Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 4 September 2021 / 27 Elul 5781

The Blessings of the Shema: (Part 2)

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
Library Library Library

"The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched
– they must be felt with the heart."
(Helen Keller)

The first blessing ends: “May You shine a new light on Zion and may we all speedily merit its light. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who fashions the luminaries.”

Which new light is being spoken about? In the Book of Isaiah (30:26), Isaiah prophesizes that in the Messianic Era the light of the moon will be as strong as that of the present sun, and that the sun will be seven times more powerful than it is now. The verse also says that the sun and the moon will be as significant as they were during the seven days of Creation. The Malbim explains that the symbolism of light being analogous to good and clarity (as we have previously explored) is applicable here as well. The final redemption is described as being the “great light,” and, as the final redemption begins, the light will become increasingly stronger and more powerful until it reaches its greatest intensity with the culmination of the redemption. This explains why the verse mentions the light of the seven days of the Creation. The light that existed then was the purest most spiritual light to have ever been created. Our Sages teach that when Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden by eating from the Tree of Knowledge, Hashem took the sublime light of the Creation and stored it away for the future. It is for that light we are waiting. That is the “new light” we refer to in our blessing — a light that will illuminate our lives and reveal to us the most transcendent and powerful connection to Hashem. And this is the message the prophet Zechariah conveys (14:7) when he says, “It will be a unique day… it will happen toward evening time that there will be light.” The uncertainty and the indecision of the “night” — of our prolonged and arduous exile — will be banished forever by the exquisite light and clarity of the Messianic Era.

But even before that time, our blessing is telling us to recognize and to cherish the life and the warmth that the sun affords us. Rabbi Yisrael Salanter was the founder of the Mussar movement, a methodology of learning Torah that places great emphasis on becoming deeply ethical and moral. Rabbi Salanter was one of the most prominent leaders of Orthodox Jewry in the nineteenth century, and his influence is still keenly felt throughout the Jewish world today. He lived with a great appreciation of Hashem’s Creation. Therefore, when he felt the warmth of the sun on his face, he would momentarily stop what he was doing and contemplate Hashem’s beneficence.

Rabbi Salanter’s approach sounds deceptively simple. “All” we need to do is to acknowledge Hashem, and we too will be warmed and uplifted by His presence. But despite the fact that Hashem’s abundant blessings are continuously flowing down from the Spiritual Realms into our lives, we may seem to experience moments when it is agonizingly difficult to connect to Him. Why is that?

Just as the sun radiates throughout the world, and yet there are areas of darkness where the sunlight does not reach, so too Hashem’s blessings cannot reach places where there are barriers that do not allow them to enter. Barriers that we have erected in our hearts by thoughts and actions that are contrary to what Hashem lovingly demands from us. We may sometimes be left with the feeling that our “personal” sun seems to have set early in our private lives. Within the despair, all appears dark. But, if we would only stop to assess the situation clearly, we would recognize that we can make the sun shine once again by reconnecting to Hashem. And then we will be able to bask in Hashem’s warmth anew.

Therefore, just prior to accepting upon ourselves Hashem’s Kingship by reciting the Shema, we bless the One Who “fashions the luminaries” — to remind us that the only entity that is blocking the Divine warmth from embracing me is me.

To be continued…

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