Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 16 February 2022 / 18 Adar Alef 5782

The Amidah (Part 5) - 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 second blessing reads, “You are eternally mighty, my G-d, You are the Resuscitator of the dead; abundantly able to save. He sustains the living with kindness, resuscitates with abundant mercy, supports the fallen, heals the sick, releases the confined, and maintains His faith to those asleep in the dust. Who is like You, Master of mighty deeds, and who is comparable to You, King, Who causes death and restores life and makes salvation sprout. And You are faithful to resurrect the dead. Blessed are You, G‑d, Who resurrects the dead.”

The second blessing is known as the blessing of “gevurot — strength” as it is a partial description of G-d’s power, with an emphasis on the Resurrection of the Dead. As mentioned before, this blessing corresponds to Yitzchak, who, according to the Midrashic texts of Pirkei d’Rebbi Eliezer and Midrash HaGadol, experienced a form of resurrection at the Akeidah, when his soul was returned to him after it had left his body. As Jews, we are beholden to live lives that utilize the disparate concepts of spirituality and physicality, and to blend them together to create a spiritual reality within the mundane. Perhaps this is why that sense of duality is reflected through the second blessing and through the second forefather, Yitzchak.

Rabbi Yitzchak Zeev Soloveitchik (1886-1959), more commonly known as the Brisker Rav, was a scion of the famous Soloveitchik dynasty. Together with his righteousness, he was renowned for his intense focus on understanding every detail of the Torah, and for his meticulousness in mitzvah observance. He succeeded his father as the Rabbi of Brisk in Belarus and served as the Rosh Yeshiva of its illustrious Yeshiva until destruction of European Jewry during the Holocaust. On his arrival in Israel, he set about reestablishing the Yeshiva in Yerushalayim, which became famous for its intensity and exacting scholarship. The Brisker Rav’s innovative Torah thoughts are still pored over and debated by scholars today. The Brisker Rav asks what the word “eternally” adds to our understanding of our blessing. He explains that there have been many occasions in Jewish history when it appears to us as if G-d’s might has waned. A person may come to the erroneous conclusion that the countless persecutions that have continuously plagued the Jewish Nation are an indication that G-d can no longer protect and watch over us. However, that is not true. The word “eternally” highlights that G-d’s might is timeless and that He is with us at all times, controlling His creation, even when it may appear to us to the contrary.

The Chofetz Chaim questions why the word “You” is repeated. If it were removed, the sentence would read more smoothly. The Chofetz Chaim cites the Talmud (Ta’anit 2a), which teaches that there are three “keys” that G-d does not entrust to His angels, due to their intrinsic importance. They are: the key of rain (livelihood), the key of childbirth, and the key for the resurrection of the dead. Angels, not being a part of the Divine system that includes the attribute of mercy, can evaluate a person’s merits only according to the strict attribute of judgment, which, by definition, would mean that most people would not deserve a livelihood, children or to be resurrected at the End of Days. Therefore, G-d keeps these essential aspects to Himself to use at His discretion. Our blessing emphasizes this fact by referencing two out of these three. Hence, “Resuscitator of the dead are You” is a reference to the resurrection, and “abundantly able to save” is referring to our livelihood.

The word this blessing uses for “sustains” is mechalkel. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains the root of the word mechalkel as closely related to the word kalo, which means restrain. Mechalkel, therefore, means that G-d sustains us according to our needs — and not necessarily according to our desires. Everything G-d grants us in this world is exactly measured, including G-d’s kindness. The Iyun Tefillah writes that, very often, powerful people use their might to dominate others, to rule over them. Not so, G-d. G-d uses His might to sustain life and to nurture mankind.

Rabbi Shimon Schwab explains that supporting the fallen, healing the sick and releasing the confined all appear here because each one is a form of resurrection. A person who has fallen upon hard times and then finds a way out of their predicament has, in a certain sense, been reborn. So, too has someone who was cured from their sickness. And a person who was released from captivity has also been revived and has experienced a form of resurrection.

In a somewhat esoteric approach, the Iyun Tefillah notes that the Resurrection of the Dead is mentioned four times in our blessing and alluded to once. The Midrash (Devarim Rabbah) teaches that the spiritual dimension of each Jew is formed from five different elements: nefesh, ruach, neshamah, chayah and yechidah. Each time that the resurrection is mentioned, it is referring to one of these five elements that compose our souls. Some of these elements are so acutely spiritual that only the most spiritually elevated people are capable of relating to them. However, when the resurrection takes place, we will all be able to discern and comprehend every dimension of our souls and how they fuse together harmoniously to serve G-d.

To be continued…

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