Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 12 November 2022 / 18 Cheshvan 5783

The Amidah (Part 24) Blessing of Thanksgiving (Part 3)

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
Library Library Library

The eighteenth blessing concludes: “Everything alive will gratefully acknowledge You, selah, and praise Your Name sincerely, O Hashem of our salvation and help, selah. Blessed are You, Hashem, Your Name is ‘The Beneficent One’ and to You it is fitting to give thanks.”

Our blessing continues with the words, “Everything alive will gratefully acknowledge You, selah.” Everything alive implies that even those who suffer will praise Hashem. Rabbi Yosef Karo (Orach Chaim 222:3) writes that a person who accepts the difficulties and the tribulations of life with love because they have been given to them by Hashem is actually serving Hashem with true joy. Such a person never feels abandoned by Hashem. Even when the situation is critical, this person is not alone because they are able to recognize Hashem’s involvement in their life. But perhaps there is a deeper dimension as well. Our Sages teach (Brachot 5a) that suffering in this world cleanses a person of all their sins. Rabbi Yaakov Yehoshua Falk (Pnei Yehoshua) explains that suffering purifies the soul, which then allows it to enter the World to Come in a pristine state. It transpires that what may seem to us to be an impossible situation is actually something that is beneficial for us. Rabbi Shlomo Kluger (1783-1869) was the leading authority in Jewish Law in Brody, Galicia. He was considered to be one of the most brilliant, incisive and prolific spiritual leaders of his generation. In his commentary on the Torah (Imrei Shefer) he writes that although we must endeavor to accept our own suffering with joy, this is not an appropriate response when we see someone else suffering. When Aharon’s two sons died, Hashem commanded Aharon not to show any of the classic signs of mourning. Aharon accepted Hashem’s decree wholeheartedly. However, the rest of the Jewish people were commanded to grieve: “Your brethren, the entire house of Israel, will cry over the conflagration” (Vayikra 10:6). So, too, when we see others in distress we must empathize with them and do whatever we can to help try and alleviate their suffering.

The Jewish calendar is created in such a way that every year Tisha b’Av – the most dismal day of the year, which commemorates the destruction of both the Holy Temples – always falls on the same day of the week as the first day Pesach, one of the most joyful days in celebration of our liberation from slavery and our emerging into the nation that would receive the Torah. Our Rabbis explain that this is not coincidental. Rather, it is part of Hashem’s Divine plan. It is beyond our comprehension as to why we have had to experience so much suffering throughout the generations. But with the onset of the Final Redemption, all will become clear. And, most importantly, we will finally understand that Hashem’s love for us was always consistent throughout. It was never wavering even in the darkest moments.

The word “selah” is somewhat enigmatic. The Talmud (Eruvin 54a) teaches that whenever the word selah appears in the Torah, it always refers to something that forever continues without interruption. Hence the Aramaic translation for selah is L’almin, meaning “forever.” The Ibn Ezra translates selah slightly differently as “truth” or “so it is” (Tehillim 3:3). In this way we declare that we will acknowledge all the good and the kindness that Hashem has done for us constantly.

Rabbi Chaim Vital (1543-1620) was the foremost disciple of the Ari Zal. He transcribed most of the Ari Zal’s thoughts and teachings, including some of the most essential and esoteric Kabbalistic works, such as “Eitz Chaim” and “Sha’ar Hagilgulim.” He also authored several works of his own that are considered to be fundamental to understanding Kabbalah. One of his compositions is “Olat Tamid,” which explores the intent and the meanings behind the prayers according to the Ari Zal’s interpretations. He points out that the word “sincerely” in the phrase “And praise Your Name sincerely” teaches us that we should not be thanking Hashem in the hope that He will give us more. Rather, we are thanking Hashem in all sincerity for all that He has given us. More than that, although we have every intention of asking Hashem for more of His bountiful goodness, we are doing so not just because we have an unlimited appetite to be the recipients of His abundance, but also because Hashem desires that we ask Him for our needs.

Hashem is then referred to as the “Hashem of our salvation.” Only after a person has experienced suffering and anguish are they able to identify and appreciate the light and the salvation in their life.

Our blessing concludes with the words, “Blessed are You, Hashem, Your Name is ‘The Beneficent One’ and to You it is fitting to give thanks.” The Eitz Yosef points out that our Sages teach (Erchin 16a with Rashi) that one should be very careful when praising another because there is a chance that those listening will disparage the person being spoken about. The Eitz Yosef explains that this idea is not applicable, however, when praising Hashem, because regardless of how much we praise Him, it will be negligible compared to the truth.

To be continued…

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