Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 11 December 2021 / 7 Tevet 5782

The Blessings of the Shema (Part 11)

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 third blessing continues: “Upon the earlier and upon the later generations, this affirmation is good and enduring forever. True and faithful, it is an undisputable decree. It is true that You are our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers; our King and the King of our forefathers; our Redeemer and the Redeemer of our forefathers; our Creator; the Rock of our salvation; our Liberator and our Rescuer. This has been Your Name forever. There is no G-d but You.”

This part of the blessing carries with it the most wonderfully, poignant inference. The absolute bond with G-d that defines the Jewish Nation spans every single generation from the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. It encompasses our generation and will continue into the future in a never-ending chain of devotion. Furthermore, each generation is indelibly joined to the generations that preceded it and to those that will follow it through the eternal words of the Torah that are learned throughout the generations.

Why does our blessing mention the “earlier” generations and the “later” generations? And what is the connection to “this affirmation is good and enduring forever”? Many years ago I heard an intriguing interpretation from one of my Rebbes. His explanation was based on the brilliant work of Rabbi Yitzchak Ber Weiss (1873-1942) that is entitledSiach Yitzchak. Rabbi Yitzchak Ber Weiss was the Chief Rabbi of Verbo, (in what was then) Czechoslovakia. He was murdered by the Nazis in 1942 and, unfortunately, most of his recorded insights and innovative works were lost to posterity. After the Holocaust, his surviving family managed to recover fragments of his original writings, which they published under the title of Siach Yitzchak. He writes that the “earlier generations” is a reference to those who stood at Sinai and received the Torah from G-d. Their experience was unparalleled and incomparable to any other event in Jewish or world history. Never before or after has there been such an obvious revelation of G-d’s Presence in the world. The revelation at Mount Sinai was foundational, leaving no room for doubts or questions regarding the unique nature of G-d’s relationship with His chosen nation. And, as such, our Sages defined them as “Dor Deah” — the “all-knowing generation” (Bamidbar Rabbah 19). Their knowledge of G-d’s Torah was crystal clear and it was passed down to them by Moshe Rabbeinu without the need for great intellectual effort on their behalf. However, this extraordinary gift was reserved only for the generation that was actually present then at Mount Sinai. After the passing of Moshe Rabbeinu, however, the only way to receive and understand Torah is by toiling over it and striving to plumb its profundity and unfathomable depths. In this way, the way the Torah endures — by being passed from one generation to the next in an unending chain of study and scholarship, from parent to child and from teacher to student.

The reason that the word “truth” is repeated both in conjunction with the generations and, immediately afterwards, with the statement that G-d is our G-d, is because it is not possible to have one without the other. In the same way that “our” Torah is the same Torah that the previous generations accepted at Mount Sinai, so too G‑d is unchanging. Just as G-d is the King of our ancestors, so too He is our King and He is our Redeemer.

Rabbi Shimon Schwab relates that he once read that as the Nazis were taking out a group of Jews to murder them, there was a great and revered Rabbi among them who told his fellow Jews that the last thing they should do before they were butchered was to recite this prayer with tremendous intent and concentration. To go to their deaths declaring complete and total affirmation in both G-d and His Torah.

These chilling words should leave each of us in a state of great disquiet. However, Rabbi’s Schwab’s purpose is not to frighten us unnecessarily, but, rather, to teach us the magnitude of our blessing and what it can achieve when said in the correct way. We have been granted the privilege to be able to recite these beautiful words every single day. Not under duress and not under threat of death, but, rather, free to joyously declare G-d’s Monarchy over us. And it is beholden upon us to do so with deliberation and the correct gravitas so that we can truly feel that which we are saying.

To be continued…

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