Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 28 May 2022 / 27 Iyar 5782

The Amidah (Part 12) - Blessing of Prosperity

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 ninth blessing reads: “Bless on our behalf, Hashem, this year and all its kinds of crops for the best, and give [*in the winter we add: ‘dew and rain for’] a blessing on the face of the earth, and satisfy us from Your bounty, and bless our year like the best years. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who blesses the years.”

Following the sequence of the blessings we now ask Hashem for financial security. The previous blessing was asking for physical and spiritual wellbeing, and this blessing is a request for material wellbeing. Why is it the ninth blessing? The Hebrew letter for the number nine in gematria is tet. The Talmud teaches (Bava Kamma 55a) that to see the Hebrew letter tet in a dream is a propitious omen. Our Sages explain that the first place the letter tet is found in the Torah is in Genesis 1:4, where it begins the word “tov — good.” Therefore, tet, and its numerical value nine, represent goodness.

Rabbi Shimon Schwab questions how it is possible to ask Hashem for material success. After all, Rabbi Tachlifa the brother of Ravnai Choza’ah teaches (Beitzah 16a-b) that a person’s livelihood is determined each year during the days from Rosh Hashana until Yom Kippur. During these Ten Days of Repentance a person can change, with prayer and repentance, their total income for the coming year, but once Yom Kippur is over, there seems to be nothing a person can do to increase their annual income. Rabbi Schwab points out that Rabbi Tachlifa’s statement continues by explaining that expenses made in honor of Shabbat and Yom Tov, and any expenditures for teaching our children Torah, are not included in a person’s annual income. Accordingly, every year, anew, a person’s earnings can change both for the good and for the not-so-good depending on how much they invest in Shabbat and Yom Tov and in Torah education. As Rabbi Schwab writes so eloquently about supporting Torah education, “This does not mean only that one pays tuition and supports the yeshivahs where his own children learn, but it also means that he supports the yeshivahs and Torah institutions where other children learn.” Therefore, the more a person “invests” in these spiritual pursuits, the more their income will be enhanced — not just to cover these specific expenses but in every aspect of life. This is as the Talmud continues, “If one spends less, he receives less, and if he spends more, he receives more.” Rashi explains that the amount that a person spends on these mitzvahs will determine how profitable all their business projects will be.

Our blessing requests that Hashem “bless our year like the best years,” but there is no description of the identity of these “best years”. In Devarim (32:15) is a somewhat enigmatic verse that reads, “Yeshurun became fat and kicked”. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains that the term Yeshurun is referring to the Jewish nation at its peak of spiritual connection to Hashem. Being “fat” means that they were blessed with a plentitude of material wealth. In fact, so much wealth that it caused them to succumb to their physical desires and, ultimately, to kick (i.e. to rebel) against Hashem. Consequently, the Siach Yitzchak defines “best years” as the Jewish nation being on the highest spiritual levels and being blessed with great material blessings without this being the cause of our downfall.

The Brisker Rav married into a very wealthy family. So wealthy, that his father-in-law gave him an entire street in Warsaw for his dowry! However, the gift came along with many obligations, such as finding tenants, collecting rent, hiring superintendents to maintain the houses. All these responsibilities were distracting him from the only thing that he truly wanted to do, which was to learn Torah. In order to be able to continue learning undisturbed, the Brisker Rav decided he would hire an agent to sell all the houses for him so that he did not have to worry about their profitability. However, before the agent was able to sell anything, the First World War broke out and the Brisker Rav had to flee Warsaw temporarily. When he finally returned, the agent was no longer alive. The Brisker Rav went to the government archives to see what had happened to his properties. He discovered that the agent was not honest and had registered the street with all its houses in his own name, leaving the Brisker Rav with no assets or income and with no legal recourse for justice. To encourage himself to try to overcome this enormous setback, the Brisker Rav reviewed the chapter about faith and trust entitled Sha’ar HaBitachon (Gate of Trust) in the classic work Chovat HaLevavot (Duties of the Heart) by Rabbeinu Bachya ibn Paquda.He reviewed it many times in order to truly internalize its messages, and he was successful in applying these teachings to his personal condition. Later on in life, the Brisker Rav would say, “I used to think that someone who owns a street in Warsaw is wealthy. Now I know that someone who studies Sha’ar HaBitachon tens of times is wealthy. Because no one in the world is happier than someone who has trust in Hashem!”

In a certain way, the Brisker Rav was paraphrasing the prophet Yirmiyahu (9:22-23), “Thus said Hashem, let not the wise man glorify himself with his wisdom and let not the strong man glorify himself with his strength, [and] let not the rich man glorify himself with his wealth. For only with this may one glorify himself: [by] contemplating and knowing Me…” Rabbi Moshe Alshich (1508-1593) is considered to be one of the most influential scholars and Kabbalists of his generation. Among several other works, he wrote commentaries on the Torah and the Prophets that are considered to be classic masterpieces. In his commentary on the verse above, he writes that wealth, strength and intellect are all gifts granted to a person by Hashem. The only thing that we can really lay claim to as being truly ours is the amount of toil and effort that we invest in our Torah learning.

To be continued.....

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