuum of God’s plan for the ages.
The prayer locates us in the middle, between Abraham and Messiah. Where else could we possibly want to be?