Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 4 February 2023 / 13 Shvat 5783

The Amidah (Part 35): The Final Paragraph: Personally Speaking

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“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 Avrahom Chaim Feuer)

“My Hashem, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully. To those who curse me, let my soul be silent, and let my soul be like dust to everyone. Open my heart to Your Torah, then my soul will pursue Your commandments. As for all those who design evil against me, speedily nullify their counsel and disrupt their design. Act for Your Name’s sake, act for Your right hand’s sake, act for Your sanctity’s sake, act for Your Torah’s sake. That Your beloved may be given rest, let Your right hand save and respond to me. May the expressions of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart find favor before You, Hashem, my Rock and my Redeemer. He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace upon us and upon all Israel. And let us say: Amen.”

The final paragraph continues with the request that “Your beloved may be given rest; let Your right hand save and respond to me.” Rabbi Menachem ben Shlomo Meiri, a brilliant thirteenth century Talmudist, explains this as a request for our spiritual and intellectual tranquility. What is the purpose of this tranquility? It allows us to focus on serving Hashem without distractions.

The last verse in chapter twenty-seven of Tehillim reads, “Trust in Hashem, strengthen your heart, and trust in Hashem.” The Brisker Rav points out that the implication of the verse is that one who has trust in Hashem will be rewarded with even more trust in Hashem, which is seemingly incongruous. After all, if a person already trusts in Hashem, why is more trust a fitting reward? The Brisker Rav cites Rabbeinu Bachya ibn Paquda’s Chovot HaLevavot (Sha’ar haBitachon), who writes that the calmest and most tranquil person in the world is someone who trusts in Hashem. If so, asks the Brisker Rav, what reward is the most fitting for someone who has trust? The Brisker Rav ponders te answer that, perhaps, they should be “blessed” with wealth. But, paradoxically, such a reward would probably have the opposite effect. It would actually cause the person to lose their tranquility because they will be constantly worrying about their wealth — thinking of ways to keep it safe and make it grow even more. This is why the only appropriate reward for trusting in Hashem is even more trust. Parenthetically, the Brisker Rav once related this idea to an extremely wealthy man. The man was visibly excited and commended the Brisker Rav on his brilliant explanation. The Brisker Rav then suggested to the man, “If it is such a good idea, perhaps you should strengthen yourself by trusting in Hashem and being less involved in your business dealings. If you do that, you can then dedicate more time to learning Torah and serving Hashem.” Strangely enough, the man wasn’t very taken with that idea. He enjoyed hearing about the greatness of trusting in Hashem, but he just wasn't ready to actually put it into practice.

In Hallel, King David declares (Tehillim 115:2), “Why do the nations say…” The Chassidic masters interpret the words homiletically as, “Why? The nations say” — meaning that the nations of the world are constantly questioning Hashem’s ways in this world. We, the Jewish nation, on the other hand, declare (ibid. 3), “Whatever He pleases He does” — and it is our joy to do whatever pleases Him.

There is a thought-provoking idea found in the writings of the Ba’alei Mussar about the word da’agah — worry. Da’agah is spelled using four out of the first five letters of the Aleph Bet: dalet, aleph, gimel and heh. The only letter missing is the letter bet. Our Sages teach that the letter bet signifies bitachon, trust. A Ba’al Bitachon — a person who truly trusts in Hashem — does not worry, because they know that Hashem is looking after them.

Rabbi Shimon Schwab explains that the reference to Hashem’s right hand is to remind us of the miracles that Hashem performs. Why are they mentioned at this point? To teach us that Hashem’s miracles are a prerequisite for the Final Redemption.

Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa (1765-1827) was one of the foremost Chassidic leaders in Poland. The effect of his teachings are still felt throughout the Chassidic world, as they were central tenets of some of the most influential Chassidic courts that followed him. Rabbi Simcha Bunim would repeat to his students that the there are two overt miracles contained within the world that we live in. The first miracle is the Creation itself. Wherever one looks, one is met with the most intricate and intriguing details. The Divinity and the beauty of the Creation are obvious. Even a cursory investigation of the wonders of nature, when undertaken honestly, will reveal Hashem’s presence in every detail. The second miracle, says Rabbi Simcha Bunim, is that people see these wonders all the time and fail to recognize and appreciate them. And, then, Rebbe Bunim would add that the inability to recognize Hashem within nature is an even greater miracle than the Creation itself!

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