Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 26 September 2020 / 8 Tishri 5781

The Morning Blessings: Blessing Fourteen: The Price of Greatness is Responsibility (Winston Churchill)

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
Library Library Library

“Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who gives strength to the weary.”

The source for the fourteenth blessing is found in the words of the Prophet Isaiah. Isaiah proclaims in 40:29, “He gives strength to the weary and grants abundant might to the powerless.” Our blessing is a Divine promise that despite our exhaustion from this seemingly never-ending exile, the Jewish Nation will always persevere. G-d will grant us the strength to tolerate the intolerable, and to overcome the suffering and the persecution that is an inescapable feature of the Jewish landscape.

This is why this blessing appears here, just before the end of the Morning Blessings. In our ascent up the “Stairway to Heaven,” we have reached the moment when we now radiate a sense of holiness. We have come so far, we have climbed so high, in order to be connected to G-d in the most effective way possible. Our relationship with G-d is no longer defined by theoretical concepts, but it is in fact real and tangible. Not just to ourselves but to others as well. And that begs the question: Who is the real beneficiary of this extraordinary journey that the Morning Blessings have taken us on?

There is no doubt that the grammatical structure of the blessing refers to G-d giving us the strength to continue until the dawn of the Messianic Era. But there is something deeper here as well, something truly wondrous. Our Sages teach that our task in this world is to try to emulate G-d to the best of our abilities. We are not G-d, and there is no way that we, as human beings, can emulate the infinity that is G-d. But we can strive to replicate the way that G-d gives to others. This means to look out for the next person; to worry about your neighbor; to truly care about all those around you. It means to search out the weary and to give them from your own strength.

Judaism teaches us that true greatness is not only measured in how brilliant a person is but also by how compassionate they are. How caring and how thoughtful they are. There is a famous maxim that says, “Important people take care of the little things. Little people may ignore even the important things.”

As a rule, in the secular world, the more successful a person becomes, the more inaccessible they become. As they move up the ladder of success, the number of secretaries and personal assistants they have grows exponentially because they are status symbols. Symbols of triumphs and accomplishments.

But in the Jewish world this is not the case. Paradoxically, the greater someone becomes — renowned for their piety and their erudition and their leadership qualities — the more accessible they need to be. They are now beholden to provide for all those who need their help. It is an extraordinary sight that repeats itself night after night. We find long lines of people, from all different backgrounds, stretching out from the doorways of the homes of our spiritual leaders. All are patiently waiting for their turn to be able to speak with the venerated Rabbi and gain his insight into what is troubling them. It often requires great patience. Not because there is a gamut of assistants to get through before you are granted an audience, but simply because there are so many other people waiting in line in front of you.

This is true greatness — to unstintingly give to others without limits. But it requires a huge reservoir of strength. Whether it is for personal advice, a ruling in Jewish Law or a debate in Talmudic minutiae, they have to be available (often at any hour) to help all who call out for their assistance. And when they do so, they are truly giving strength to the weary.

In his generation, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986) was the acknowledged authority in Jewish Law. He was a spiritual titan, revered for his encyclopedic knowledge, his piety and — perhaps most of all — for his gentleness, sincerity and empathy for anyone in need. Slight in build, he carried the spiritual needs of the Jewish world on his shoulders. He assuredly ruled on every facet of Jewish Law, while never failing to show incredible personal warmth and concern for each and every individual who approached him. He was blessed with spiritual strength truly beyond our comprehension, but he cloaked it all in an aura of simplicity and humbleness. And G-d blessed him and re-blessed him with extraordinary faculties to be able to listen to the Jewish People’s sorrows, pain and anguish, and to offer everyone advice, succor and assistance. The greater he became, the more strength he was granted from Above. And the more strength he was given from Above, the greater he became. The strength to lead, the strength to advise, the strength to rule on all aspects of Jewish Law, is a blessing given to the individual by G-d. And when that person has fulfilled their task here in this world, that phenomenal strength is removed from them. Tellingly, the very last words that Rabbi Feinstein said before his passing were in Yiddish, “Ich hob mehr nisht ken koach — I have no more strength.”

As we arrive at the penultimate blessing in the Morning Blessings, we, too, have reached the moment where we are now worthy to “lead.” Not, perhaps, as Rabbi Feinstein did, but each of us in our own “small” way. We become the recipients of Divine strength by helping and assisting those who are “weaker” than we are. And the more we help others, the greater the blessing of our strength will be.

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