The Amidah (Part 36) The Final Paragraph: Personally Speaking
“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 concludes with the stirring declaration that Hashem “makes peace – shalom – in His heights.” And, then we make one final request that, “He make peace upon us, and upon all Israel.” What is referred to here when we talk about “His heights”? The Eitz Yosef explains that, very often, the angels seem to be at odds with each other. On the one hand, there are angels who represent Hashem’s attributes of mercy and kindness. On the other hand, there are angels of judgment and strictness. Yet, Hashem creates a harmonious environment in the spiritual realms by having them all fulfill His Will. The fact that each angel does only what it is commanded to do and does not impose on the next angel is the definition of shalom.
The Chatam Sofer asks a question. Exactly what disagreements are in the Heavens that would require Hashem to make peace between the two sides? The Chatam Sofer explains that when Hashem created the world, it was necessary for diametrically opposed components to be given the ability to join together. The first of those pairs was fire and water. Despite the fact that in their natural state they are elements that cannot coexist, nevertheless, there would come a time when Hashem would command them to fuse together in order to punish the Egyptians. In the Midrash, our Sages teach (Shemot Rabbah 12) that the seventh plague, of hail, consisted of both fire and water. That potential for shalom between fire and the water is permanent because it was created in “His heights.” The second pair that required Divine intervention in order to coexist was the dust of the ground and the pure soul that Hashem puts within us. The Torah (Ber. 2:7) describes the creation of the first human, “And Hashem formed the man from dust of the earth, and He blew into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living being.” This second pair, composed of the spiritual and the physical, is involved in an incessant struggle in which each one tries to overpower the other.
And that is our final plea to Hashem. That the same shalom that was made in “His heights” between fire and water should be made in the physical realms for us as well. Not just for each person individually, but, as we declare, “upon all Israel.” The only way to reach such harmony is for the Jewish nation to stop quarreling and disagreeing with each other.
There is a classic joke (which like so many Jewish jokes may not be particularly funny but is sharp and thought-provoking) told about a young scholar who was invited to become the rabbi of a small, old community. On his very first Shabbat, the Ten Commandments were read as a part of the weekly Torah reading, and it sparked off an enormous argument in the Synagogue. Should one stand or not stand during the reading. The rabbi was at a loss as he watched his congregants screaming and shouting at each other, and, at one point, nearly coming to blows. The very next day, an extremely concerned rabbi visited the oldest member of the community, Mr. Katz, 98, in his nursing home.
After introducing himself, the rabbi then broached the reason for his visit. “Mr. Katz,” he said, “I’m at a loss. I am turning to you to find what is the original and authentic custom in our Synagogue when it comes to reading the Ten Commandments.”
“Why would you want to know that?” asked Mr. Katz.
The rabbi answered, “Yesterday, as we started to read the Ten Commandments, some of the congregants stood, and others sat. Then, the ones standing started screaming at the ones who were sitting that they have to stand up. And the ones sitting down started shouting at the standers, telling them that they have to sit down. It was appalling! And the worst thing about it was that I, as their rabbi, had no idea what I was supposed to tell them.”
Mr. Katz looked at the rabbi and calmly told him, “You don’t have to say anything. That is our custom.”
Rabbi Shimon Schwab explains why we say, “May He make peace upon us” and not, “May He make peace between us.” He says that ultimately we do not seem to be capable of achieving peace by ourselves. Therefore, peace will have to be imposed upon us from Above.
Or, as Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin so poignantly expresses it, “Why do we take three steps back before mentioning the concept of peace? We step backwards to show that we are ready to retreat from our seemingly intractable position for the sake of peace.”.
To be continued……