There’s a talmudic tradition that when a person takes their first steps in the morning, they should recite the blessing, “ha-meichin mitzadei gaver” – “who prepares a person’s steps.”[i]
Recently, I learned a new understanding of this prayer, and a new occasion on which to say it. When one is uncertain, afraid, or overwhelmed, ha-meichin mitzadei gaver is a prayer to be shown where to place one’s feet next, to have a clear path appear. In the traditional instance, the word gaver means “person,” but here it suggests to me gevurah, strength or fortitude. “Blessed are you, God, who prepares a sure path, who makes my steps sturdy.” I also think of the verb le-hitgaber, to overcome. “Blessed are you, God, who shows me the way to overcome.”
I’ve been saying this prayer a lot lately. A lyric I’m working on includes the line, “I’ve danced at two weddings, preached at three funerals.” I’ve lived a few too many of life’s important moments in too short a time lately and I’m getting emotional whiplash. “Running the course of a lifetime in an instant,” as the song will someday go. You’re gonna love it when you hear it, believe me, but living through it is killing me.
Mitzadei gaver are often what I need to survive the onslaught of a workday where I have 30 minutes to get to know a total stranger. In that time I rapidly reconstruct both his life story and his medical history, and ensure that there are no dangerous loose ends hanging when we part company. Last week that half-hour included a narrative of a year’s torture and political imprisonment.
It happened in 1990. I was in college, listening to a bootleg recording of Sting singing, “I Shall Be Released” at the Amnesty International concert. I had no way of knowing that I would one day meet the man who at that time was having his nose broken and his spine shattered, all the time praying, “Any day now, any way now…”
Ha meichin mitzadei gaver – We shall overcome? Who knows? Someday, I’m supposed to say. But where does one put the first foot, what is the first move? What should he do, what should I do, when there is so freaking much to overcome?
I’ve learned a new term from Kate Bowler, host of the wonderful podcast “Everything Happens.” The term is “precarity,” and I think Kate invented it.[ii] It’s the noun form of “precarious,” and it describes to a “T” where I’ve been living in the past 6 weeks – and where my new friend has been living since the first blow struck the bridge of his nose.
Ha meichin mitzadei gaver is the Precarity Prayer. It is a prayer for healing, not curing, the one small thing that can be made better now. It is a prayer for being able to take, not all of the steps, not the entire road, but the first, single, certain step onto solid ground, even if we will need to say the prayer all over again after that.
When the day is short, and the work plentiful, what is the tzaad
gever that I will take first?
[i] Berachot 60b
[ii] Kate Bowler, “Everything Happens” podcast. June 4, 2019: “John Green: Chronic Not Curable.”