Monday, January 17, 2011

What Does It Mean to You? The Amidah Edition

I remember one of the very first questions I asked my first rabbi: In the amidah, what does "may my soul be to all like the dust" mean? (The amidah is also known as shemonah esrei, a long silent prayer that is the central focus of the liturgy) [Using the Koren translation because that's my travel siddur and I'm still traveling when I write this.]

To put it in context for those who aren't as familiar with the amidah, this is in the concluding mediation, and the full idea is "My G-d, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from deceitful speech. To those who curse me, let my soul be silent; may my soul be to all like the dust."

This is the thought that is most powerful to me in the amidah, and surprisingly, that hasn't changed in the 7 years I've been doing this. Yet I still can't decide what that last bit means. What do you think?


  1. The commentary in the artscroll siddur says "We should ignore barbs and insults, because the less a person cares about his prestige, the less he will let selfishness interfere with his service of God and his efforts at self-improvement (Ruach Chaim)"

    That still doesn't really make it clear to me, but hopefully this will help a little bit?

  2. Good points; that's what's been told to me before. But why tie it to death? Soul going to dust is a pretty big death metaphor to me.

  3. It isn't saying a soul is going to dust.
    You probably relate "going to dust" as a death metaphor because of the phrase "ashes to ashes, dust to dust". However, that's referring to the physical body. Souls wouldn't go to dust, but to their creator.
    Dust is often used to signify insignificance. When god talks to Abraham, he uses star and dust to describe his descendants. Popular commentaries explain that when his progeny do what's write they will be high as the stars. But, when they don't, they'll be as low as the dust.
    One other example, when people burn their chometz before Passover, they say "may all chometz in my possession be like dust". They don't mean it should die, but that it be considered insignificant and nullified.

    I hope that helps clarify things for you.

  4. Thanks, those are great points! It makes a lot more sense now :D

  5. "To all who curse me, I pray and hope that God will take vengeance."
    Hmm. A bit on the edgy side, do you think?