Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 3 October 2020 / 15 Tishri 5781

The Morning Blessings: The Fifteenth & Final Blessing: Thankful to Be Helpless

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
Library Library Library

“Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who removes sleep from my eyes and slumber from my eyelids. And may it be Your will, Hashem, our G-d, and the G-d of our forefathers, that You accustom us to Your Torah and attach us to Your commandments. And do not bring us to error, or to transgression, or to sin, or to challenge, or to humiliation, and that the Evil Inclination should not rule over us. Distance us from an evil person and from an evil friend. Attach us to the Good Inclination and to good deeds, and force the [Evil] Inclination to be subservient to You. Grant us today, and every day, grace, kindness and mercy in Your Eyes and in the eyes of all who see us, and bestow beneficent kindness upon us. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who bestows beneficent kindness upon His people, Israel.”

The final blessing stands out for two immediate reasons. First, it is uncharacteristically lengthy. And, second, its syntax is different from that of the other blessings. If the blessing would have been comprised of just the opening sentence, it would have effortlessly matched the preceding fourteen blessings, and the blessings would have flown seamlessly one into the other. But it does not.

As we have learned together over the last few months, the sequence of the blessings has carried us higher and higher, to the point where we have reached the elevated level of being able to give strength to the weary. Effective leadership requires foresight and clarity. A successful mentor is one who can offer coherent spiritual, practical and emotional advice. Such a leader requires eyes that see only the truth. Eyes capable of discerning what is being asked — and why — so that the appropriate answer can be given. For this reason, the spiritual leadership of the Jewish Nation is described as the “eyes” of the people.

The opening sentence of our blessing spells out this idea straightforwardly and clearly: “Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who removes sleep from my eyes and slumber from my eyelids.” To be blessed with unerring spiritual vision should be the climax of everything that we strive for. Therefore, we thank G-d for removing the “spiritual cataracts” that blur our vision and cloud our judgment. And if the blessing were to end here, it would be a perfect finale to the incredible journey that the Morning Blessings have taken us on.

But we have not yet reached the end of the blessing. The final blessing continues, at great length. What makes it even more surprising is that the continuation of the blessing seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with its opening sentence. To compound the issue, however important the concepts mentioned throughout the remainder of the blessing may be, they do not seem to fit into the typical structure of the Morning Blessings. From the get-go, the blessings have been motivating us to move continuously upwards in our spiritual quest to draw closer to G-d. They have been spurring us on to climb another step, and another step — one after the other — using a logical and systematic method. Each step brings us within reach of the ultimate goal, which is to serve G-d to our utmost. And then, as the very pinnacle of our hopes and desires are within reach, our blessing lists an entire series of requests to G-d that seem almost simplistic. Certainly they are all crucial to our spiritual growth and they are absolutely fitting for the Morning Blessings, but why do they appear in the final blessing? They would seem to be more suited to have been mentioned towards the beginning of the Morning Blessings, which deal with the more rudimentary dimensions of our relationship with G-d.

To exacerbate the situation, there is a general rule that whenever we invoke the Patriarchs within prayer, it is an indication that we are about to ask for something that requires more than our own merits alone. Including the Patriarchs in our prayers is an admission that without their merits there is little, if any, chance that our supplications would be answered based solely on merits. And here, after the opening sentence of our blessing, we continue, “And may it be Your will, Hashem, our G-d, and the G-d of our forefathers, that You accustom us to Your Torah and attach us to Your commandments. And do not bring us to error, or to transgression, or to sin, or to challenge, or to humiliation, and that the Evil Inclination should not rule over us. Distance us from an evil person and from an evil friend. Attach us to the Good Inclination and to good deeds, and force the [Evil] Inclination to be subservient to You. Grant us today and every day grace, kindness and mercy in Your Eyes and in the eyes of all who see us, and bestow beneficent kindness upon us. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who bestows beneficent kindness upon His people, Israel.”

Not only do we mention the Patriarchs, but, on reading through the blessing, it seems as if we are asking for their assistance in things that do not seem to be all that difficult to accomplish. We do not seem to require their intervention in these matters. Certainly, learning Torah, not making mistakes, not sinning, not allowing the Evil Inclination to rule over us, not being exposed to evil people nor to evil friends, and being attached to the Good Inclination, are all vital ingredients to our spiritual growth. There is no doubt that they give us the wherewithal to belong to something that is infinitely greater than our physical existence. But to invoke the Patriarchs for such a list would seem, at first glance, to almost be like turning to the President of the United States to take care of a parking violation — effective but exaggerated.

Why, then, does this last blessing in the series — which represents the very pinnacle of our spiritual aspirations — seem to focus on the more foundational concepts? And why is it uncharacteristically long? It would seem to have been more fitting for this blessing to emphasize thoughts that are loftier, and that reflect the heights that we have reached on our voyage. Yet the beauty of this final blessing is that, now, at the very end of our remarkable journey, we are being taught the most fundamental and essential lesson of all.

Without G-d it is not possible to succeed.

We are supposed to live our lives with the awareness that G-d is accompanying us in all that we do. But frequently, and paradoxically, the greater our accomplishments, the more we attribute our triumphs to our own personal acumen. Somewhere along the way, G-d’s participation becomes less and less palpable. And that is a terrible mistake. Because, as our blessing states, without acknowledging that G-d is an integral dimension in our lives, even our most basic responsibilities become almost insurmountable. Or, to put it another way: A “little” humility wouldn’t hurt.

The Torah describes Moses — the greatest person in world history — as the humblest of people (Numbers 12:3). Initially, this seems incongruous. How can those two descriptions coexist harmoniously? Infinite greatness and immeasurable humbleness do not seem to be dimensions that sit easily with each other. More than that, in order for Moses to reach the ultimate level of connection to G-d that he did he had to be absolutely aware — not just of his own personal greatness but of the eternal impact that he will make in the world. And, yet, the Torah, in defining Moses for posterity, chooses to describe him as a humble person. Because knowing one’s greatness is no contradiction to humility. On the contrary, it was precisely his understanding of this point that caused Moses to be so humble. Ultimate humility is achieved only by a person who excels in good attributes but takes no credit for his greatness. A person who realizes that all of their achievements come from G-d cannot be conceited or self-congratulatory. That is why the Torah emphasizes that Moses’ greatness was the source of his humbleness. Judaism is conveying that to reach the level of true humbleness, you must be completely aware of how great you are and of your achievements. But it also requires continual awareness that whatever you have attained, you did so because G-d gave you the abilities and the strength to be able to do so.

And that is the essence of our final blessing. A detailed list of things that I am begging G-d to assist me with. Yes, they seem simplistic, and, at first glance, they sound as if the right place for them should be nearer the beginning of the Morning Blessings than at the end. But, in reality, they symbolize my absolute recognition that as I reach upwards towards greatness, the more completely dependent on G-d I become. With this blessing I am definitively declaring that without continuously “working on” that awareness, I am helpless. And, to reach such a remarkable level of comprehension is the greatest achievement that I can realize.

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