Word of the Day / Siddurim: Praying Your Errands Go Well

Why the Hebrew words for a prayer book, and the Passover feast, is from the same root as the word for order

Getting your life in order is a big-picture goal, but it will almost certainly involve a lot of little errands along the way.

In Hebrew the word for “order” is seder, like the main Passover meal. It shares the same root as the word for “errands,” as well as “prayer books,” - both of which are siddurim in Hebrew.

The Passover seder, of course, is more than just a meal. It is a ceremony that follows a set order, as its Hebrew name implies.

Jewish prayers are not usually spontaneous personal creations; they too follow a set order. Siddurim are compilations of the various prayers, grouped into prayer services like Shaharit (the morning service), Minha (the afternoon service) and Maariv (the evening service).

If you are indeed getting your life in order, what you’re doing is la’asot seder (“making order”).

It doesn’t have to be something as extensive as your whole life; you could just la’asot seder in the balagan that is your living room or sort out the organizational mess at your office. If you discover that three different people have been working on the same project without consulting each other, you might say, “Let’s make some order” (Na’aseh ktzat seder) and begin sorting out who’s supposed to be doing what.

If it’s your home to which you’re bringing order, you may need some tools that help you become better organized. When you pick up some new bookshelves and a key rack, and maybe some milk and bread while you’re at it, you’re doing errands, or siddurim – those little trips that may be annoying but keep your life from devolving into a milk-less mess. And if you pop in at your local Judaica store on the way, maybe you’ll pick up some siddurim while doing your siddurim.

That could come in handy when you need to pray you finish all your errands before the milk-and-bread shortage in your home reaches crisis levels (as in, when there’s not enough milk left for even a few drops in your coffee).

But maybe your life doesn’t need reorganizing – maybe everything’s beseder (“in order”) as it is, meaning that it is all right or okay.

There’s a verb for that. Lehistader, which also stems from seder, means “to manage,” in the sense of “to make do” or “to be okay.” This is a good word for fending off unwanted help. Ani mistaderet (“I’m managing” or “I’m fine,” in the feminine) usually puts off all but the most persistent of those in-store salespeople whose assistance borders on harassment.

Then again, you may want some assistance if those few drops of milk aren’t cutting it and you decide to reward yourself for all those siddurim with a froth-filled cappuccino. Caffeine may not bring order to all aspects of your life, but sometimes it’s just what the doctor ordered.

To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at shoshanakordova@gmail.com. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.

Gil Cohen-Magen
Courtesy of the Jewish Theological Seminary