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Bowing & Peacemaking

At the end of the Mourner's Kaddish, when Jews recite "Oseh shalom…" ("May the One who makes peace in the heavens above help us to make peace with one another…."), it is customary to take three steps back, then bow to one's left, then to one's right, and finally bow forward, as if taking leave of the presence of a king. An alternative explanation is to remind us that in order to make peace, one needs to be willing to "back up."

The oldest version of the Kaddish is found in the siddur of Rab Amram Gaon, c. 900.

For more than 1100 years, the movements of our prayers have reminded us that in order to make peace, we are not allowed to "stand our ground."

—Rabbi Fred Guttman, Temple Emanuel, Greensboro, North Carolina

Experiencing the Messiah

We can experience the Messiah every week—by observing Shabbat.

According to Jewish tradition, God intends the weekly Sabbath not merely as rest, not merely as religious obligation, but as a foretaste of redemption. In the spirit of Shabbat, Judaism teaches, are the joy and the peace of the Messianic Age.

Shabbat rituals and ceremonies expressly foreshadow the days of deliverance. The elaborate dinner parallels the Feast of the Righteous, the shunning of work corresponds to the era's endless serenity and abundance, and the prayers and songs herald a time when all shall know the Divine Presence. As the messianic Shabbat hymn Lecha Dodi urges: 'Come with me to meet Shabbat, forever a fountain of blessing….Awake, awake, your light has come!...Forget your sorrow; quiet your groans….As a bridegroom rejoices in his beloved, your God takes joy in you.'

How marvelous.

—Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman, from The Messiah & The Jews (Jewish Lights, 2013)

Rethinking the Symbolism of Masada

Masada—the desert fortress on the Dead Sea brought to grandeur by King Herod in the first century B.C.E.—is not what it used to be. Not so long ago, it was a symbol of Israeli character. The Jewish zealots in the second century C.E. who committed mass suicide here rather than be defeated by the Romans were seen as a model of determination to be free.

Nowadays, Israelis are not so sure this is the model they want their children to admire. After the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, this society is less willing to venerate zealots than it used to be.

Israel used to hold induction ceremonies for its most elite military units on top of Masada. No more. Now those units hold ceremonies at the Western Wall, a symbol of a holy place lost with mourning, not a suicide pact.

And that is a better reflection of Judaism's attitude toward life and death. When the Jerusalem Temple was under siege by the Romans in 69 C.E., Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai had himself smuggled out of the doomed city to negotiate with the Roman general Vespasian for the survival of the rabbinic academy at Yavne. He recognized that the survival of Torah and the saving of many lives outweighed the loss even of the Temple and acceptance of Roman rule.

That perspective has reasserted itself in a more mature state of Israel. Masada still has power as a symbol for Israelis, and the line of tourists waiting for the cable cars to ride up to the top still is long. However, the symbol is tempered by an awareness that ours is a tradition of life, not death, and that we have more to live for than we have to die for.

—Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser, Temple Beit HaYam, Stuart, Florida, From the reformjudaism.org blog, Masada is Not What it Used to Be