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a synagogue

How good are your tents, O Jacob; your dwellings, O Israel!

It is through your abundant love that I enter Your home, and bow in awe in the direction of Your holy temple.

Adonai, I love the temple, Your home and the place where Your glory dwells.

I will bow down low and prostrate myself before Adonai, my Creator.

May my prayer find favor in Your sight, Adonai. In the abundance of Your loving-kindness answer me in the truth of your salvation.

These are the very first words we recite upon entering the synagogue in the morning. 

The opening sentence comes from Numbers 24:5. It was uttered by Balaam, the Moabite prophet who had been summoned by Balak the King of Midian to curse the Israelites. However, when Balaam saw the Israelites encamped in their tents he was overcome with awe and reverence, and the only words that he could utter were words of blessing.

“Jacob” and “Israel” are alternate names for the second son of the patriarch Isaac. He was known in the Torah as a mild-mannered scholar, a “dweller in tents” (Genesis 25:27), in contrast to his older brother Esau who was a warlike hunter. Jacob’s “tents” and “dwellings” were therefore interpreted to mean “schools” and “synagogues”… and it is therefore appropriate for Balaam’s words of blessing to be recited as we enter the synagogue.

Jacob went on to become the progenitor of the entire Jewish people, who are known for that reason as bney yisrael—“the children of Israel.”

The additional sentences in this paragraph—taken from the Book of Psalms—tell God how happy we are to be guests in the house of the Eternal One, and ask for God’s acceptance of our prayers.

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