Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 13 December 2014 / 21 Kislev 5775

The Shemoneh Esrei - The Seventh Blessing - Part 2

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

“See our affliction… and redeem us.”

On the surface it is difficult to understand why we ask G-d to “see our affliction”. Is it possible for the One who gives sight not to see? The fact that G-d is aware of all things is one of the fundamental principles of Jewish faith. In fact, this point was made clear to Moshe when G-d appeared to him on Mount Sinai and said, “I have indeed seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt.”

One may ask: “If G-d sees our affliction why does He allow our suffering to continue?” In order to understand the answer to this question one must first understand the true purpose and essence of punishment.

What motivates Divine punishment?

The first thing one must realize is that Divine punishment is never done as a result of anger or to be vindictive. Rather, it is the result of perfect calculation.

Since the purpose of the Creation is to bestow good, it would follow that everything that G-d does, including punishment, is also for the good. Accordingly, the Talmud states that one must bless on the bad just as he blesses on the good, because all that the Merciful One does is for the good.

Why do our Sages refer to G-d as the “Merciful One” when speaking about seemingly negative things? The reason is that even negative things that befall a person are rooted in the attribute of love. For just as a father who loves his child will sometimes punish him in order to ensure his proper growth, so too, the reason that G-d decrees punishment upon us is in order to help us learn and become better. G-d’s love is not turned off when He decrees punishment upon a person; rather, the punishment is the result of the deep love G-d has for him.

In a deeper sense, punishment can be compared to medicine. When one sins, the soul becomes blemished, like being sick. Through Divine punishment the soul is cleansed of the impurity caused by sin, thus enabling it to “heal” and return to its former state of glory.

Repentance and forgiveness have the power to speed up the healing process of the soul, causing a person’s Divinely ordained punishment to become nullified. Accordingly, we can now understand why we ask G-d to “see our affliction”. Since in our current state we may no longer need to suffer, we ask G-d to re-evaluate our circumstances in the hope that He will see us worthy of redemption.

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