Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 24 May 2014 / 24 Iyyar 5774

The Shemoneh Esrei The First Blessing (2)

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

“Our G-d, and the G-d of our Fathers”

One may ask why we mention today’s generation of Jews before mentioning the generations of our ancestors. After all, they were first in establishing a connection with G-d; we merely received our faith and way of life from them. Now, since it is through transmission from generation to generation that Judaism has survived, it would seem that the blessing should have mentioned our Fathers first.

Faith and Knowledge

The Dover Shalom explains (in the Siddur “Otzar Hatefillot”):

The reverse order is meant to teach the necessity for the individual to establish a personal and direct connection with G-d through his own Torah study and observance, as it is written: “Know the G-d of your Fathers, and serve Him” (Psalms). The implication is that one must not rely on mesorah (tradition) alone. Rather, one must establish his own connection to G-d by developing a clear knowledge for himself of who G-d is.

One must be cautioned, however. Knowledge alone is not enough. It must be prefaced with the proper faith — that which was passed down to us throughout the generations by our holy Fathers. We therefore mention both aspects of our belief: that which we initiate, as well as that which we received from our Fathers.

In connection to the above the Baal Shem Tov taught that each person must recognize G-dliness from his own efforts, and also through the efforts of his ancestors. These are reflected in faith and knowledge. Faith is passed down from generation to generation, while knowledge is attained by the work and effort of the individual.

Keeping the Torah Alive

There is another benefit one experiences by establishing a strong intellectual connection of his own to G-d through Torah and mitzvot. He insures that his Divine service will be full of depth and vitality. Those who rely on tradition alone without making any attempt to understand the real meaning behind Jewish practice risk becoming like so many to whom Judaism appears as a religion of trivial rituals. Once detached from the heart and soul of true Torah observance, Jewish life will seem like a body without a soul.

Thus we see the unfortunate failure in passing on tradition based only on blind faith to the next generation. The youth of today will not settle for a religion empty of substance and meaning. They will instead opt for other alternatives. In contrast, when children see through the living example of their parents that a life of Torah is all-encompassing and full of meaning, as it is explained by the Sages of each generation, they will embrace the religion with all their heart and proclaim: “The G-d of my Fathers is my G-d.”

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