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An egalitarian Conservative congregation serving the diverse Orange County Jewish Community

Psalm 86

Ein Kemocha… There is none like You.” This line was added to our prayers 600-800 years ago in Germany and is sung as we begin our Torah service. Its origin is Psalm 86, verse 8, which reads: “There is none like You among the gods, my Supreme, and there are no works like Yours.” Who are these other gods? And why is this the chosen verse for this moment of receiving of Torah?

The words resonate as a declaration of the uniqueness of God. Idols are those objects or beliefs that are a means to an end wrongly given ultimate significance. Only God is worthy of worship and to God we look for guidance on right and wrong as contained in the Torah. And yet, I am aware that the terms “gods” has a Biblical history. In an earlier time, henotheism was the belief that one god was simply superior to the others. This was replaced by monotheism, the belief in only one God. Some Bible scholars view this statement as early and a point of transition for the Psalm will declare “You are God alone!” (verse 10). Others, including rabbis of the Middle Ages will view the “gods” as the angels or the celestial bodies who have power, but only at the direction of God. This verse is chosen both to acknowledge God’s uniqueness and to celebrate the gift of Torah as among God’s supreme gifts. But, the rabbis teach that the most supreme of God’s works is the human being (Bereshit Rabbah 81:3). For we uniquely contain the Divine spirit, which enables us to receive and read Torah.

Psalm 86 is a collage of verses from other Psalms and yet the ein kemocha is only found here. Psalm 86 transitions as a “prayer of David” calling on God for aid due to his merit to aid as an expression of God’s grace.

Our study this morning will be dedicated to Phyllis Abrams, our incoming CBI President.