רַבִּי נְחוּנְיָא בֶּן הַקָּנָה הָיָה מִתְפַּלֵּל בִּכְנִיסָתוֹ לְבֵית הַמִּדְרָשׁ וּבִיצִיאָתוֹ תְּפִלָּה קְצָרָה. אָמְרוּ לוֹ, מַה מָּקוֹם לִתְפִלָּה זוֹ. אָמַר לָהֶם, בִּכְנִיסָתִי אֲנִי מִתְפַּלֵּל שֶׁלֹּא תֶאֱרַע תַּקָלָה עַל יָדִי, וּבִיצִיאָתִי אֲנִי נוֹתֵן הוֹדָיָה עַל חֶלְקִי–משנה ברכות ד:ב
Rabbi Nehunia ben HaKana would say a short prayer both when he entered and left the Bet Midrash (study hall). (His students) asked him, “What is the nature/source of that prayer?” He replied, “When I enter I pray that I don’t cause a disaster (by inaccurate, deceptive, destructive interpretations of the Torah), and when I leave I give thanks for my portion (in life).”–Mishna Brachot 4:2
Our early leaders and sages, connected to Torah by נבואה (Nevuah), prophecy, and רוח הקודש (Ruah HaKodesh), Divine inspiration, realized and experienced that the power of Torah, the Infinite somehow contained within the Finite, is, itself, infinite. Super-concentrated like nuclear energy only much more so, the Torah has the capacity to transform our imperfect world into the paradise it is intended to be. But when hijacked and distorted, it also has the capacity to destroy our world and plunge us all into brutal savagery and horror. Also at the individual level it can either ennoble and transform one into a צדיק (Tzadik), a saintly, selfless lover of humanity or, chas v’Shalom, into a close-minded, obsessive control freak and/or abuser. Rabbi Nehunia ben HaKana, best known today for his mystical poem אנא בכח (Ana B’Koach), which reveals/generates one of the hidden names of God, was well aware of that power and understood that, as a fallible human, he needed Divine aid to withstand the many temptations to misuse his knowledge as well as that same Divine aid to not lose focus and thus fail.
As a Jew, I’m not only obligated to engage with Torah, to fulfill mitzvot and to perform tefilla, I’m entrusted to use this incredible power to bring our world closer to that perfection. I am privileged, for example, to join the holy Names of The Creator which are generated by the ראשי תיבות (Roshei Teyvot), first letters of each word taken in sequence, the סופי תיבות (Sofei Teyvot), the last letters of each word, again taken in sequence, and even the אמציות תיבות (Emtziot Teyvot), middle letters, as well as the chain of all the letters of each word also taken as a series, on top of the energy invested in the semantic meaning of each word and then each phrase and sentence as the words combine with each other, the energy inherent in the very shape of each letter, as well as the ניקודים (Nikkudim), “points” or vowels and many more that I’m not even aware of, each of the three times a day I pray. I, along with every Jew who also participates, wield this tremendous power and, with it, we make irreplaceable contributions to the world.
This opportunity to be a critical member of the team that is bringing perfection to the universe is Jewish Privilege. Being among the first generations in millennia who have the opportunity to amplify our efforts by bringing them to Eretz Yisrael, the native soil which best nourishes and powers our work to their maximum effectiveness is Jewish Privilege. Deepening each day my understandings and insights and inner connections of our infinitely complex and beautiful Torah is Jewish Privilege. Teaching Torah every day and offering loving support to my fellow Jews is Jewish Privilege.
Like Rabbi Nehunia ben HaKana, every day I give thanks for my lot in life.
My description of just part of the power embedded in our daily tefilla (prayers) is not meant to say or even to imply that one needs to engage in special meditations, kavvanot (kabbalistic intentions) or anything else. This, and all the underlying processes in all of our Jewish observance are “built-in” to the amazing technology bequeathed us by our sages when they devised our prayers. Every act we perform as Jews, whether intentional or not, conscious or unconscious, contributes to this great tikkun.
A chosen people, עם סגולה (Am Segulah) does not imply special privileges but rather special responsibilities. In a world view that sees responsibilities as burdens, that’s nothing to be proud of, but in a world view that sees the granting of responsibility as recognition of maturity and ability, it is, indeed, privilege.