Thou, so to speak: Dei-xis
Adam Zachary Newton
Only in the beauty created
by others is there consolation,
in the music of others and in
Only others save us,
even though solitude tastes like
opium. The others are not hell,
if you see them early, with
foreheads pure, cleansed by
That is why I wonder what
word should be used, "he" or
"you." Every "he"
is a betrayal of a certain "you"
in return someone else's poem
offers the fidelity of a sober
Adam Zagajewski, In
The Beauty Created by Others
For me the other is neither he
nor she; the other has only a name of his own, and her own name. The
third-person pronoun is a wicked pronoun; it is the pronoun of the non-person,
it absents, it annuls
. For me the other cannot be a referent, you are never
anything but you
Roland Barthes, A Lover's Discourse
We spoke one day about the names
of God as they are found in Jewish tradition. There was one he did not know,
namely Kavyakhol, which I told him my father used sometimes [a] word
in rabbinic literature. Literally it means: "Making necessary allowances." Or
more simply, "So to speak." So to speak. Like an Otherwise said. Or an
otherwise than being. He liked the expression very much. He repeated Kavyakhol,
Kavyakhol, like a candy melting in his mouth.
Salomon Malka, Emmanuel Levinas: His Life and Legacy
thoughtful essay begins appropriately enough by opening a bookthe siddur.
His essay sent me in turn to open many books of various kinds, including,
needless to say, the siddur (rather, several siddurim). As I
compose these opening sentences of my own, the book that sits open on my left
is a grammar of Rabbinic Hebrew. Significantly for my purposes here (albeit
so far as I can tell somewhat uncommon for such textbooks), the very first of
its twenty-one diagnostic units treats personal pronouns. Each unit commences
with an introductory text by way of illustration, and this first one cites the
first mishna of the first perek of "Chapters of the Fathers":
Moses received the Torah from Sinai
and transmitted it to Joshua, Joshua to the elders, the elders to the prophets,
and the prophets to the men of the Great Assembly. They said three things [Hem
amru shlosha devarim].
Theyanshei knesset ha'gedolarepresent
but one of several Talmudic authorities (B. Berakhot 33a) invoked
by the Sages as ordaining (formalizing, instituting) benedictions and prayers
for klal yisrael.
That is to, say, the men of the Great Assembly began the process of fixing forms
and patterns of worship whose eventual product became what we know as the
Jewish Prayerbook, according to its several nusachim (rites).
Struck by the
adventitious coupling of a grammatical lesson on pronouns in Rabbinic Hebrew
and the famous Mishnaic pronouncement of shalshelet kabbalah (chain of
tradition), I want accordingly to push off from Daniel Weiss's essay by
considering the special status of God as 2nd person in Rabbinic
prayer with a shalshelet of my own devising. My essay will thus braid together
three distinct but interconnected approaches to what Weiss calls the "odd
deixis of 'you'": 1) textual-historical, 2) linguistic-grammatical, and 3)
phenomenological. The first of these may appear more detour than destination
in its attention to concrete particulars of the 2nd person pronoun
in the evolution of liturgy. But, the foray into form-criticism lays the
necessary ground for the more immediately relevant, and briefer, speculations
of sections two and three which treat 1st, 2nd and 3rd
person-hood expressed or conveyed through congregational prayer. Even though
Weiss's question seems to hinge upon the ostensive or better, relational
character of the God towards whom prayer says "You" (that is, not Dieu
but à-Dieu), at bottom, descriptive, speculative, and time-honored as it
may be, that inquiry might also be rendered, how do we pray? Whatever
such interrogative aims at is properly unfinalizable and a matter for
eventuation over and above both description and speculation. My responses below
tack dutifully in just that direction, and for the most part hug the lee shore.
Words carry with them the places they have been.
In his 1340
commentary on the Siddur, R. David Abudraham remarks that no two
congregations on earth recited the tefilla (Shemoneh Esrei or
Eighteen Benedictions) in an identical fashion, word for word. Even at this
late date, Jewish prayer, however long established, remained variable among
diaspora communities in the midst of its statutory elements having been fixed
by Chazal many centuries earlier. Indeed, it remains so, even today,
across denominations. This is not merely a function of the necessary
dialectical relation between keva and kavanah (cognate to kivun,
meaning "direction"), routinized worship and spontaneous expression, upon which
Jewish prayer sits (or during the Amida, stands) precariously poised.
For variability also describes the very discursive structure of the Siddur itself,
a compiled and composite text if there ever was one, even more so than Tanakh
and the Talmuds, midrashim, and their commentaries.
linguistically, while it speaks for the most part in Biblical Hebrew, it also
incorporates, as Philip Birnbaum notes in his edition of the Siddur, "a
great deal of post-biblical diction."
The Prayerbook is, preeminently, a citational text: it selects verses
and passages (sometimes adjacent to each other) from Tanakh, the Mishna
and Talmud, even the Zohar, across a centuries-wide swath of
scriptural and exegetical composition. Such structure is the very sign, indeed
name, of its textual compilation"siddur" denoting ordersince like the
oral law antecedent to its own redaction, not only was there no "prayer-book"
as such in either Biblical or post-Biblical periods, but the Rabbis eschewed
any actual written sefer for prayer.
I stress this
point at this outset in order to get an initial bead on the status of vocative
or apostrophic "you" with God as referent in Jewish liturgy. Of course,
pragmatically and phenomenologically speaking, as Weiss proposes, the deixis of
that 2nd person reference can be taken as uniform across the textual
landscape of the liturgyalthough even that presumption invites challenge, as I
will have occasion to propose. Yet, strictly from a textual and historical
vantage, it may be just as plausible to propose a range of "Yous" populating
that same landscape of prayer, in its furrows and high places, its deserts,
forests, and encampments.
Weiss is certainly
correct to appeal to the pragmatic function of pronominal reference as an
apparatus for understanding what it means liturgically to say "you" to God.
Linguists Roman Jakobson and Emile Benveniste, drawing on Otto Jesperson's
original coinage, explained deixis ("display" or "pointing") as the referential
mechanism for aptly named "shifters," indexical expressions whose meaning
"cannot be defined without a reference to the message," which therefore shift
according to context (Jakobson, 1971: 131). Deictic coordinates, as J.
Lyons puts it, correspond to the here-and-now of any locutional context ("the
spatial-temporal zero-point" oriented "egocentrically.")
But shifting also
describes the landscape of prayer itself inasmuch as it aggregates more than
one single textual and historical tradition. And it likewise captures the
tessellated character of the Jewish Prayerbook whose individual sections
shift according to provenance, now drawing wholly from Biblical sources (for
example, the series of psalms in the Psukei D'zimra of the Shacharit
service and following the Shabbat Mincha service, or the passages from Chronicles,
Nehemiah, and Exodus preceding the Yishtabach prayer), now from a
mixture of Biblical passages and later liturgical formulas (as in the berakhot
on either side of the morning and evening recitation of the Shema and
in the Shemoneh Esrei itself); here, prayers of attributed authorship,
like the Monday and Thursday Tachanun, or there, whole set-pieces whose
antiquity was already recognized by the Sages, like the Nishmat and Kel
Adon hymns for Shabbat morning or the daily Aleinu, originally
from the Rosh Hashanah Mussaf Service. The Kedusha D'sidra,
found in the Uva L'tzion prayer for weekday mornings and Shabbat Mincha
and Ma'ariv is emblematic: preceded by the verse in 2nd
person from Psalms 22:4, "You are the Holy One enthroned upon the praises of
Israel," it is followed by antiphonal verses from Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Exodus
in Hebrew, accompanied by the Aramaic Targum to all three.
One may ask
whether the "'You' of prayer" in all of the instances abovepetitioned,
praised, personalized, communalizeddesignates the same in each. Its referent
surely is, but the conditions and circumstances of address and allocution vary
dramatically. That is because, even within the comparatively standardized form
of statutory worship, an individual service comprises an assemblage or
progression of sub-genres and types, and, to that limited degree, may plausibly
be called heteroglot. A given 2nd person reference to God may be
supplicatory, apostrophic, intimate, and obeisant. All belong to Jakobson's
conative function, but each may locate and invoke its addressee differently in
much the same way that even Barthes's amatory you must be both
consistently the same yet different. If the 3rd person pronoun
annuls and absents, the 2nd person devotedly re-imagines and
In his essay,
Weiss takes as identical the deixis of second-person in the quotation from Shirat
Ha'yam (Song of the Sea) in Emet v'Emunah from the Shabbat evening
is like You among the heavenly powers," (Ex. 15:11)and the 2nd
person deixis of Gevurot (or T'hiyat Ha'metim), the second berakha
of the Eighteen Benedictions. Yet, the one is a Biblical quotation that
fulfills the commanded twice-daily remembrance of the Exodus; the other, as
composed by the Sages, conjoins phraseology from Psalms 146, Isaiah 45:8,
and Pirke De'Rabbi Eliezer, and possibly Micah 7:18. The phrase, mi
kamocha ("who is like You") is common to both deictic instances, in fact.
But the one iteration is a whole-verse citation from Exodus in the context of
the Torah-commandment of zecher l'yetziat mitzraim; the other gets
interpolated within the immediate context of a statutory berakha.
structure of the berakha-formula in the Eighteen Benedictions and the
special place accorded the 2nd person in it is crucial for our
analysis, something I will return to. Here, however, even as I reserve
judgment about the sometimes not-so-odd deixis of "You" in Rabbinic prayer, a
scale of values rather than a featureless, pure address or relationality that
transcends predicates, I want to reinforce one of Weiss's basic assumptions:
that addressing God in Jewish prayer, a wholly unique case of pronominal deixis
(albeit common to most religious liturgies), still naturally lends itself to a
comparison with everyday human speech, and has always done so in the context of
Judaic worship. "Speaking in the second-person is only the most elemental form
of biblical man's speech to God," writes Moshe Greenberg (1983, 20). "When he
prays, he uses words in patterns and these patterns follow the analogy of
interhuman speech in comparable situations."
particularly the case for blessings and the barukh formula corresponding
to them, first in Biblical narrative, and later in Rabbinic liturgy. A
blessing between men, or men and women, in Tanakh is typically
occasioned by some transaction warranting the expression or proclamation of
gratitude. The Book of Ruth, for example contains a number of these, e.g.,
"Blessed be you before HaShem, my daughter (3:10); "Blessed be he of HaShem
because he did not relinquish his constancy before the living and the dead"
(2:10). In 2 Samuel, David says, "Blessed be you before HaShem because you
performed this act of loyalty toward your lord" (2:5), and in 1 Samuel, Saul
says "Blessed are you of HaShem; I have performed all that the Lord has said."
(15:13), and "Blessed are you of HaShem; for you have compassion on me (23:21).
Some of these
statements convey the optative mood, yehi
barukh, ("may he/you be
blessed"). Most, however, offer an interpersonal parallel to the public
benediction whose sense was "may HaShem be praised"invoking God, attesting to,
eulogizing His increase directly or as hallowed through human agency.
Greenberg makes the congruence acute:
The survival of the phrase baruk
YHWH can only be ascribed, in my opinion, to its functional analogy to the baruk
X formula used with humans. David's pairing [1 Samuel 25:32f.] of baruk
YHWH and beruka at "blessed be YHWH" and "blessed be you"
shows how natural it was to juxtapose the two in one breath; gratitude for a
human favor might readily be acknowledgment that underlying it was the grace of
God. Such functional analogy
along with occasional spoken juxtapositions, were
enough to preserve the original formal parallelism of the two baruk formulas.
(Biblical Prose Prayer, 35)
It is a short,
though not entirely simple, step from such prose prayer in the Bible to the
stylized formulae of statutory synagogue prayer. Bible scholar Jean-Paul Audet
analyzed a similar barukh formula in his article on Biblical
benedictions in connection with the Eucharist,
and Joseph Heinemann builds on his conclusions with reference to patterns of
the liturgical berakha in Mishnaic and Talmudic periods. In this case,
we are speaking of those many instances of spontaneous praise and wonder in
Biblical narrative which are composed of two distinct but linked parts: an
introductory clause, Barukh Hashem asher__, followed by a main-content
clause in the 3rd person reflecting the particular circumstances
that prompted the benediction. For example, "Blessed be the Lord, the God of
my master Abraham who has not withheld his steadfast kindness
" (Gen. 24:27, or
"Blessed be the Lord who has delivered you out of the hands of the Egyptians
18:10)a pattern distributed throughout Tanakh, in the Torah, Prophets,
All such berakhot internally traverse the bridge between extemporaneous
and formalized expression.
expostulation presents a prototype for the liturgical benediction that forms
the core of Jewish congregational prayer. It appears, in descendant form, in
all those introductory berakhot collected in the Siddur whose 3rd
person relative clauses in perfect tense identify God's agency: "who has given
us," "who has sanctified us," "who has commanded us," etc; the appositional elokenu
melekh ha'olam, "Our God, King of the Universe," in such benedictions not
only fulfills the halakhic requirement for a berakha to mention God's
kingship as well as the divine name (Shem Havaya, the Tetragrammaton),
but also fills the same slot occupied by similar epithets in Biblical
precedents, "the God of our fathers" or "the God of Israel."
But the form with
which we most associate the beginning of the standard liturgical benediction,
"Blessed are You, O Lord"that is, Barukh HaShem deictically vectored,
through the interposition of atah, in the 2nd personoccurs
only twice in the Bible (Psalms 119:12 and 1 Chronicles 29:10). Moreover, the
distinctive feature of all liturgical berakhotthe further shift from
one shifter, 2nd person, to another, 3rd personwhether
in introductory statement (barukh formula, appellative, relative clause,
e.g., "the great, mighty, awesome God who bestows beneficial kindness") or
concluding eulogy, the chatima or "seal" (barukh formula, active
participle or noun, e.g., "Shield of Abraham," "the Holy God," "Redeemer of
Israel," "Giver of the Torah," or shorter relative clause in present tense phrased
in Biblical styledistich with parallelism and cadence) is characteristic of
Rabbinic prayer alone. What the Palestinian Talmud termed the "long form" (matbe'a
arok) cements the two into one: a benediction that begins with the opening barukh-formula
and concludes with the eulogy-formula, a paradigm that applies to the first of
the Eighteen Benedictions, the morning berakhot ha'torah and
benedictions before and after the Haftorah, the first of the berakhot
kriat shema of the Evening service, and many others.
grammatical/syntactic nor intentionalist/theological approaches fully explains
this distinctive blending of pronominal deixis in the liturgical berakha.
For the former, many berakhot found in the Dead Sea Scrolls use atah
and continue in the 2nd person, as do certain benedictions in the Mussaf
service of the Festivals. As for the latter, however appealing, the medieval
explanations of Abudraham"the Holy One Blessed be He is known both directly
and indirectly"or its modern analogue, as postulated, for example, by Max
of the dual aspect of man's relationship with the Deity conveyed through
purposeful sentence-rhetoric, both argue ex post facto.
Rather, when the
word "You" became inserted into the original barukh-formula, the Sages
preferred to leave the customarily 3rd person syntax of any Biblical
phraseology intact (the Bible itself not infrequently combines 2nd
and 3rd persons in a single sentence). In short, the historical
development of liturgical benedictions is as composite as the textual
artifactthe Siddurthat would eventually assemble and organize them.
Nevertheless, its fruit was a standardized genre consisting of stylistic norms
as applied to the statutory prayer of the synagogue. And while the Rabbis were
compunctious above all in regard to the form of communal worship, occasional
overlap between that genre and others (private prayers, benedictions of the bet
midrash, retentions of Temple worship) merely attest to the baseline
discursive authority of Biblical patterns for all contexts of Jewish liturgy.
Finally, I want to
make a small lexical point about the core-prayer of the liturgy, the Eighteen
Benedictions, about which far more can be said than space allows here. The
"'You' of prayer" in every one of these benedictions is selfsame, uniformly so
in the Barukh atah HaShem form in the culminating chatima to each
that seals their status as Rabbinically instituted. Looked at from their
lexical starting points, however, we also find a more heterogeneous structure.
Three begin with the 2nd person pronoun itself: You are mighty,
You are holy, You endow man with wisdom. Ten commence with a verb in the 2nd
person imperative: Bring us back, Forgive us, Behold our affliction, Heal
us, Bless for us this year, Sound the shofar, Restore our judges, Hear our
prayer, Be Favorable toward Your people, Establish peace. Four start with
prepositional phrases or object clauses: And for the slanderers, On the
righteous, And to Jerusalem, The offspring of your servant David. One, Avot,
begins with the Barukh formula. And one, Modim, begins with the
1st person plural: We thank You. The Amidah itself
is framed by two prayers in the 1st person singular that are
technically exterior to it: Psalms 51: 17, Adonai sefatai, and Elokai
netzor composed by the amora Mar b. Rabina.
As a matter of not
only Rabbinic stipulation but also stylistic and pragmatic sentence norms, the
principle of "end-focus" explains why the end of every benediction places an
invariant seal on its utterance.
All employ the Barukh Atah HaShem formula so that our perorating
experience with each berakha will encounter the identical deictic form
nineteen successive times. Even if we hold the different predicates of each chatima
in abeyance, the "'You' of prayer" here is constant. Not so, as we have just
seen, for the introductory words of the Eighteen Benedictions, since some begin
pronominally and others verbally and still others neither with a pronoun nor
verb expressing the 2nd person. Whatever the Sages' intentions,
prayer necessarily oscillates between kavannah and keva, the free
and the bound, the personal and the congregational.
In each case, the
latter of these poles regulates an unalterable phraseology and discursive
sequence. The former, however, depending on subjective factors that,
unlegislated, can still be guessed at, certainly involves a counterpart to the
end-focus principle. Initial words will carry initial weight. This is
conspicuous, certainly, for the three benedictions that begin with atah.
But it applies similarly to "heal us" or "sound the shofar"
or "we thank You," each of which orients our utterance accordingly, even
while the full wording of a berakha will often feature other prominent
instances of 2nd person deictic atah, e.g., For You
are a mighty redeemer, For You are a faithful and merciful God, For You
pardon and forgive.
So, now, having brought
all the three linguistic persons into the foreground with this last lexical
précis, I want to conclude this, lengthiest, section of my essay by considering
a final dimension of the address "you" in prayer, one whose allocutionary
etiquette concerns God only indirectly (which is why I spell it lower-case
here). On the Talmud's stipulation that "A man should always include himself
in the congregation" (B. Berakhot 29b-30a, Heinemann remarks as follows:
The Position of the Sages in this
matter is quite clear: with the exception of Bareku as an
invitational formula at the beginning of the public service, they disqualify
for synagogue use any formula which addresses the congregation in the "you"
style, since anyone who employs such a formula, is, as it were, excluding
himself from the congregation.
The invitation formula of Barkhu
et HaShem hamvorakh, recited as the commencement proper to public
worship in the morning and evening services and also as the introduction to the
public Kriat Ha'Torah (reading of the Law), is justified by the Sages
this way: "Since he (the Prayer Leader) says, 'who is to be blessed' [which
implies: by everybody, including himself], he thus does not disassociate
himself from the congregation."
The scrupled nature of such inclusiveness (or non-exceptionality) is a familiar
component of the Passover Haggadah where Ex. 12:26 is illuminated
in the person of the wicked son whose question "What does this service mean to you?"
is taken to intimate "To you and not to him
by this he has excluded himself
from the congregation." Similarly, Chazal forbade for synagogue use
the prayer Birkat adam et havero by which one blesses one's neighbor,
since one cannot include oneself in such a benediction when pronouncing it and
would thus automatically separate himself from the tzibbur
I stress this point in
anticipation of the second and third sections of this essay to follow. Simply
put, it is not merely the deictic valance of "You" that is charged with special
meaning in Rabbinic prayer. For "saying 'You'" instantly folds back upon the
question of the person or persons saying it. How does one pray? is also
the question of who prays? If, for Moshe Greenberg and a host of
Jewish thinkers and commentators both before and after Buber, "Receiving God's
address, man is 'you' to God's 'I': addressing God, man is 'I' to God's 'you'"
(Biblical Prose Prayer, 20), the 3rd personas witness, as
collectivity, as Illeityintroduces a "curvature of space," a new and
indefeasible dimension into the equation, making the odd deixis of "you" truly,
that is, numerically, odd. Can "You" be said by 1st persons to the
Jewish God without necessarily referring both Him and them to the 3rd
person neighbors who are each other's ever-present company? To whom does 2nd
person address shift or point?
Section 2. For is the kingdom of
God become words or syllables?
The Translators to the Reader: Preface to the KJV 1611
In this section
and one following it, the essay's opening epigraphs exert their peculiar
force. Before they do, however, a corollary to the questions about prayer I
have been posing presents itself: what do "prayer" and "to pray"
mean in Hebrew? The root, PLL, means to clarify, estimate, render a
verdict, judge. Significantly enough and a common reference point for
discussions of this subject, the verb is in the hitpael or
intransitive-reflexive binyan ("construction"); indeed, its spelling is
merely a lamed away from the name for this reflexive conjugation pattern
itself: l'hitpalel. The hitpael construction expresses
reflexive or reciprocal action, e.g., l'hitlabesh (to dress oneself) vs.
lilbosh (to wear) or l'hitkatev (to correspond) as opposed
to katav (to write). In the case of l'hitpalel, to pray, and tefillah,
prayer, the reflexive meaning is not immediately apparent. When one prays, one
acts upon oneself. This is more than the performance of self-judgment,
however, since in term of linguistic valency, l'hitpalel and tefillah
depend on a conative valence as well: "to seek a judgment for oneself."
Prayer is thus at least trivalent: one prays a prayer for God and for oneself,
on behalf of God and on one's own behalf.
In both Biblical
and Rabbinic prayer, from a grammatical point of view, we find ourselves in
something like the middle voice (though, of course, that is the verbal province
of Ancient Greek, not Hebrew). As a property of language, "the middle voice"
may be most familiar to readers of Derrida from the seminal essay from 1968 "La
Differánce." But that discussion, like several others in a similar vein (for
example, "The Supplement of the Copula: Philosophy Before Linguistics") leans heavily
on the work of linguist Emile Benveniste, specifically his essay "Active and
Middle Voice in the Verb." In this section, I want to refer to some of
Benveniste's assertions there in order to place "the 'you' of prayer" in
another clarifying context, this time as a matter of grammar.
While the general
frame of reference of his essay exceeds the bounds of our inquiry here,
Benveniste makes two salient points about the middle voice which can instruct
us about the dimensionality of both the words for, and meaning of, prayer in
Hebrew. In sketching an etiology for active, passive and middle voices,
Benveniste maintains that, "The Indo-European stage of the verb is
characterized by the opposition of only two diatheses, active and middle"
(148); that is, the passive voice was a subsequent accretion. Rather than
construing the matter of voice as a subject's agency or reflexivity, the crux
being the primacy accorded to transitivity, Benveniste speaks, rather, in terms
of a subject's relationship to a process that is either exterior or interior to
In the active, the verbs denote a
process that is accomplished outside the subject. In the middle, which is the
diathesis to be defined by the opposition, the verb indicates a process
centering in the subject, the subject being inside the process. [In the
middle] the subject is the center as well as the agent of the process; he
achieves something which is being achieved in himbeing born, sleeping, lying,
imagining, growing, etc. He is indeed inside the process of which he is the
From here Benveniste goes on to
explain how certain verbs in the middle voice might be endowed secondarily with
an active form, converting the middle into a transitive.
Thus, starting from the middle,
actives are formed that are called transitives, or causatives, or factitives,
and which are always characterized by the fact that subject, placed outside the
process, governs it thenceforth as agent, and that the process, instead of
having the subject for its seat, must take an object as its goal: elpomai 'I hope'>
elpw 'I produce hope (in another),' srceomai 'I
dance'> srcew 'I
make (another) dance.'
here lies between exteriority and interiority with respect to agency and
effectuation. That Benveniste provides the further example of "to establish
laws" and "to establish laws and include oneself therein" has certain
implications perhaps for a Kantian ethics founded on norms or inclinations
originally linguistic in nature.
That he speaks in terms of "outside the subject" might also perk up the ears of
pertinacious Levinasolaters. But whether a covert ethics lurks somewhere
within Benveniste's linguistics or whether Derrida is correct about linguistics
ultimately ceding to philosophy, for our purposes any otherwise-than-linguistic
claim I might wish to suggest here would be modest. Strictly speaking, it
wouldn't be philosophical so much as rhetorical.
What if, switching
back to Hebrew now, we add to Benveniste's list of middle-voice verbs, the verb
"to pray?" In this case too, the subject, the one who prays, is indeed inside
the process of which he is the agent. And yet, the question here, following
Jill Robbins, might also be who prays, that is, who has agency, who has
Who acts when one is mitpalel, when one seeks a judgment upon oneself?
Is it the 1st person, s/he who technically prays and says "you?" Is
it, rather, the 2nd person, the one invoked, addressed, both brought
near and kept at bay, who, as Weiss compellingly proposes, makes the subject
stand in a relation to infinite possibility, where the address itself, the
deictic shift or pointing to "the pure 'you'" brings about that very standing?
Or is it neither of these, or rather both of these plus the 3rd
personthe ones with whom I pray when I speak in the plural, whether co-present
or not, the ones on whose behalf I pray, the collectivity that saying "you," in
an unmarked shiftthe tracepoints me towards (likrat)?
Let me make this
more concrete. During any tefilla, any avoda balev (service of
the heart), the Eighteen Benedictions are said twice: once to oneself loud
enough to be heard by oneself but not by one's neighbors and once again when
the shaliach b'tzibbur, the agent or emissary of the congregation,
recites the Amidah aloud so that the congregation can respond "Amen."
In the first case, the chatima of each berakha seals it,
formalizing and transacting it (Chazal are extremely insistent about the
need to avoid blessings said levatala or in vainthat is, uttered although
not intended or else mistaken). In the second case, saying "Amen" is, as it
were, the reflexive or reciprocal seal to the seal; it completes the statutory
public prayer in public.
Even more to the
point, each time the hazan repeats the Barukh atah HaShem
formula, the congregation is expected to respond Barukh hu u'varukh shemo,
"Blessed is He and Blessed is His Name," both at the introductory statement of
the berakha and at the concluding eulogy. Blessed are You/ Blessed
is He and His Name. Blessed are You/ Blessed is He and His Name. On the
reflexive and reciprocal and trivalent plane of Jewish prayer, centrality and
agency flow between 2nd and 3rd persons, as indeed they
do in the very structure of the liturgical berakha. Individual I's, of
course, mitpalelim, are the ones who pronounce, in the collective
hearing of themselves whether individually or antiphonally, "You" and "He" and
"His Name," an articulation (or proclamation) that not only bears witness to
God, but in some ineffable but necessary sense bears God, summons His
presence. And such presence, again echoing Weiss's thesis, may well be both
the substance and consequence of "saying 'You'" in prayer" to the degree that
it opens one to the beneficence of the Saying. And that brings me, finally,
to Levinas and phenomenology.
Section 3. Does God, a
proper and unique noun not entering into grammatical categories,
enter without difficulties into the vocative?
One of the final
books left open on my desk as I wind down this essay is entitled The
Phenomenology of Prayer, a recently published volume whose epiphenomenon
(if I may), after its manifest focus on what prayer means phenomenologically
speaking, concerns the way prayeras language, ritual, embodiment, text,
experiencealso prompts questions about the boundaries of phenomenological
analysis itself. In moving from form-critical through grammatical to no
phenomenological categories, it has been my intent to suggest that
liturgical/textual considerations such as those proposed in this essay call for
such a braided, involuted approach; just as the object of those considerations,
a certain usage in prayer, instructs us in the limits of those explanatory
categories. Prayer, then, can represent a limit-speech or even limit-phenomenon,
discursively understood, more enigma perhaps than phenomenon, to use a
Levinasian distinction. As a "fine risk to be run" (Otherwise Than Being),
it may teach us about what text or utterance (or dialogue or attention or
collectivity or performance or any number of descriptive modalities and
practices, including phenomenology) signify in their un-marked, everyday
sense. One might object: is prayer not as elemental and familiar as the
lover's discourse or conversation or teaching?
If one of Levinas's
critical aims in all his writing is the consecration of discourse, making it
holy somehow but also ruptured or "cracked,"
then prayer may possess both its holier and more profane entailments, depending
on which force, which condition of personhood, situates or animates it. That
is to say, prayer can be both ordinary and extraordinary, in the "midst of
life" and also transcendent. It is, true to its Latin roots, precarious.
It is chovah, obligatory; but it is also in some equally true sense gratuitous,
both a privilege and a superfluity. In each of the previous sections, I made
reference to the classic distinction between keva and kavannah,
the latter term suggesting a kind of dei-xis (to adulterate one's Latin
with Greek), in itself, for the Hebrew conveys the sense of "aim" or "direction."
In his own fine essay on that topic, Jacob Petuchowski says that prayer
"is actually a supreme manifestation of impertinence, of chutzpah" (5).
One might counter that the appearance of now all-but-demotic Hebrew word in
that sentence merely particularizes a universal truth that pertains to all
liturgical religionsthe pertinence of impertinence, as it were. Petuchowski
But such is the uniquely Jewish
stance toward God that, according to one view in the Talmud, "Chutzpah,
even against God, is of no avail." The underlying impertinence of prayer is
the tacit assumption that man has but to open his mouth, and God will hear his
prayer. Man does not deal in this fashion with his own human authorities
man takes it for granted that he may have an audience with the Sovereign of the
whole Universe, the Holy One, praised be He, at any time he chooses. That is
the great daring, the chutzpah underlying the act of prayer.
Petuchowski reminds us
that what grounds, qualifies, even legitimates the impertinence is the faith-
and speech-community of klal yisrael that makes any individual
recitation of the Eighteen Benedictions a participation in an oversound. For
that same prayer has been offered countless times in the same ritualized form
by generations of communities of minyanim of individual Jews, all of
whom have invoked "You HaShem, our God and God of our fathers, God of Abraham,
God of Isaac, God of Jacob." When thus standing and saying "You," the subject
stands and speaks accompanied. The meaning of prayer, as Jill Robbins glosses
Levinas, "is opened by an essential collectivity," a collectivity which keeps
both prayer and pray-er open to" the possibility of community" (The
Phenomenology of Prayer, 39).
But is such collective
1st person plural and 3rd person accompaniment sufficient to
guarantee prayer, by which I do not mean its efficacy but rather its "saying
'You';" or does it in some sense obscure it or act as a placeholder for some
other sort of involvement? Does it make prayer more
or less precarious? When Levinas speaks of "Going towards God"the à-Dieu
of "saying 'You'"he construes its sense as meaningful only as "going towards
the other person" by being ethically concerned by and for him. In Weiss's
terms, we might say that the odd deixis of Rabbinic prayer is that invocation,
apostrophe, address summon to our attention many more than the One to Whom we
imagine we say "You." Thus is any temerity or chutzpah on one's part
for praying in the first place mooted by the elevation (one's own, the
neighbor's, even God's) accomplished through prayer, which (Robbins, again),
"brings into view an I responsible for the universe" (37).
privately do that? Is the solitary subject not also thus a vehicle for
bringing that other answerable "I" into view? If, at its best, the efficacy
of statutory congregational worship puts us in the physical presence of others
so that they might correspond to the linguistic accord we signal in Jewish
prayer when we pray using the 1st person plural, then perhaps prayer
in private, at its best, succeeds when it calls that privacy into question. To
pray alone deficiently, even though one says "You," fails the test of Rabbinic
prayer's odd deixis. Better in such a situation, perhaps, not to pray.
in Berakhot 33b, and later Maimonides, in The Guide for the Perplexed,
and even later A. J. Heschel, in "Prayers Begin Where Expressions End" in Man's
Quest for God, and certainly Levinas in several places, all concur in a
quasi-negative theology which suggests that in some sense, God's infinitude and
transcendence moots the prayer's presumptuousness and perhaps better merits
silence. To "say 'You'" after this fashion would thus mean not to
pray. Why? Because to say "You" necessarily says "I," an "I" unequipped for
the avoda, the labor of worship. Thus, as Stephen Schwarzchild directs
us, the apostrophic verse preceding the Eighteen Benedictions, HaShem sefati
tiftach, ufi yagid tehilatecha, "O Lord open Thou my lips, so that my
mouth shall tell of Thy praise," describes a certain paradox, as if to say, "I
cannot pray unless You cause me to pray; therefore, I pray that you cause me to
pray. But, of course, I cannot, logically, even pray this."
Yet that same
paradox may be resolved efficaciously when the Amida is begun with the
awareness that humans resemble (chutzpah?) God. As speaking spirits (nefesh
chaya) they bear the imprint of tzelem elokim (God's image), which
certifies them as medabrim, human speakers whose humanity consists
exactly in opened lips that tell of God's praise, Barukhu et HaShem
hamvorakh, but which also says hineni (here am I), declares
presence, counting and accountability, to all the others. They may even
resemble God even to the point of infinitude. This is the provocative argument
of another of the essays in the volume The Phenomenology of Prayer entitled
"The Infinite Supplicant: On a Limit and a Prayer" by Mark Cauchi.
Cuachi's topic is
the proper, or precarious, relation between the finite and infinite within the
circuit of prayer that petitions or makes demand. But such requesting of God's
response does not represent the counter-pole to the essays by Levinas on R.
Hayim of Volozhin that severally make the case for "prayer without demand"the
saying of "You" that pre-eminently takes up God's vulnerability, so to speak,
that enacts kenosis ('anavah) alongside God and on God's behalf.
As Cauchi explains, "if the question to the Other is truly a question, so that
the Other does not remain safe and unquestioned by it, then the question must call
the Other into question" (218). This may be a type of chutzpah, but
it is Abraham's chutzpah when he entreats God on behalf of Sodom.
And it is the
impertinence that somehow calls God to His own holiness, which fulfills the
meaning of berakha: to increase.
Prayer makes God holy; it, so to speak, "blesses and keeps" Him, sustaining and
enriching His divinity. Cauchi refers to Augustine's "Exposition of Psalms 85,"
specifically the verse, shamra nafshi ki hasid ani, "Preserve my soul
for I am pious (steadfast)," which the Vulgate translates as "holy." The
difficult although perhaps necessarily paradoxical idea here (the
counter-paradox, if you will, to the one noted by Schwarzchild above), is that
in order to pray authentically, I must be in some sense holy, but I must also
pray in order to be holy. Prayer, through benediction, through living into the
proclamation of barukh atah HaShem, enables or confers or justifies an
(inter)human kedusha. The mechanism is mimesis or similitude, an imitatio
dei which has already been dictated by being oneself the bearer of tzelem
elokim after God's demut, His likeness. In saying "You," one
invests the prayerful self with its capacity both to be othered and to
resemble the other.
Cauchi quotes Levinas on the Nefesh
When the Talmudic
recommend turning one's hearts toward the Holy of Holies when praying,
they do not mean just turning in a certain direction but are indicating an act
of identification or an intention to identify: one must become the sanctuary
itself, the place of holiness, and responsible for all holiness.
A similar thought may be teased out
of Levinas's essay "Education and Prayer," when he writes "to worship the
eternal is not to evade the unique and eternal humanity over whom God bends [se
" When the congregation bends the knee at Barukh and bows at ata,
perhaps through this odd deixis this same odd mimesis at work: God bends over
humanity/ the worshiper bends not only to but like God. Prayer may
begin as directed attention, towards God, but it ends as shifted attention,
towards the neighbor. In that same essay, Levinas alludes to the aggada in
Berkahot 6a-7a that (impertinently?) has God put on tefillin and
pray the tefillah. To R. Nahman b. Isaac's question, "What is written
in the tefillin of the Lord of the Universe," R. Hiyya b. Abin answers,
"Who is like thy people Israel, unique on this earth?"
While the tefillin
itself may assert the same statement of non-resemblance as Mi kamocha
ba'elim Hashem, the wearing of and being bound by it nevertheless
records a relation of likeness between praying humanity and a praying deity.
And it also sends the worshipper back to the proximity of the neighbor, to "the
sanctuary itself." Hence, the exegesis Levinas supplies in "Revelation in the
Jewish Tradition" of Berakhot 7b, where God's revelation to Moses at
Sinai is refigured in terms of avoda:
[T]he 'back' that Moses saw from
the cleft of the rock from which he followed the passing of divine Glory was
nothing other than the knot formed by the straps of the phylacteries on the
'back of God's neck! A prescriptive teaching even here! Which demonstrates
how thoroughly the entire Revelation is bound up around daily ritual conduct.
determines, against the blinding spontaneity of Desires, the
ethical relations with the other man. To the extent that this ritualism does
this, it confirms the conception of God in which He is welcomed in the
face-to-face with the other and in the obligation towards the other (Beyond
the Verse, 144).
Thus, in turn, one
becomes the sanctuary oneself. In turning, bowing, kneeling (an
alternate etymological explanation, it turns out, for the word barukh),
in all those acts of proxemic positioning in synagogue worship, one traverses
the limit between likeness and non-resemblance, between human finitude and
infinityman's, not God's. Or perhaps even both. In and through the address
of "You" in prayer, one exceeds one's limits, trespasses one's threshold, calls
oneself into questionl'hitpalel. But in praying, one cannot help
petitioning, and to petition is to open both oneself and the One asked (the e-l
in sh'elah, the God who provokes questions and makes them
meaningful). Perhaps one doesn't "say 'You'" at all, if such deixis is
conceived as communion.
Rather, even in
prayer, perhaps especially so, separation, what Levinas will call atheism,
articulates the pronominal divide that creates the necessary and proper
relation between 1st and 2nd persons, between God and a
separated being. It invests the limit on each side of that relation with the
capacity to be crossed, and to point to the truly freighted and encumbering
relation where limits are not merely transgressed but cracked: with the Third,
the neighbor. In "the 'You' of prayer," one speaks through God as much
as to God, with a collectivity and towards that same collectivity. Deixis, in
this sense, is detour, a branching-off or redirect. Oddly, then, or perhaps
better, uncannily, in allowing Himself to be pointed to, God Himself is
opened, augmented and increased, hamvorakh (as in the kaddish)
but also through some strangely acceptable temerity, made answerable, by the
question. "Precisely because it is a question that prayer gives to the
other and that other receives as a question, prayer must be understood
to call the other into question" (Cauchi, 228).
In the address of prayer, God and humanity stand both within and beyond their
respective limit (as in the Amichai epigraph), bowing, vibrating, shokeling.
Section 4: Chatima. Even
solitary prayer takes two;/ one to sway back and forth/and the one who doesn't
move is God./ But when my father prayed, he would stand in his place,/ erect,
motionless, and force God/ to sway like a reed and pray to him.
Two concluding thoughts:
1) The epigraphs
from Zagajewiski and Barthes above both present manifestly anti-theological
scenes, scenes of prayer only in the sense that art and devotion make room for
such practice in their way. If God appears there, it is solely by means of the
trace, a proximity in retreat. Benveniste (whom Barthes also tacitly invokes),
analyzing person and subjectivity in language, explained that the 3rd
person, in marked contrast to the other two, denotes a "verbal form whose
function is to express the non-person."
It follows that, very generally,
person is inherent only in the positions "I" and "you"
The "third person" must
not, therefore, be imagined as a person suited to depersonalization. There is
no apheresis of the person; it is exactly the non-person, which possesses as
its sign the absence of that which specifically qualifies the "I" and the "you"
(Problems in General Linguistics, 198-199).
Beneviste succinctly captures the
two correlations that organize the expression of verbal person: 1) the
correlation of personality, opposing the I-you persons to the non-person
he; 2) The correlation of subjectivity, opposing I to you
(you being the "non-subjective person").
Let us compare a
notably lucid explanation of Levinas's even odder deixis (indeed, in its import
the very refutation of deixis, of a certain kind of pointing), his coinage of
Illeitywhich might perhaps be
rendered more clearly in English as "he-ness"refers to the state or event of
being a pronoun; pronounness or pronouneity. It is, in grammatical form, a
noun or a proper name, but one that achieves the function of a pronoun by
pointing, not to an object, but to another wordand the word to which it
points, il, is itself a pronoun. Insofar as it points at another word,
illeity is a placeholder; insofar as the word being pointed at is a pronoun,
illeity points at the holding of place. In effect it is an apophasis that
points only at apophasis, a placeholder that holds the place of holding place.
(Oona Ajzenstat, Driven Back to the Text, 98).
"He-ness," if it may be put in this
fashion, points precisely away from "the 'You' in prayer." It corresponds to
the act of witnessing rather than of address, which inhibits the propensity to
place God somewhere. Liturgically, "[i]t makes the word God be pronounced
without letting 'divinity' be said."
And as Ajzenstat rightly observes, saying God in the latter, defective sense is
paradigmatic for all addressive/referential speech when it obscures the trace
in locution. Addressing God, whether in the liturgical benediction, Barukh
ata HaShem, or indirectly through the congregational response to its
invocative call, Barukh hu u'varukh shemo, involves a necessary
"betrayal of a certain 'You'" (so to speak)but only because God's illeity
redirects consciousness and affectivity to the collectivity of 3rd
persons (embodied and existent, not verbal) who risk obscuration through the
exorbitance of 2nd person address. "
le Dieu se pend": God
bows, like us, and in so doing shows us the proper etiquette (to whom? in which
direction?) of bowing on earth. This, again, attests to the truly odd deixis
of "you" in Rabbinic prayer. As if to say: Every (iteration) of "You" is a
betrayal of a certain "he"/ but in return the prayer which is prose offers the
fidelity of a sober dialogue.
2) The second point
concerns a seemingly innocent word-choice in the verse from the Book of Genesis
where God announces his intent to "cause it to rain upon the earth forty days
and forty nights, and obliterate everything subsisting that I have made, from
off the face of the earth" (7:4). In his Torah commentary, R. Hirsch explains
why the word for the 1st person pronoun is anochi as opposed
to ani, two pro-forms evidently distinguishable in meaning though
Anochi is always used in
cases where the "I" does not place itself harshly against a person or
whereas ani (from ANH, to send, to decree) designates the
who sends something to somebody but Himself remains afar
the setting, the practicing, getting habituated to one's vocation; 'ANG,
being presently surrounded by externally accommodating circumstances; 'ANK,
a collar, necklace; ANK tightening at the neck and KhNK complete
strangling. All these meanings give us the underlying meaning of the root as
embracing, enclosing, bearing, taking care of, etc. and anochi corresponds
to an activity in which the second person is borne, kept, and cared for by the
"I," where the "I" is in close connection to the "thou."
So far as I know, no
counterpart to this doubled 1st person, grammatically or
hermeneutically, exists in respect to the 2nd person in Hebrewsave,
of course, the gender marker linked to noun or person which offers the choice
of at or atah (in Rabbinic Hebrew, however, the feminine at, undoubtedly
influenced by Aramaic, is frequently used for the masculine).
The Torah, however, surprises yet again. In Numbers 11:14-15, Parashat
Beha'alotcha, Moses cries out to God in the face of Israel's own (albeit
self-serving) tears and prayers, saying Lo uchal anochi l'vadi laset et kol
ha'am hazeh ki chaved mimeni. V'im kachah at-oseh li hargeini na harog
im matzati hen b'enecha v'al ereh k'rati. "Not I [anochi], alone,
am able to bear all this people for it is too heavy for me. And if this is how
You [at] deal with me, then kill me now, I pray You, if I have found
favor in Your eyes, and let me not see my misfortune."
This substitution of at
for grammatically correct atah represents one of only two instances
in the Pentateuch. The second appears in Deut. 5:24, Parashat
V'etchanan, after the second recitation of the Ten Commandments in which
Moses continues his account of the people's entreaty to him as intermediary for
God's commandments. In each of these passages, it is God who is addressed by
the 2nd person feminine pronoun (both interpreted similarly)a case
of intriguingly odd Biblical deixis on its face. Clearly, that seeming anomaly,
collocated with anochi, along with the event of prayer itselfMoses's
prayer is minimal here, as it also is several verses later (12:13) when he
entreats that Miriam be healed of her sudden onset of leprosy, kel na refa
na lah, "O God heal her, I pray You"all these elements catch
an eye and ear already alerted to the special vocative features of Rabbinic
prayer. Some commentaries understand the use of the feminine 2nd
person pronoun here as connoting a "holding back of the Power of God" (R.
Hirsch, for example)i.e., that Moses was giving voice to his own weakness in
line with God's having refrained from using His power to assist him. At,
then is projective or apotropaic. A second approach (Rashi, Sforno) is
mimetic, call it "grammatical naturalism": Moses is indeed so weakened that he
cannot completely pronounce atah; weariness stops him at at. 
In her book, Ajzenstat
claims that the Bible too (from a Levinasian perspective) points away from what
it seems to point at, or is construed as pointing at.
Read ideationally (the God who comes to others' minds, who stands in for a
textual or socio-cultural "state of mind"), or ontologically (the God whose own
"mind" can be predicated, made present), rather than prophetically, the God who
speaks in the Scriptureswhose words carry over and echo in the Sidduris
evaded and thereby loses his authentic place. Such place (and voice) as He
possesses only hovers over or vibrates through the Holy Scriptures as its
"harmonics" anyway, for God too does not quite have "a place in the Bible."
If, therefore, we read the lexical ambiguity in Numbers and Deuteronomy
not as a function of attributes, God's or Moses's, but rather as a certain
"crack" in the word "You," which is posed as an address but in a way de-posed
by the pressure of myriad third-partiesthe ones one whose behalf Moses,
significantly, identifies himself as anochiI think we approach more
closely to the sort of "placeless" reading of the text Levinas might
But the question of
both Daniel Weiss's essay and my own concerns God's place, as "the 'You' of
prayer," in the Siddur.
If I can conclude by speaking personally, one of the most satisfying and yet
paradoxical moments for me during prayer comes at the very beginning of the
Prayerbook, at the day's beginning too, directly after the commandment to
recite the appropriate benediction and don the tallit, when one wraps it
around one's head and upper body and recites four verses from Psalm 36, including this one: b'orecha
nireh or, "by Your light we shall see light." In one of his final poems,
Amichai writes, "Whoever put on a tallis when he was young with never forget:/
spreading it out, kissing the length of the neckband (embroidered/ or trimmed
in gold). Then swing it in a great swoop overhead/ like a sky, a wedding
canopy, a parachute./ And then winding it around his head as in hide-and-seek
man's "phenomenology of prayer." For my part, the head is covered, the eyes
are shielded, and yet, I ask to see light by "Your light." And then, no longer
shrouded or concealed, I begin to pray
in order to pray. So to speak.
Abudraham., R. David. Sefer Abudraham. Amsterdam: Bi-defus uve-bet Mosheh Frankfort, 1726.
Amichai, Yehudah. Open Closed Open. Trans. Chana
Bloch and Chana Kronfeld, New York: Harcourt,
Audet, Jean-Paul. "Equisse Historique du Genre
Littéraire de la Bénédiction Juive et l'Eucharistie
Chretiènne." In Revue Biblique LXV, 1958: 371-99.
Bakhtin, M. M. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays.
Trans. Vadim Liapunov, 1982.
Barthes, Roland. A Lover's Discourse. Trans.
Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1979.
Benveniste, Emile. Problems in General Linguistics.
Trans. Elizabeth Meek. Coral Gables: University of Miami, 1971.
Benson, Bruce Ellis and Norman Wirzba, eds. The
Phenomenology of Prayer. New York: Fordham University Press, 2005.
Bick, R. Ezra. "Understanding the Shemoneh Esrei. Yeshivat Har Etzion Virtual Beit Midrash. http://www.vbm-torah.org/archive/18/.
Birnbaum, Philip. Ha-Siddur
Ha-Shem. New York: Hebrew Publishing House, 1971.
Cauchi, Mark. "The Infinite Supplicant:
On a Limit and a Prayer." In Benson and >Wirzba, 217-231.
Cohen Jack. Major Philosophers of Jewish Prayer in the
Twentieth Century. New York: Fordham University Press, 2000.
Elbogen, Ismar. Jewish
Liturgy: A Comprehensive History. Trans. Raymond P.
The Jewish Publication Society, 1993.
Finkielkraut, Alain. The
Wisdom of Love. Trans. and Kevin O'Neill and David Suchoff. Lincoln:
University of Nebraska Press, 1997.
Daniel. Mehkere te filah u-piyut. Jerusalem: Magnes, 1978.
"Seder taanit tzibbur b'makhzor Roma." In S. Meyer Memorial Volume.
Jerusalem: Magnes, 1957.
Greenberg, and Moshe. Biblical
Prose Prayer As a Window to the Popular Tradition of Ancient
Israel. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.
Heinemann, Joseph. Prayer in
the Talmud: Forms and Patterns. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter,
Raphael. Commentary on the Torah. Trans. Isaac Levy. New York:
The Judaica Press,
Tefilot Yisrael - The Hirsch Siddur. New York: Feldheim, 1978.
Jakobson, Roman. "Linguistics
and Poetics" in Selected Writings III. The Hague: Mouton, 1981.
Kadushin, Max. The Rabbinic
Mind. New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1972.
_____________. Worship and
Ethics. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964.
Kook, R. Avraham Yitzhak
Hakohen. Olat Reiyah. Jerusalem: Mosad HaRav Kook, 1962.
Hakodesh. Jerusalem: Mosa HaRav Kook, 1966.
Levinas, Emmanuel. Beyond
the Verse. Trans. Gary D. Mole. Bloomington: Indiana University Press,
Freedom. Trans. Seán Hand. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University
________________. God, Death,
and Time. Trans. Bettina Bergo. Stanford: Stanford University
________________. In The
Time of Nations. Trans. Michael B. Smith. Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1994.
________________. Is It
Righteous to Be? Ed. Jill Robbins. Stanford University Press, 2001.
________________. Of God Who
Comes to Mind. Trans. Bettina Bergo. Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 1998.
Levinas Reader. Ed. Seán Hand. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999.
Lyons, J. Semantics.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.
_______. "Deixis and
Subjectivity: Loquor, Ergo Sum?" In Speech, Place, and Action:
Deixis and Related Topics. Ed. by R. J. Jarvella & W. Klein. (New York: John
Wiley & Sons Ltd, 1982), 101-124.
Malka, Salomon. Emmanuel
Levinas: His Life and Legacy. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University
Neher, André. The Exile of
the Word: From the Silence of the Bible to the Silence of Auschwitz.
Trans. D. Maisel. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1981.
Patterson, David. Hebrew
Language and Jewish Thought. London: Routledge, 2005.
Pecora, Vincent. "Ethics,
Politics, and the Middle Voice. " Yale French Studies 79, 1991, 203-230.
Petuchowski, Joseph. Contributions
to the Scientific Study of Jewish Liturgy. New York: Ktav, 1970.
Jewish Prayer. New York: Ktav, 1972.
Robbins, Jill. "Who Prays? Levinas on Irremissible
Responsibility." In Benson and Wirzba, 32-49.
Rosenzweig, Franz. The Star of Redemption. Trans. Barbara E. Galli. Madison: University of Wisconsin
_______________."The Eternal" and "A Letter to Martin
Goldner." In Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, Scripture
and Translation. Trans. Lawrence Rosenwald. Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1994, 99-113 and 189-191.
Rote, R. Aaron. Shomer Emunim. Jerusalem:
Yeshivat Toledot Aharon, 1964.
Santner, Eric L. On the Psychotheology of Everyday
Life: Reflections on Freud and Rosenzweig. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 2001.
Scherman, R. Nosson, ed. Siddur Ahavas Shalom.
New York: Mesorah, 1990.
Schofield, Dennis. The Second Person: A
Point of View? The Function of the Second-Person
Pronoun in Narrative Prose Fiction. http://members.westnet.com.au/emmas/2p/index2.htm.
Schach, Stephen. R. The
Structure of the Siddur. London: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1996.
Schwarzschild, Stephen S. "Speech
and Silence Before God." In Petuchowski, 84-99.
Ovadia. Commentary on the Torah. Trans. R. Pelcovitz. New
York: Mesorah, 1989.
Soloveitchik, Rabbi Joseph B. Worship
of the Heart: Essays in Jewish Prayer. Jersey City: Ktav Publishing House,
Tal, Shloma, ed. Siddur
Rinat Yisrael (Nusach Ashkenaz), Jerusalem, 1984.
Talmud Bavli. Jerusalem: Hatam Sofar, 1966.
Zagajewski, Adam. Tremors:
Selected Poems. Trans. Renata Gorczynski. New York: Farrar Straus
Zevit, Ziony. "Roman Jakobson,
Psycholinguistics, and Biblical Poetry." Journal of Biblical
Literature 109 : 385-401.
The Zohar Vol. 1. Trans.
Daniel Matt. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004.
Zubizarreta, Maria Luisa. Prosody, Focus, and Word Order. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998.
Joseph Heinemann's Prayer in the Talmud: Forms and Patterns (Berlin:
Walter de Gruyter, 1977) begins his book with the seven Tannaitic and
Amoraic dicta (from the Bavli, Sifre, Midrash on Psalms, Midrash Tanchuma,
and Palestinian Talmud) that identify competing figures for the establishment
of statutory prayer: hakamim ha-rishonim, hasidim ha-rishonim, the
Patriarchs, one hundred and twenty Elders. Like the mishna in Avot, all
these genealogies point to the reception of an ancient tradition, although in
each case, the generation, public body, or personage may differ. The most
detailed account for such establishment is found in B. Berakhot 26b:
Simeon ha-Pakoli arranged the Eighteen Benedictions in their proper order in
the presence of Rabban Gamliel in Yavneh."
Ha-Siddur Ha-Shalem (New York: Hebrew Publishing House, 1971), xi.
For this section, I draw chiefly upon the standard source-scholarship on the
evolution and formalization of Jewish prayer, namely Ismar Elbogen's Jewish
Liturgy: A Comprehensive History (1913 in German, 1972 in Hebrew, 1993,
Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society); Joseph Heinemann's Prayer in
the Talmud, Daniel Goldschmidt's Mehkere tefilah u-piyut (Jerusalem:
Magnes, 1978), Joseph Petuchowski's Contributions to the Scientific Study of
Jewish Liturgy (New York, 1970) and Understanding Jewish Prayer (New
York: Ktav, 1972), and Moshe Greenberg's Biblical Prose Prayer As a Window
to the Popular Tradition of Ancient Israel (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1983). Petuchowski (1972) notes that "not until the ninth
century C.E. do we get a written order of Service for Jewish worship" (93).
Also pertinent here is Jakobson's six-part model of communication, which
specifies a conative function whereby the message is specifically
oriented towards the addressee, "with its purest grammatical
expression in the vocative or imperative." See "Linguistics and Poetics" in Selected
Writings III (The Hague: Mouton, 1981, 25. See also Ziony Zevit, "Roman
Jakobson, Psycholinguistics, and Biblical Poetry (JBL 109 :
385-401. Of course, the strictly linguistic/textual treatment of 2nd
person address is immense. Since, however, at some level Jewish liturgy is
read in the midst of being prayed, one analogue to be considered is literature,
lyric, dramatic, and narrative. A good starting point for the last of these is
Dennis Schofield's The
Second Person: A Point of View? The Function of the Second-Person Pronoun in
Narrative Prose Fiction, online at http://members.westnet.com.au/emmas/2p/index2.htm.
In The Wisdom of Love, Alain Finkielkraut provides the ethical
commentary on "the beloved face" as gleaned from a reading of Proust by way of
Levinas: what is loved in the amatory "you" is neither this nor that feature
but rather the very quality of difference, a difference that "incessantly
disorients every idea I have of it" (40).
Actually, a component of the weekday Arvit and Shacharit Services
as well, repeated in the corresponding Emet v'Yatziv from Shacharit
and in its entirety at the end of Pesukei D'zimra. See Elbogen on its
several interpolations into the daily liturgy. On the destruction of the
Second Temple by Titus in the face of God's seeming mute witness, the verse was
interpreted by the School of R. Ishmael to mean "who is like You among the
silent," through a parapraxis on elim as ilim (Gittin 56b).
Where Weiss reads the verse as "Who is like the 2nd person among the
3rd persons? Who is like the you among the its?"God
as wholly otherwiseR. Ishmael identifies God's otherness as superlative
silence. The Zohar I:2a, on the first verse of Genesis, says that the Ein
Sof "verged on being revealed, it produced at first a single point, which
ascended to become thought. Within it, it drew all drawings, graved all
engravings, carving within the concealed holy lamp a thought, called mi,
Who, origin of structure" (8). Along with David Patterson, we could say
that mi kamocha may thus also be read as an assertion rather than a
question, a naming of God's self-identical divinity. See Hebrew Language
and Jewish Thought, 71.
Compare R. Joseph Soloveitchik's observations on saying the Shema as
compared with praying the shemoneh esrei: "It expresses itself more in
the form of a declaration, confession, profession of faith. Whether this
solemn profession takes the form of soliloquy in which man declares and
challenges himself, or a colloquyin which he addresses himself to a Thouis
irrelevant. What is important is the fact that if there is a Thou in Shema,
the Thou is a finite being like myself. Of course, God is also experienced
when one reads Shema, but not in a sense of fellowship or communion via
the grammatical Thou" (96). By contrast, "Prayer forms a conversation that
joins two into one community" (99). Worship of the Heart: Essays in Jewish
Prayer (Jersey City: Ktav Publishing House, 2003).
With the formalization of synagogue liturgy, however, such distinctions became
sharpened and reified. Heinemann notes for example that "the formula, 'Blessed
be Thou of the Lord,' commonly found in the 'benediction by which a man blesses
his fellow,' [birkat adam et havero] is never mentioned in Rabbinic
literature [because] it is too similar to the liturgical Berakah
formula, 'Blessed are Thou, O Lord'" (284).
 See "Equisse Historique du Genre Littéraire de la Bénédiction Juive et
l'Eucharistie Chretiènne" in Revue Biblique LXV (1958): 371-99.
Compare 1 Samuel 25:32, 25:39, 2 Samuel 18:28, 1 Kings 1:48, 2 Kings 5:21, 2
Chronicles 2:11, 1 Kings 8:15, 2 Chronicles 6:4, 1 Kings 8:56, Psalms 66:20,
Psalms 124:6, Ruth 4:14, Ezra 7:27, Daniel 3:28.
For a pertinent discussion of this name of God and how to translate it, see
Rosenzweig's essay, "The Eternal" and his "Letter to Martin Goldner" in Scripture
and Translation. In both he speaks of the "three dimensions" of the
personal pronoun: the speaker, the one spoken to, the one spoken of. Remarking
on the vocative quality in the Hebrew substitution for Shem Hameforash
(literally, "the explicit name" or "name itself" missing in its translation as
"Lord" and analogous to the root-sense of the French "Monsieur"),
Rosenzweig says, "The quality of relatedness, of reciprocity inherent in the
divine name first simply because it is a name and then in particular because of
its special meaning, must rather be translated on the basis of the other side
of the relationshipthe side of the one who speaks and names. The
'present-to-you' of the original must be rendered by a 'present-to-me' of the
translation. The vocative solution is forbidden simply as being too grotesque;
what is bidden in its place is the personal pronoun, which in its three persons
means precisely the three dimensions of 'present-to-me': the capacity to be
spoken to, the capacity to be spoken to by, the capacity to be spoken of. The
second person has priority here, since it is the source of personhood of the
other twoonly him whom I am prepared to speak to do I accept as an 'I,' and
only him whom I have spoken to do I accept even in his absence as a person
because he is my 'You' do I perceive the one-present-to-me in his 'I," and can
speak of 'Him.' But enough for now. It is just now Shabbat, and everything
has in any case been said, albeit briefly" (191-192).
Compare the short form (matbe'a kashar) of the benediction over wine, borei
peri hagafen. Compare as well the benediction in the Birkhot Ha'shachar
after the initial one-line recitation of the Shema that enchain a series of atah
hu: "It is You before the world was created, it is You since
the world was created, and it is You in the world to come," before the
concluding eulogy, "Blessed are You HaShem, Who sanctifies Your Name among the
The Rabbinic Mind (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1972) and Worship
and Ethics (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964).
As Heinemann and many other scholars note, while there is some question about
when the synagogue and its order of prayers came into existenceBabylonian
exile or Second Temple period and how it initially functionedhouse of prayer
or place for public reading of the Lawit is likely that its roots are fairly
ancient, as a popular institution that developed independently of the
See Maria Luisa Zubizarreta, Prosody, Focus, and Word Order (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998).
It bears emphasizing that Hebrew is what linguists call a "pro drop" or "zero
anaphora" language in which pronouns can be omitted from statements where they
are pragmatically inferable. Verb-forms and inflected endings in Hebrew, as
here in the Amidah, will typically indicate the person, number, and/or
gender. Deictics (a type of exophora as opposed to anaphora) are pro-forms:
pronouns, pro-adjectives, e.g., "that", and pro-adverbs, e.g., "now" and
"here." Thus, in our example here, while the benedictions beginning with
imperative verbs locate a 2nd person, they do not do so
In his article, "Seder taanit tzibbur b'makhzor Roma" (S. Meyer
Memorial Volume (Jerusalem, 1957), Daniel Goldschmidt assembles the
restrictive number of instances in which the congregation is addressed directly
through the 2nd person. Heinemann emphasizes that with the
exception of the Barkhu, all developed in the Beit Midrash and
thus originally belonged to a different and subsidiary genre of non-statutory
Mishna Berakhot VII, 3; B. Berakhot 49b; J. Berakhot, VII
11b-c, cited by Heinemann. In his commentary to the Siddur, R. Shimson
Hirsch remarks that while the Reader calls upon the congregation to make a
public declaration, it is better construed as, "rather, the congregation calls
upon itself, through the Reader." He adds, "Because of this concept of God as Hamvorakh,
Barkhu can be uttered only b'tzibbur [in the company of a minyan].
Barukh ata, the promise to bless God with the devotion of all of one's
own personality, can be uttered by any individual without the presence of a
congregation. But only a community which encompasses all the present and
future generations in its scope can declare God is mevorakh (106).
Consider Eric L. Santner's extremely trenchant observations in this regard:
one has lost the capacity to pray, 'God,' in essence assumes the status
of a designated signifier, a stand-in for an otherwise nameless loss;
the word signifies, but not for us even though we continue, in some
sense, to be addressed by it, to live, as Scholem so powerfully phrased it,
within the space of its validity beyond and in excess of its meaning." On
the Psychotheology of Everyday Life: Reflections on Freud and Rosenzweig
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 44. Reversing the formulation's
polarity, we can say that prayer at its most functional, as (response to)
revelation, may also answer to a validity in excess of its significance (in
dem sie gilt aber nicht bedeutet) such that God assumes the positive status
of a "stand-in," or in the Levinasian coinage I discuss below, "Illeity"a
nameless deficit which is also surplus.
And for others: the first such use of the word in Tanakh occurs in Gen.
20:7, where God speaks to Abimelech in a dream, describing Abraham as a prophet
who seeks to intervene, to involve himself, on his behalf, ki navi hu
v'yitpalel ba'adcha. R. Shimshon Hirsch's comments are to the point: "If
our prayers were not tefilla, if our praying were not hitpalel,
working on our inner self to bring it to the heights of recognition of the
Truth, and to resolutions for serving God, there would be no sense in having
fixed times and prescribed forms for them. For this assumes that periodically
at fixed times the masses of people are always filled with one and the same
state of feelings, one and the same trend of thoughts. Yea, such prayers would
be rather superfluous. Feelings and thoughts which are already lively within
us have no need to be expressed, and least of all in set phrases placed in our
. Hence our prescribed prayers are not facts, truths, which they assume
we are already fully conscious of, but are such that they wish to awaken,
reanimate, and ever keep fresh" (Commentary on the Torah, 347-348).
Another cognate for tefilla is niftal, meaning "struggle" or
"wrestling." This would certainly be the sense preferred by R. Avraham Y.H.
Kook, for whom prayer participated in a restless surge on the plane of
existence towards originary unity, for which Jews, and kal vakhomer (a
fortiori) Jews who pray bear a special responsibility. See Olat Reiyah
Vol 1 (Jerusalem: Mosad HaRav Kook, 1962 and Orot Hakodesh Vol 3
(Jerusalem: Mosa HaRav Kook, 1966), and the discussion in Jack Cohen's Major
Philosophers of Jewish Prayer in the Twentieth Century (New York: Fordham
University Press, 2000), 43-59.
See also the three related essays, "Relationships of Persons in the Verb," "The
Nature of Pronouns," and "Subjectivity in Language," all collected in Problems
in General Linguistics, trans. Elizabeth Meek (Coral Gables: University of
Vincent Pecora makes just this point in an important essay that corrects for
Derrida's liberal use of Benveniste's categories in "Ethics, Politics, and the
Middle Voice" (Yale French Studies 79, 1991): 203-230.
"Who Prays? Levinas on Irremissible Responsibility," in Bruce Ellis Benson and
Norman Wirzba, eds., The Phenomenology of Prayer (New York: Fordham
University Press, 2005), 32-49.
The hasid R. Aaron Rote titles his major work, Shomer Emunim,
"Guardian of the Faithful" based on Isaiah 26:2. In its uncompromising focus
on kavannah in prayer, however, the title also contains a paranomasia:
the congregation that answers "amen" to the hazzan's berakhot must be so
meticulous and single-minded as to justify the sobriquet, shomer emmunim,
"keepers of the amens."
Levinas's son, Michael, introduces a powerful insight along these lines which I
cite in full from Salomon Malka's Emmanuel Levinas: His Life and Legacy
(Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2006): "the last year of his life, I
came across his essay on erasure, regarding Michel Leiris, and in reality,
indirectly and in a very subtle manner, my father guided me toward a problem
that belonged to his time, after the war: that of a work of art or a piece of
writing that is not sealed, that is not formalized in an institutional manner,
around which there is an enormous question mark or an enormous vertigo of
incompleteness. And actually it's not Lapicque that one should go see for
this, but Giacometti. I made a kind of analogy between this crack so
characteristic of my father's thinking and the manner in which the figures of
Giacomettiwho is basically his contemporaryappear threadbare, breathless. It
wouldn't be expressionistic to say that these cracks could evoke these figures
we've just been talking about, but it is essentially the humanity, or the body,
or the shame of the body. He calls this the face, basically. The crackthat's
the face" (264-5).
This is another way to express Eric Santner's insight quoted earlier. As he
puts it himself, "God is above all the name for the pressure to be alive to the world,
to open to the too much of pressure generated in large
measure by the uncanny presence of my neighbor. The peculiar paradox in all
this is that in our everyday life we are for the most part not open to this
presence, to our being in the 'midst of life'." (On the Pyschotheology of
Everyday Life, 9). This surely would apply to prayer when it subsumes the
kavannah (aliveness) to both God the neighbor within the dead reckoning,
so to speak, of wholly obligatory keva.
"Speech and Silence Before God," in Petuchowski, 96. Compare Levinas's
explanation of the shorter Modim prayer (Modim deRabbanan)
recited by the congregation during the Reader's repetition of the Shemoneh
Esrei which seems to lack an explicit object: "It can only be said to have
an object if one follows the opinion of Rav, according to whom one must
continue to the end of the text where everything becomes clear. 'We give
thanks, O Lord our God
for giving you thanks.' An exercise in gratitude, in
short for the simple ability to say thanks. Thank you, my God, for this
possibility that you have given to us to be able to thank you." Recorded in
Malka, Emmanuel Levinas: His Life and Legacy, 85.
Along with Robbins's essay that treats these texts specifically, see Levinas,
"Judaism and Kenosis" from In the Time of Nations; "The Name of God
according to a few Talmudic Texts and "'In the Image of God', according to
Rabbi Hayyim Volozhiner," from Beyond the Verse; "Education and Prayer"
in Difficult Freedom; and finally "Discussion Following 'Transcendence
and Intelligibility'" in Is It Righteous to Be? In this last piece,
some of the same themes and Rabbinic allusions from the other texts are
rehearsed, and Levinas supplies the Hebrew equivalent for Greek "kenosis," from
Megillah 31a. On that same interlinguistic plane, Levinas is
quoted in the interview with François Poiré from the same volume as remarking,
"The word ethics is Greek. More often, especially now, I think about
So be it! There is a holiness in the face but above all there is a
holiness in the ethical in relation to oneself in a comportment which
encounters the face as face
" (50). If there is a Hebrew word corresponding to
the Greek characterological sense of "ethics," it is probably musar
(related to asur, forbidden), a word that also means "fetter" or "bond."
While certain commentators (Rabbeinu Bachya and Abudraham, for instance),
understand the word as a request for the petitioner's increase, the
majority interpret it in terms of God's augmentation. Thus, Radak reads, "You
are maximally increased." Rashba (and also Abudraham elsewhere) read barukh
as a request for an increase of God's presence in the world. R. Hirsch
construes, "'May Your presence in this world be increased'through my
efforts." In a sort of synthesis of some of these views, Hayim of Volozhin in
his Nefesh Ha'Chaim proposes it means, "May Your presence in the world
be increased through my very realization that You are the Source of Increase."
A very perspicuous reading of the Shemoneh Esrei, benediction by
benediction, by R. Ezra Bick of Yeshivat Har Etzion, can be found online at http://www.vbm-torah.org/archive/18/.
Compare Franz Rosenzweig's account of the persons located in the wake of the
Biblical question, "Where are you?" asked of the first human being by God:
"Where then is there a You? The question about the You is the only thing we
already know about it. But the question already is enough for the I to
discover itself; it does not need to see the You; by asking about it, and by
testifying be means of this question that it believes in the existence of the
You, even when it is not within sight, it addresses itself and expresses itself
as I. The I discovers itself at the moment where it affirms the existence of
the You, through the question about where it is." (The Star of Redemption,
Perhaps needless to say, while Levinas may attend religiously to the nuances of
pronouns (Je and Moi, for example, or autre and Autrui)
and the asymmetry of "I" and "You," any opposition between 1st and 2nd
persons here, as wholly linguistic, belongs to the order of totality. Compare,
thus, in the present context of this essay, one of the terminal assertions from
"Dialogue: Self Consciousness and Proximity of the Neighbor" in Of God Who
Comes to Mind: "Without a possible evasion, as though it were elected for
this, as though it were thus irreplaceable and unique, the I as I is the
servant of the You in Dialogue. An inequality that may appear arbitrary;
unless it bein the word addressed to the other man, in the ethics of the
welcomethe first religious service, the first prayer, the first liturgy, the
religious out of which God could first have come to mind and the word 'God'
have made its way into language and into good philosophy" (150-151). As to
Benveniste's 3rd person, which, in relation to the other two, is
necessarily absent and thus not a linguistic "person" at all, one might also
consider one of the names for God that also denominates "3rd person"
in Hebrew: nistar, the hidden. Indeed, the Zohar distinguishes
between the 3rd person pronoun hu (for God) as concealed and
therefore only indirectly referable, and Atah as indicating the shekhinah,
the aspect of revelation, which can be addressed directly. See 1:154b and
1:157b on Parashat Va-Yetzei.
Levinas, Otherwise Than Being Or Beyond Essence, 162.
In light of the cognates R. Hirsch lists, consider George Herbert's
metaphysical poem "The Collar" (1633), whose speaker "will abroad" and hopes
thus to escape the confines of being necklaced and collared by God: "Forsake
thy cage,/ Thy rope of sands,/ Which pettie thoughts have made, and
made to thee/ Good cable, to enforce and draw,/ And be thy law." Anochi, of
course, is also the first "I" spoken at Sinai, the pronoun by which God
identifies himself in the first commandment of Aseret Ha'Dibrot; an even
closer phonetic cognate R. Hirsch does not mention is thus anachi, which
means "vertical": God linked to the dimension of height and elevation.
The first time at is used in the Torah is Gen. 12:11, the terminal
word in the verse and thus conspicuous, when Abraham addresses Sarah, hinei-na
yadati ki isha yefat-mareh at, "See now I know you are a beautiful
woman to look upon." Because of this locution, André Neher calls Abraham "the
inventor of the word" (The Exile of the Word, 111). There are of
course a number of kabbalistic and hasdidic alphabetic glosses on the valances
of atah. For instance, R. Shneur Zalman in his Tanya (quoted in
Patterson), writes that "The word atah, You, indicates all the letters
from Alef to Tav, and the letter Hey, the five organs of
articulation, the source of all the letters." Patterson adds, "The word atah,
thenand not the I of the "I think, therefore I am"would be the seal of
the human being, the trace of the transcendent Being within being, manifest in
.It is not exactly the opposite of nothingness; rather, it is a
category that is beyond thye distinctions of being and nothingness" (Hebrew
Language and Jewish Thought, 178-179). Compare the Zohar on the
particle et in the Bible's first verse: "Etconveying all those
letters [aleph through tav]. Entirety of the all: beginning and
end. Afterward he was added [initial letter of ha'shamayim],
so all those letters would be combined with he, and it was called atah,
The second half of the verse from Deuteronomy reads v'at t'daber
alenu kol-asher y'daber HaShem elokenu elecha , "you should speak to us all
that HaShem our God will speak to you." Yet, in the first half, the
Israelites address Moses using atah: krav atah ushama' et
kol-asher yomar HaShem elokenu, "You should approach and hear whatever
HaShem our God will say." Rashi makes two points: 1) Moses is saying that his
strength was weakened "like that of a woman" because he felt distress at Israel's
preference that he speak to them indirectly rather than be spoken to directly
by God; 2) as before in Numbers, Moses became too weak to complete the
whole word and says at for atah. Compare B. Berakhot 32a:
"Moses became weak and was unable to speak."
In the Talmud, on the other hand, in the study that is also and perhaps
preeminently Jewish liturgy, Levinas reminds us that to say "God" is to say
"the Holy One, blessed be He"the naming of an attribute, Holiness, by means of
an article. Levinas goes on to relate this to the structure of the liturgical berakha,
providing his own account of the switch in pronominal dexis: "the blessing
begins by invoking God in the form of Thou. But the second-person personal
pronoun is followed by the Tetragrammaton. There is no blessing that does not
invoke the Tetragrammaton as the Lord (Tractate Berakhoth 12a). The
expression for the blessing, in the second person up until the Name, is in the
third person in the words that are placed on the other side of the Name. The
Thou becomes He in the Name, as if the Name belonged simultaneously to the
correctness of being addressed as Thou and to the absolute of holiness. And it
is without doubt this essential ambiguityor enigmaof transcendence that is
preserved in the standard expression in the Talmud for designating God: 'The
Holy One, blessed be He' ("The Name of God According to a Few Talmudic Texts,"
in Beyond the Verse, 122).
Open Closed Open, 44.