The Amidah (Part 25) The Final Blessing: Peace (part 1)
“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 Avrahom Chaim Feuer)
The nineteenth blessing reads: “Establish peace, goodness, blessing, graciousness, kindness and compassion upon us and upon all of Your people Israel. Bless us, our Father, all of us as one, with the light of Your Countenance You gave us, our Hashem, the Torah of life and a love of kindness, righteousness, blessing, compassion, life and peace. And may it be good in Your eyes to bless Your people Israel in every season and in every hour with Your peace. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who blesses His people Israel with peace.”
We conclude the blessings of the Amidah with, perhaps, the most beautiful and uplifting entreaty of all: Hashem bestowing peace upon us. What could be more apt for concluding our recitation of the Amidah than with the request to merit to living in a state of spiritual and physical tranquility so we can serve Hashem without distractions.
If we look closely, there seems to be an anomaly. The previous blessing is the Blessing of Thanksgiving. If we have already thanked Hashem, why are we now asking Him for something else? More than that, the blessings in the Amidah are arranged in a manner which “gains momentum” as we reach upwards in our pursuit of our spiritual aspirations. The most exalted moment of our connection is when we ask Hashem for peace. So, how can we recite the Blessing of Thanksgiving as if we have reached the end of the Amidah, and then afterwards – almost as an afterthought – turn to Hashem with not just another request, but with the most significant request of all?
The Amidah is the most sublime moment in our daily prayers. As we recite the Amidah, the Divine Presence appears in front of us. The Heavenly Gates open so that our most heartfelt desires can be heard. When recited with intent and concentration, the Amidah becomes the vehicle through which the Divine goodness flows down into our physical world and into our lives. The Amidah becomes our conduit to unlimited blessings and infinite goodness. And when we give thanks for everything that He has given us, it is as if we are telling Hashem that it is enough. The words “thank you” carry with them a certain sense of finality. We are saying that whatever was done for us is sufficient.
However, one could reason that as we bask in the Divine abundance that the Amidah grants us access to, the last thing that we want to do is to give Hashem the impression that He has given us enough and that He shouldn’t continue to shower us with His beneficence. But, on the other hand, we have an absolute obligation to give thanks to the only One who can grant us our desires. So, the Men of the Great Assembly, in their great wisdom, composed the Blessing for Peace, and instead of placing it before the Blessing of Thanksgiving, they deliberately put it immediately afterwards. Placing it before the Blessing of Thanksgiving would mean that we do not want or need more Divine blessings. And nothing could be further from the truth!
Rabbi Klonimus Kalman Epstein (1753-1825) was one of the most influential leaders of the Chassidic movement in Poland. He was one of the closest disciples of the revered Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk, who sent Rabbi Klonimus Kalman to become the spiritual leader of the Chassidic community in Krakow. Towards the end of his life, Rabbi Klonimus Kalman asked that his insights into the revealed and the hidden Torah be published. His son eventually succeeded in printing his father’s works under the title Meor v’Shemesh, which became a classic work studied by both Chassidim and non-Chassidim. There he writes the following idea. Our Matriarch Leah named her fourth son Yehuda because “This time let me gratefully praise Hashem” (Ber. 29:35). The verse continues, “Therefore she called his name Yehuda; and she stopped giving birth.” Rabbi Klonimus Kalman writes that he heard from Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak HaLevi, the Chief Rabbi of Lublin, that Leah “stopped giving birth” because by thanking Hashem and not asking for more it was as if she was declaring that she was satisfied with what she had and she did not need more.
Perhaps this can explain the seemingly odd meaning behind the name that Rachel gives her first son. Rachel has watched her sister Leah give birth to six boys. Bilhah and Zilpah, Leah and Rachel’s maidservants, have each given birth to another two boys. And, at long last, after an agonizing wait, it is Rachel’s turn. After having despaired that she would ever merit having a child of her own, she finally gives birth to a son. Rachel calls him Yosef as a plea that, “May Hashem add on for me another son” (Ibid. 30:24). It always struck me as strange that Rachel didn’t follow Leah’s lead and give her son a name that reflected her immeasurable thankfulness to Hashem for having granted her most heartfelt desire. Instead, Rachel chose to give a name that highlighted, not her gratitude to Hashem, but, rather, her passionate desire for another child. However, according to the explanation of the Meor v’Shemesh, perhaps it is possible to understand why Rachel did as she did. Using a name that signified her gratitude to Hashem might have given the mistaken impression that she had been granted enough blessing and did not want more. Unquestionably, Rachel’s feelings of indebtedness to Hashem were immeasurable, but she did not want to do anything that might inadvertently be the cause of her not being able to have another child. Therefore, she called him Yosef, meaning to say: “May Hashem add on for me another son.”
Consequently, we find ourselves with the same dilemma. We must thank Hashem for everything He has given us. And we must thank Him for everything He is going to give us. Andwe must thank Hashem for being the only Entity capable of giving us what we desire. This is exactly what the Blessing of Thanksgiving does. And then, to ensure that we do not end the Amidah with the misconception that what we have already received is enough, we ask for more. Without pausing for a moment, we ask Hashem to bless us with the most precious entity of all – peace.
To be continued…