Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 2 July 2022 / 3 Tamuz 5782

The Amidah (Part 16) - Blessing Against Heretics (Part 2)

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
Library Library Library

“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 twelfth blessing reads: “And for slanderers let there be no hope; and may all enemies be cut down speedily. May You speedily uproot, smash, cast down and humble the wanton sinners, speedily in our days. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who breaks enemies and humbles wanton sinners.”

The Maharal (Be’er HaGolah) explains the meaning of the words “And for the slanderers let there be no hope.” We are asking that their evil and wicked plans be thwarted, and that they feel so frustrated and disheartened that they repent for their wickedness. And who exactly does this refer to? The blessing uses the word zeidim, which is a somewhat enigmatic description. The term zeidim is also found in a special prayer recited on Chanukah. We say a prayer that begins: “Al hanisim – For the miracles, and for the salvation, and for the mighty deeds, and for the victories, and for the battles which You [Hashem] performed for our forefathers in those days, at this time,”; In this prayer, we also say, “You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the zeidim into the hands of those who learn Your Torah.” The two parts of each pair are the opposites of each other, as the negative becomes more and more pronounced until it climaxes with the zeidim.

Who are these zeidim who are deemed to be worse than the “impure” and the “wicked” Greeks who defiled our hallowed Temple and trampled on everything holy to us? The Rabbis teach that there are no real expectations that a conquering army will take into account the religious sensitivities of the nation they have vanquished. It was no surprise that the Greeks followed their own cultural mores and desecrated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the process of conquest. However, it was absolutely reprehensible was that Jews aided and abetted the Greeks in their unholy mission in the Holy Land. Zeidim are Jews who have fallen to the lowest levels of infamy. In their reckless pursuit for cultural acceptance, they were prepared to betray their beliefs and turn their backs on everything that they had once held dear.

A Jew has truly hit rock-bottom when there is absolutely no vestige left of their Jewish identity and there is no sensitivity to their fellow Jews. The Midrash teaches (Ber. Rabbah 65) that even Jewish traitors who have slipped to the lowest levels still retain a tenuous connection to their heritage. Sometimes they have to be forcibly reminded of their connection to the Jewish nation, but the relationship can be rekindled instantaneously. The Midrash tells the story of an individual called Yosef Meshita,which happenedat the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. As the conquering Roman army approached the Holy Temple, they could not find the way into the Temple compound. And so they enlisted the help of Yosef Meshita. He had given his allegiance to the Romans in hope that they would generously reward him. And his voracious desires were met. The Romans told him that he could take anything that he wanted from the Temple as payment for his treacherous services. So, Yosef Meshitaentered into the Holy Temple and brought out the Menorah made out of solid gold. However, the Romans understood something that Yosef Meshita did not. They told him that it was inappropriate for him to take for himself something that was so incredibly valuable. They told him that he should go back into the Temple and take something less impressive instead. Herefused. He told them that it was enough that he had angered Hashem and defiled His Temple once already, and that there was no way he could possibly do it again. The Romans offered him enormous financial incentives, but he would not change his mind. Finally, the Romans, tiring of him, executed him in the most horrendous fashion. And, as he was being tortured to death, the only thing that distressed the perfidious Yosef Meshita was the fact that he had angered his Creator!

Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Kahaneman, the Ponevezher Rav, questioned what it was that caused Yosef Meshita to have had such a change of heart. What caused him to change from lacking even the most rudimentary sensitivity to Jewish values, to becoming someone prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice and give up his life rather than anger his Creator one more time? The Ponevezher Rav gave a timeless response: “When a Jew enters into a place of holiness, it is inconceivable that he can come out unchanged. Even someone as spiritually corrupt as Yosef Meshita, who entered the Holy Temple for the vilest possible intentions, left as a different, new, person.”

However, there is one group of people who have sunk to such indescribable depths that they have disconnected themselves entirely from the Jewish People — the zeidim. As disturbing as it is to have to write these words, zeidim have no spiritual redeeming qualities whatsoever, which is why our blessing is composed using such stark language.

According to the Ashkenazic tradition, our blessing consists of twenty-seven words. However, that was not always the case. Originally there were twenty-nine words, but changes were imposed upon the Jewish communities in Europe by rabidly anti-Semitic censors at various periods in history, and all “detrimental” references to heretics and apostates were forcibly reworded. The Tur writes (Orach Chaim 118) that the original text of twenty-nine words alluded to the zeidim who denied the veracity of the Torah. The Holy Torah comprises two parts — the Written Torah and the Oral Torah. These are written using the equally holy letters of the Hebrew alphabet, of which there are twenty-two regular letters and five final letters. Together, the Written Torah and the Oral Torah and the combined letters of the alphabet total twenty-nine, which was the original number of words used for the blessing.

To be continued.....

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