Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 14 January 2023 / 21 Tevet 5783

The Amidah (Part 33) The Final Paragraph: Personally Speaking

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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 Avrahom Chaim Feuer)

“May Hashem, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully. To those who curse me, let my soul be silent, and let my soul be like dust to everyone. Open my heart to Your Torah, then my soul will pursue Your commandments. As for all those who design evil against me, speedily nullify their counsel and disrupt their design. Act for Your Name’s sake, act for Your right hand’s sake, act for Your sanctity’s sake, act for Your Torah’s sake. That Your beloved may be given rest, let Your right hand save and respond to me. May the expressions of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart find favor before You, Hashem, my Rock and my Redeemer. He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace upon us and upon all Israel. And let us say: Amen.”

The final paragraph of the Amidah continues, “As for those who want to do evil to me, speedily nullify their counsel and disrupt their design.” Rabbi Shimon Schwab explains that after having worked on ourselves to reach a higher level of humility, and after having strived to reach a point where we are able to downplay our own egos and remain humble, we might find ourselves vulnerable to those who wish to do us harm. All of the requests we have asked for up until now may have left us unsuspecting that others may be trying to harm us. Therefore, we ask Hashem to protect us from both the evil designs that we are aware of, and also of those that we are not. It is as if we are internalizing the idea that if we focus on pursuing the mitzvahs, we will not be pursued by those who want to harm us.

In Tehillim (136:4) King David writes, “To Him Who alone performs great wonders, for His kindness endures forever.” Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer (1698-1760) from the Ukraine (The Baal Shem Tov, which literally means: The one with a good name) introduced the concept of Chassidut, a synthesizing of the spiritual and the physical realms in a way that made it accessible to every Jew through warmth and love. He taught that everything that Hashem does is with “great wonders.” But the most wondrous of all wonders are those of which Hashem alone is aware of! Rabbi Pinchas Shapiro (1726-1791) from Koretz, Ukraine, was one of the most preeminent disciples of the Baal Shem Tov. His piety was so exceptional that the Baal Shem Tov reportedly said of him that such an exalted soul descends into the physical world only once every five hundred years. Rabbi Pinchas said that we need faith to know that Hashem is concealed within the universe. But once we know that He is hidden here, He is no longer disguised!

In the penetratingly mystical and beautiful prayer called “Anah Bekoach,” generally attributed to Rabbi Nechunya ben haKanah who lived in Mishnaic times, we say, “And hear our scream, You [Hashem] Who knows hidden recesses.” Rabbi Nosson Zvi Finkel (1849-1927), commonly known as the Alter [literally, ‘elder’ but actually a title given to someone who is a uniquely revered spiritual mentor] of Slabodka, which is where his Yeshivah was located, was one of the most influential influencers and educators of his generation. He was a disciple of Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv Broide (the Alter of Kelm) who, in turn, was one of the closest disciples of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, the founder of the “mussar movement.” Rabbi Nosson Zvi Finkel asks why Hashem needs to know the hidden recesses to hear our prayers? He answers that a Jew’s cry is not always audible. Sometimes, deep inside his heart, there is a piercing scream that is so profound that he cannot give it audible expression. Only Hashem, Who knows the hidden recesses of a person’s heart, can hear – and understand – such a cry.

To be continued…

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