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Siddur Ba-eir Hei-teiv --- The Transliterated Siddur

Mah Tovu (Introductory Meditation) Print E-mail
All transliterations, commentary, and audio recordings are copyright © 1997, 1998, 2002, 2009, or 2016 by Jordan Lee Wagner. All rights reserved.


MA TOVU


Private meditation said silently on entering a synagogue.
(Some congregations recite it aloud together.)
Ma to-vu o-ha-le-cha, Ya-a-kov;


mish-k'no-te-cha, Yis-ra-eil!


Va-a-ni, b'rov chas-d'cha a-vo vei-te-cha,


esh-ta-cha-veh el hei-chal kawd-sh'cha b'yir-a-te-cha.


A-do-nai, a-hav-ti m'on bei-te-cha,


u-m'kom mish-kan k'vo-de-cha.


Va-a-ni esh-ta-cha-veh v'ech-ra-a,


ev-r'cha lif-nei A-do-nai o-si.


Va-a-ni t'fi-la-ti l'cha, A-do-nai, eit ra-tson.


E-lo-him, b'rav chas-de-cha,


a-nei-ni be-e-met yish-e-cha.

Ma Tovu


The morning liturgy now begins with a private meditation upon entering the synagogue (or upon settling into any other spot where one is preparing to pray).   It is said first thing, before you put on a tallis (and t'fillin on weekdays).  This meditation is called "Ma Tovu".

In many synagogues, Ma Tovu is also used as a meditation upon entering the synagogue on Friday night before Kabbalat Shabbat.   In some, it is sung aloud at the start of the Kabbalat Shabbat service rather than as a private meditation.

Ma Tovu begins with Balaam's blessing, "How goodly are your tents, O Jacob; your dwelling places, O Israel!".   In this context, the reference is to the synagogue, or the site of the prayer service about to commence.   (There are times when Ma Tovu can take on a special poiniancy.   For example, at an early morning minyan in the barracks at Auschwitz.)

Balaam, an ancient non-Jewish seer, had set out to curse the Israelites, but blurted out a blessing instead.   An ancient midrash suggests what he saw that caused his exclamation: He saw that the Israelites all arranged their tents in distinctive formations so that they could not see into the tents of their neighbors.   Everyone avoided being in a position to judge their neighbor's conduct.

Ma Tovu is constructed from Numbers 24:5, Psalms 5:8, 26:8, 95:6, and 69:14.

--- adapted from "The Synagogue Survival Kit" by Jordan Lee Wagner, publ. by Rowman & Littlefield. 1997.



Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 August 2011 01:01
 

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