Counting Our Blessings

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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 eighteenth blessing begins: We gratefully thank You, for it is You Who is our Hashem and the Hashem of our forefathers for all eternity; Rock of our lives, Shield of our salvation, are You from generation to generation. We shall thank you and relate Your praise – for our lives, which are committed to Your power and for our souls that are entrusted to You; for Your miracles that are with us every day…

We thank Hashem for giving us the Avot, Avraham Yitzchak and Yaakov, the founding fathers of the Jewish Nation. It is due to the Avot, through their spiritual investigations and explorations, that we have the ability to connect to Hashem. In his fundamental work, Ruach Chaim on Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin explains that the “spiritual DNA” of every Jew is inherited from our forefather Avraham. It is because Avraham invested his entire being into identifying Hashem and determining the optimal way to serve HHim that we can aspire to the most elevated and sublime connection to Hashem.

Our blessing continues, “We shall thank you and relate Your praise”. For what, exactly, are we thanking Hashem? Although it is possible to understand that we are thanking Him for granting us everything that we have just asked for in the Amidah, that would be somewhat presumptuous. It implies a sense of entitlement. As if we are thanking Hashem in advance because we assume that we will receive it. But that is not accurate at all. We all of us ask Hashem over and over again to grant us our heartfelt desires seemingly with little success. Rather, we are thanking Hashem for being the only Entity in our existence who has the power and the ability to give us what we long for. For that alone we must acknowledge and give thanks to Hashem. If we actually receive what we have asked for that is certainly a reason to rejoice. But that is not what determines our obligation to thank Him.

We then thank Hashem for “miracles that are with us every day”. Not necessarily the obvious life-changing miracles that occur rarely in a person’s life. But, rather, the myriad miracles that happen to each person so frequently that they are often ignored. Occurrences that are looked at as being so “natural” that we overlook their Source. Someone once approached the Chazon Ish and complained bitterly about the dire state of his finances. The man told the Chazon Ish, “I need a miracle, but our Sages teach (Pesachim 50b) “Lav kol yoma mitrachesh nissa – miracles don’t happen every day.” The Chazon Ish corrected him, and said that the phrase that he was citing should be read as follows: “Lav – it isn’t so. Period! Kol yoma mitrachesh nissa – every day miracles occur!”

Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer (Shemoneh Esrei) cites Rabbi Avaraham Dovid Lavut (1814-1890), the Chief Rabbi of Mykolaiv in the Ukraine and the author of several scholarly works, one of which is Sha’ar Hakollel on the siddur, which focuses on differing customs that can be found in prayer. Rabbi Lavut points out that all the various communities agree that there are eighty-six words in our blessing. The number eighty-six corresponds to the numerical value of one of Hashem’s main Names – Elohim. The Nameillustrates the concept that since Hashem is the creator of everything in the universe; everything in the universe is unified through Hashem. The Hebrew word for nature (with the definitive article) is hateva which also equals eighty-six. Thus, the word Elohim as a name of Hashem in the Torah, expresses that all the individual things in the world, that seem separate and autonomous, are all unified through the One Source. Including all the seemingly ordinary and regular things that happen throughout our lives. Our Sages teach (Niddah 31a), “One who experiences a miracle is not aware of it.” Therefore, we must thank Hashem for all the “mundane” miracles that occur on a daily basis – both those that affect each person and for those that affect the entire community. Perhaps that is why the very first word of our blessing – modim – is in the plural, meaning “we give thanks”.
In the immortal words of Rabbi Yaakov Emden (Siddur Beis Yaakov, Sulam Beit Keil):

“When we contemplate our situation in the history of the world, we realize that we are a nation exiled, like scattered sheep. After all the thousands of years of hardship that have befallen us, there is no nation as oppressed as ours. Our enemies are numerous. With hatred and jealousy, they have raised their heads to uproot and destroy us. Even so, they have been unable to fulfill their plans. The most powerful of nations have risen against us and long ago fallen, their memory forgotten like a passing shadow, but we who cling to Hashem survive today. Despite all the torments of our exile, we have not forsaken even one letter of the Written Torah, and the words of our Sages still stand strong. They have been impervious to the hand of time. What could the clever philosophers possibly say to explain this? That it is a coincidence?
By my life, I swear that this is a greater miracle than those that Hashem performed for our forefathers in Egypt, in the desert and in the Land of Israel. The longer the exile lasts, the more the miracle becomes obvious and Hashem’s Might is revealed. Everything that we undergo today was already foreseen by the Prophets, who bemoaned the terrible length of the exile long before it began. From all their words, not one has fallen aside. He who would dispute this, his words are like smoke and the passing clouds.”

To be continued…

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