The Amidah (Part 21): Blessing for the Temple Service
Prayer is not a miracle. It is a tool, man’s paintbrush in the art of life. Prayer is man’s weapon to defend himself in the struggle of life. It is a reality. A fact of life. (Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer)
The seventeenth blessing reads: Be favorable, our Hashem, toward Your people Israel and their prayers and restore the Temple service to the Holy of Holies of Your Temple. The fire offerings of Israel and their prayer accept with love and favor, and may the service of Your people Israel always be favorable to You. May our eyes behold Your return to Zion in compassion. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who restores His Presence to Zion.
We have concluded the blessings for our personal entreaties and we now begin the final three blessings of the Amidah which are described as the blessings of thanksgiving (Rambam, Hilchot Tefillah 1:4). Interestingly enough, this is despite the fact that they, too, are requests. The final three blessings ask that Hashem reinstate the Temple services and that He establish peace. The Rosh, Rabbeinu Asher ben Yechiel explains (Brachot 34a) that the final blessings actually are blessings of thanksgiving because they emphasize our complete and absolute national and individual dependence on Hashem. And there is no greater reason than that to thank Hashem.
Our blessing asks that Hashem accept our “fire offerings with love and favor.” However, it is somewhat unclear as to which “fire offerings” the blessing is referring to as the Third and Final Holy Temple has not yet been rebuilt. The Tur explains (Orach Chaim 187) that it is our prayers that are recited in place of the Temple service, that are the “fire offerings”. Thus, we ask Hashem to accept our prayers with “love and favor” as if we had offered up sacrifices in the Holy Temple. The Tur then cites a Midrash that describes the souls of the righteous who pray with complete intent and concentration. These pure souls, full of fiery passion and a true love for Hashem, ascend to the Spiritual Realms where they are placed, as it were, on the Heavenly altar and are regarded as being akin to fire offerings.
The classic Chassidic interpretation takes a slightly different approach. The “fire offerings” are not just a reference to the prayers of the pious and the righteous. Rather, every single Jew’s prayers can reach the Heavenly altar if they are said with passion and fervor. Our prayers should be infused with such incredible fiery enthusiasm that they are able to “burn” their way through the physical layers that conceal the Spiritual Realms and to arrive directly on the Heavenly altar.
The prophet Yishayahu declares (2:3), “From Zion [Yerushalayim] the Torah will come forth”. Tosafot (Bava Batra 21a) ask what it is specifically about Zion that causes the Torah to pour forth from within it. Tosafot answer that it was not the city itself that was the source of inspiration. Rather, when the people would come to Yerushalayim and the Holy Temple they would see the kohanim busy with the Temple service and it would encourage them to reach new levels of connection to Hashem and it would spur them on to even greater diligence in their Torah learning and mitzvah observance. Rabbi Aharon Kotler(Mishnat Rebbi Aharon) writes that because we have no Temple today every single person needs to look at themselves as a living Temple. Just as the kohanim inspired others and embodied the essence of the Temple, so should we inspire others and embody the essence of the Holy Temple.
Rabbi Yonatan Eibeshitz (Ya’arot Devash) points out that the structure of the phrase, “May our eyes behold” – techezena einenu – is a little strange as it literally means, “May we see with our eyes”. As there is no other way to see other than with our eyes it sounds almost superfluous. Rabbi Eibeshitz explains that when the Final Redemption arrives – may we all merit to experience it very, very soon – there may be many people whose behavior and actions throughout their lives were not terribly praiseworthy and they may not deserve to witness the redemption. Therefore, we ask Hashem that we be counted among those who are able to see the redemption.
The blessing ends with the words, “Blessed are You, Hashem, Who restores His Presence to Zion.” Interestingly, the blessing is written in the present tense even though we are still awaiting the redemption. So compelling is our belief that Hashem will restore His presence to Zion it is as if we can see it in front of us – as if it had already happened!
Rabbi Aharon haKohen of Lunil was born at the end of the thirteenth century in Provence, France. He was exiled from Provence together with the Jewish community in the year 1306. He spent many years wandering from community to community until he finally settled in the island of Majorca where he remained until his passing. He was considered to be one of the most distinguished experts in Jewish Law in his generation and he authored a legal treatise entitled Orchot Chaim which is cited extensively by Rabbi Yosef Karo in Bet Yosef. Rabbi Aharon haKohen writes that there are thirty-four words in our blessing asking for the restoration of the Temple and its service. He explains that the thirty-four words correspond to the thirty-four kohanim (priests) who took part in the offering of the ox, goat and ram on Yom Kippur.