The Amidah (Part 17) - Blessing of the Righteous
“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 thirteenth blessing reads: “On the righteous, on the devout, on the elders of Your people the House of Israel, on the remnant of their scholars, on the righteous converts and on ourselves; may Your compassion be aroused, our Hashem, and give goodly reward to all those who sincerely believe in Your Name. Put our lot with them forever, and we will not feel ashamed, for we trust in You. Blessed are You, Hashem, Mainstay and Assurance of the righteous.”
In the previous blessing, the Tur explained that the twenty-nine original words in the blessing were a hint to the zeidim and the fact that they turned their backs on the Written Torah, the Oral Torah and the holy letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The Tur offers another fascinating insight about how the letters in our present blessing allude to the blessing’s theme. He points out that this is the only blessing in the Amidah where every letter of the alphabet appears. It is as if the blessing is teaching us that because the righteous value every single holy letter, not one of them could be omitted from their blessing!
Why do the righteous merit having their own blessing? In Ya’arot Devash, Rabbi Yonatan Eibeshitz writes that it is imperative that we recite this blessing with great intensity. This is in accord with the verse in Mishlei (10:25),“The Tzaddik is the foundation of the world.” He explains that as long as there are Tzaddikim in the world, there will be blessings and goodness in the world. The concept of righteousness is so momentous that Rabbi Chiya bar Abbah taught in the name of Rabbi Yochanan (Yoma 38b), “Even if there is only one Tzaddik left in the world, the world will continue to exist in the merit of that Tzaddik’s.” The Vilna Gaon writes that righteousness has such far-reaching consequences that even after the death of the Tzaddik, their merits continue to protect the world.
What is the definition of a Tzaddik? Someone who lives entirely centered on doing what Hashem wants them to do, trying their hardest not to make mistakes. And when errors do occur, they take responsibility for their actions and do not try to justify them. The route to true “righteousness,” “devoutness” and being an “elder” is found only within the Torah. The Rambam writes (Hilchot Issurei Biah 14) that the foundation of a truly righteous person is someone who has acquired Torah knowledge so that they can understand and correctly fulfill the mitzvahs.
The blessing goes on to mention the “remnants of their scholars.” Rabbi Yoshe Ber Soloveichik (1903-1993) was a scion of the illustrious Soloveichik dynasty. In 1932, just before the rise of fascism to power in Germany, he relocated from Berlin to Boston, eventually succeeding his father as the head of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in New York. Rabbi Soloveichik explains that one of the most vital and challenging responsibilities for the spiritual leaders of each generation is to transmit the Oral Torah exactly as it has been transmitted throughout the generations. Therefore, the “remnants” of the previous generations are the most vital component in that process, as they are the ones who heard it directly from those who came before them, in a chain that extends all the way back to the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. We beseech Hashem that He will have compassion on our spiritual leaders because without them we would be bereft, as we would be incapable of learning His Torah accurately.
Immediately after mentioning the “remnants of their scholars,” we refer to the “righteous converts.” The Maharal (Gevurot Hashem 9) explains the connection between these two groups. Both the spiritual leadership and the converts feel detached from their environment. Before becoming Jewish, converts feel a sense of disconnect from their non-Jewish surroundings. There is some kind of an instinctive urge that pushes the convert towards the Torah and serving Hashem despite the fact that it will separate them from everything that has been familiar to them until now. In a similar way, a Torah scholar feels a comparable sense of detachment from the physical realms as their intellect draws them up towards the spiritual spheres.
But we do not pray only for the Tzaddikim. We pray for ourselves as well. Every single Jew has an innate connection to righteousness. It may be hidden underneath many layers of cynicism and ennui, but, given the correct frame of mind, we too can join the ranks of the Tzaddikim. In Vayikra (11:44), Hashem instructs us to “Sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy.” Rabbi Moshe Schreiber (1762-1839), commonly known as the Chatam Sofer after his brilliant and erudite works, was the founder and the head of the Yeshiva in Pressburg, Bratislava, which was considered to be one of the most prestigious and influential Yeshivas in Europe. In his commentary on the Torah, the Chatam Sofer explains this verse in the following way: “Sanctify yourselves” — pretend that you are holy, and if you do — “You will be holy!” We are all influenced by our actions. Therefore, we should act like Tzaddikim even if we have not yet reached that level, because, by pretending, eventually it will become our reality!
“And give goodly reward to all those who sincerely believe in Your Name.” The phrase “goodly reward” seems somewhat unnecessary. After all, what is reward if not good? There are a select group of extremely pious individuals who regard everything that occurs in their lives as good. Even when something may not seem that way, they look at it, and regardless of the negativity they see the Hand of Hashem and feel His loving embrace. However, the majority of us are likely not to be on such a lofty level. Therefore, we ask Hashem to send us “goodly reward” — reward that is recognizably good to everyone, not just to the elite few.
To be continued…