Image: An outline of a head, with many colored lights. (geralt/pixabay)
Atah chonen (“You grace”) is one of the blessings that make up the weekday Amidah.
The Amidah is one of the two central prayers of the Jewish synagogue service, the other being the Shema with its blessings. Those who go to services only on Shabbat may not realize that the weekday Amidah is different from the Shabbat version. There are some beautiful blessings in the weekday service.*
You grace humans with knowledge and teach mortals understanding. Graciously share with us Your wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. Blessed are You, Holy One, who graces us with knowledge.Mishkan Tefilah, p. 84. (translation mine)
On the face of it, this prayer reminds us that knowledge is a gift of God. Jews believe that human intellect is a gift to be used to make the world better and to care for our families and community. For instance, we do not accept illness simply as “God’s will” – we engage in the sciences to find ways to alleviate pain and cure sickness.
However, intellect should not make its possessor arrogant. For a person who has a tendency towards arrogance or lack of humility, one very good practice is to recite this prayer, which reminds us that wisdom, understanding, and knowledge are gifts, not a moral accomplishments.
Looking a little deeper, the qualities that may read to an English speaker as near-synonyms (knowledge, understanding, wisdom) are translations of Hebrew words with very specific meanings. Da’at (knowledge,) Binah (understanding) and chokhmah (wisdom) are names of three of the sefirot, attributes of God, in Jewish mysticism. So the word “share” is appropriate: we are asking God to share God’s self with us.
When I feel challenged intellectually, I find this prayer very strengthening. Even if I do not see myself as “smart enough” for a particular task, this prayer reminds me that I have resources: if I am humble, I may be able to rise above my usual capabilities with a little help from above.
*For more about the structure and outline of the Jewish service, see What Goes On in a Jewish Service? on this blog.