Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 29 January 2022 / 27 Shvat 5782

The Amidah (Part 2) - Birkat Ha'avot

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
Library Library Library

“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 Amidah opens with the words, “Blessed are You, our G-d, and the G-d of our forefathers; the G-d of Avraham, the G-d of Yitzchak, and the G-d of Yaakov.”

At first glance, the syntax of the opening sentence seems to be both repetitious and somewhat awkward. The Talmud states (Brachot 16b) that there were only ever three people who were given the title “Avot” (forefathers). Therefore, if G-d is the “G-d of our forefathers,” He must be, by definition, the G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. If so, it would seem more appropriate to either begin the Amidah with the statement that G-d is the “G-d of our forefathers,” or to begin it with the declaration that G-d is the G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. And, yet, the Amidah commences with both descriptions. More than that, the Amidah stresses the fact that G-d is “the G-d of Avraham, the G-d of Yitzchak, and the G-d of Yaakov.” The repetition of G-d’s Name appears to be unwarranted. After all, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov all worshiped the same G-d. So, why does the Amidah repeat “the G-d of” for each one of the forefathers?

Rabbi Elya (Eliyahu) Lopian (1876-1970) was one of the most influential spiritual role models and scholars of the twentieth century. Many of his lectures and writings were published after his passing under the title Lev Eliyahu, and his ethical and moral teachings are deemed indispensable to anyone trying to lead a life on a higher spiritual plane. Rabbi Lopian explains that each of the forefathers had a completely different approach to serving G-d. Consequently, it was the duty of each one of them to utilize his own distinctive strengths to reveal to the world how to believe in the theology of monotheism and live accordingly. Avraham’s overwhelming trait was chesed — kind deeds. Yitzchak’s principal attribute was being focused on the spiritual realms. And Yaakov’s primary characteristic was to reveal to the world G-d’s attribute of absolute truth. All three of these qualities are fundamental and vital to our connection to G-d. When combined together, they define the infinite chain that is the Jewish nation. This explains why the phrase “the G-d of” is used in conjunction with each forefather. It reinforces the fact that each one introduced his own distinct approach to serving G-d.

Furthermore, if the Men of the Great Assembly had simply used the collective phrase “the G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov,” one might have the mistaken impression that it was Avraham alone who “discovered” G-d through his investigations of the natural world. And one might have mistakenly thought that after Avraham reached the conclusion that there is One G-d who creates and sustains everything, he then passed on his knowledge to Yitzchak and Yaakov — thus essentially removing their need to originate their own personal methods for serving G-d based on their unique personalities. But that would not be correct. They are not a “joint package.” Rather, each of the forefathers is considered an equal partner in establishing the multi-faceted approach to serving G-d.

Presenting a slightly different approach, Rabbeinu Yonah points out that the forefathers are introduced at the onset of the Amidah to emphasize that we are far-removed from their exalted spiritual levels. Yet, despite our spiritual deficiencies, we too are capable of bonding together with G-d, building the most rewarding and significant relationship that can possibly exist.

Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv Broida notes that the era of the forefathers preceded the Giving of the Torah. Their relationship with G-d was not formed with their acceptance of the Torah, due to the revelation on Mount Sinai. Rather, it was founded on their intense desire to identify the Ultimate Source of the astonishingly complex and beautiful world that they lived in. And they succeeded in doing so without the assistance of the purity and perfection of the Torah. Prior to Sinai, the physical world was the vehicle the forefathers used to reach the clarity needed to recognize G-d’s Majesty in the world. As we begin the Amidah we invoke the forefathers to remind us that we too must strive to find G-d in every detail of the creation.

Rabbi Shimshon of Ostropoli (1599-1648), a brilliant Kabbalist renowned throughout the Jewish world for his piety, offers a fascinating insight on this topic. The number of letters in the Hebrew names of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov is thirteen, which is the numerical value of the word echad — one. It was the forefathers who introduced the concept of monotheism to the world. Therefore, it is fitting that the total number of letters of their combined names should spell out the very essence of G-dEchad.

To be continued…

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