Elijah, the prophet, would come regularly to the academy of Rabbi Judah, the Patriarch. One day—it was the day of the new moon—Elijah did not come to the prayers. When Elijah finally arrived, Rabbi Judah said: Why was the master late? Said Elijah: Today is the new moon; so I awakened Abraham, washed his hands, waited for him to pray, and laid him back on his bed. Then, I awakened Isaac, washed his hands, waited for him to pray, and then laid him back in his bed. Finally, I did the same for Jacob—and by the time I had finished, there was no time left.
Why didn’t you awaken them all at the same time? asked Rabbi Judah. Said Elijah, I reasoned that if they all prayed together they would have the power to bring the Messiah before his time…
Elijah offered a glimpse of a world both beyond, and within, time. Even the timeless task of attending to the long departed patriarchs took time—especially on the day when the month’s time began again. Elijah’s explanation also sparked a plan; but first, Rabbi Judah needed a little more help from Elijah:
Rabbi Judah asked: And are there those in this world who are like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Yes, said Elijah… [Click for the entire story]
Heaven thwarted Rabbi Judah’s plan to hurry the Messiah by combining three powerful pray-ers. And Elijah was held accountable for revealing secrets. The world, after all, requires its proper time.
Rabbi Judah overlooked the Elijah revelation that enriches the world without rushing it…
On this morning of the new moon, I decided to imitate Elijah and awaken within me namesakes of each patriarch, listening for their prayers.
Baruch ata—Overflowing are you, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob.
Abraham, my great grandfather, is known to me only through two pictures: a photograph of the patriarch surrounded by family, and a hand-drawn sketch of his grave stone in Poland carrying the lament that his family left for a new world to which his piety would not let him journey.
After I raised him, I listened to his plea for strength and solace in the face of life’s bitter irony. He was an Abraham who remained in his land, his birthplace, his father’s house while his children went to a land of promise.
My father’s Hebrew name was Isaac. Years before he died on another new moon, I learned how to help him up, despite his Parkinson’s disease. This morning, I helped him up in our practiced way. His prayers were quiet and simple—celebrations of the small goodnesses of evening, morning, and noon.
Attending to Jacob was more complicated. Jacob was my grandfather. Grandpa Jacob’s grandfather was also Jacob; and that Jacob was the great, great, great grandfather of my son, Jacob.
I don’t know the heft and feel of that distant Jacob. But on this morning of the new moon, I easily attended my grandpa Jacob whom I would watch praying at the window in the dining room every morning. His thready voice held no tune, but the key of faithfulness was unwavering. His tefillin left impressions on his arm and within me; they appear on my arm each day after I pray at the window in the dining room.
On this morning of the new moon, I lingered longest with my son, Jacob. His is a voice that is still emerging in moon-time, not only in Elijah time. I tried to listen forward, imagining how his prayers as well as his God will change in the next few days, God willing, when he becomes a father.
Why didn’t you awaken them all at the same time? asked Rabbi Judah. Said Elijah, I reasoned that if they all prayed together they would have the power to bring the Messiah before his time.
Elijah taught me that gathering the voices one at a time enriches my world. As for the Messiah—let the Messiah and the baby come safely in the world’s own time.