Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 6 September 2014 / 11 Elul 5774

The Shemoneh Esrei - The Fourth Blessing (Part 3)

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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“You graciously grant knowledge to man, and teach understanding to mortals.”

There are a few questions that arise after reading the first part of this blessing: 1) What is the difference between knowledge (da’at) and understanding (binah)? 2) Why is it necessary to mention both? 3) Also, why, when referring to knowledge is the word “adam” (man) used, while when referring to understanding the term “enosh” (mortal) is used?

The Sages explain that the loftiest and most prestigious name of the human being is “Adam”, the name given to the first man. In fact, the Torah states that Adam was created in G-d’s image. In connection to the above the Talmud explains that an animal would never attack a human being, since he was created in G-d’s image.

The obvious question arises: How come people are attacked by animals? The answer is that only when a person behaves in accordance with G-d’s ways can it truly be said that he is created in the Divine image, and only then is he protected from the attack of animals. When, however, a person follows his animal instinct, he loses his Divine image, and as a result the animals no longer fear attacking him.

Therefore, when using the word “Adam”, which indicates a person who maintains his Divine image, the word “da’at” is used, because the word da’at implies the type of knowledge that connects one to his Creator. In fact, the Sages explain that da’at can refer to someone who received Divine communication, called Ruach Ha’Kodesh.

Enosh” relates to a lower level of human existence, one that is more animalistic and lacking a true and intimate connection with G-d. Accordingly, someone on this level does not have da’at, but rather the base level of understanding that was given to all human beings. Even the human “animal,” who can unfortunately sometimes behave worse than an animal, is given the gift of understanding. However, he can still remain debased and corrupt despite achieving high levels of understanding.

“Graciously grant us from ‘Yourself’ wisdom.”

Alternatively, the knowledge given to man (adam) can refer specifically to Torah knowledge, since only through learning Torah, which is an expression of Divine wisdom, can man unify with his Creator. This is far different from the understanding of worldly matters that is attained through secular study.

Accordingly, we ask that G-d grant us wisdom “from Him.” But can there be any wisdom that is not from G-d? The answer is that the only wisdom that represents G-d’s "innermost" — the wisdom expressed in the Torah — is considered to be “His Wisdom.” All other wisdom, which is external and secondary in the bigger picture of life’s ultimate purpose, is not called “His” in the truest sense.

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