Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 2 April 2022 / 1 Nissan 5782

The Amidah (Part 10) - Blessing of Redemption

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
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“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 sixth blessing reads: “Forgive us, our Father, for we have erred; pardon us, our King, for we have willfully sinned; for You pardon and forgive. Blessed are you, Hashem, the gracious One Who pardons abundantly.”

Our Sages (Megillah 17b), cite a verse from Yeshayahu (55:7) to teach that only after we have accepted upon ourselves not to repeat the mistakes of the past are we ready for the next step in the process of repentance —confession.

Confession is possibly the most difficult part of the process because it entails a person accepting responsibility for the wrong that they have done without trying to deflect the blame onto others. Rabbi Yisrael Salanter would relate that a common reaction of a person who is confronted with their wrongdoings and being rebuked is to apologize and say, “You’re right.” Rabbi Salanter points out that a more fitting reply would be, “I’m wrong,” and yet, typically, that is not the response. In clarifying, Rabbi Salanter gives us an incredible insight into the human psyche. No one really wants to feel inadequate or to be seen as inadequate. We prefer to regard ourselves as being morally upstanding people. Even though “you’re right” means that the person accepts the appropriateness of the rebuke, nevertheless, by avoiding the words “I’m wrong,” in their minds they are able to slightly deflect the discomfort and embarrassment of having been caught in the wrong. Our blessing here is teaching us, first and foremost, that when building our relationship with Hashem, we must be completely honest with Him, and, perhaps more challenging, honest with ourselves. This is why our blessing begins with a statement of fact: “Forgive us our Father, for we have erred.” It is only by acknowledging our sins that we are able to begin the process of rectifying them.

As in the previous blessing, we switch from calling Hashem “our Father” to referring to Him as “our King.” Hashem’s reaction to willful sins is always much stricter than to other transgressions. Due to the severity of deliberate wrongdoings, we need to approach Hashem as our Ruler, not as our Father. Rabbi Yonatan Eibeshitz (1690-1764) was recognized as a brilliant prodigy already from an early age. At the age of twenty-one he was the head of the Yeshiva in Prague and one of the most captivating public speakers in the entire region. He was appointed as the head rabbinical judge in Prague, and later served as the Chief Rabbi of the prestigious “Three Communities” — Altona, Hamburg and Wandsbeck. In his work entitled Ya’arot Devash, a compilation of his ethical lectures and sermons, Rabbi Eibeshitz explains that deliberate sins start off as being inadvertent sins. At the beginning, a person is shocked by their own actions, but, as they become more frequent, the person is no longer so bothered by them, and, finally, they become deliberate and planned with forethought, and, even worse, with anticipation. Expecting fatherly love and compassion after behaving in such a shameful way is inappropriate. Rather, we require a different form of mercy to help erase the past. We must appeal to Hashem as our King in the hope that He will grant us royal forgiveness.

The obvious beauty of our blessing can be found in its concluding words: “Blessed are You, Hashem, the gracious One Who pardons abundantly.” Hashem does not simply forgive. Rather, He forgives abundantly. Not only does Hashem forgive abundantly, but He wants to forgive abundantly. And it is up to us to equally want to be forgiven. The rewards for doing so are far-reaching and uplifting. Rabbah bar Chinana said in the name of Rav that anyone who sins and is embarrassed by their actions is forgiven for all of their sins (not just for the one sin that caused the embarrassment) (Brachot 12b). Rabbi Yom Tov ben Avraham Asevilli (1260-1320), known by his acronym “Ritva,” was the universally revered head of the famed Yeshiva in Seville and author of one of the classic commentaries on the Talmud. He explains that the potency of embarrassment is so great that it is considered as the equivalent of repentance. Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter (1865-1948) was the third Rebbe of Gur. He guided his Chassidim through the turbulent and deadly period of the Holocaust. In 1940 he managed to escape Poland to what was then Palestine, where he began the arduous process of rebuilding the majestic dynasty that was Gur. The Rebbe would cite the verse in Yeshayahu (1:18), “If your sins are like scarlet, they will become white as snow.” He explained that embarrassment causes a person’s natural reddish complexion to turn white, which signifies that his sins are atoned for, because a person’s sins are erased due to their humiliation. So potent is embarrassment that the Chafetz Chaim would say that if a person knew beforehand that they would be embarrassed later that day, they would go to mikveh that morning to prepare for that special moment when they would be humiliated!

To be continued…

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