Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 18 June 2022 / 19 Sivan 5782

The Amidah (Part 14) Blessing of Restoration of Justice

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 eleventh blessing reads: “Restore our judges as in earlier times, and our counselors as at first. Remove from us grief and sighing, and reign over us – You, Hashem, alone – with kindness and compassion, and treat us charitably in judgment. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who loves righteousness and judgment.”

Our blessing opens with a request for the restoration of both judges and counselors. The Vilna Gaon (Mishlei 16:4) explains that the essence of the Written Torah is the Chamishei Chumshei Torah, the Five Books of Moses, and that the essence of the Oral Torah is the six Orders of the Mishna. Together there are eleven sections that anyone aspiring to be a judge needs to master before they can begin to adjudicate cases. For this reason our blessing is the eleventh blessing in the Amidah.

It is clear from the fact that we ask for judges and counselors that each one fulfills a different function and is vital to the Jewish People. According to Rabbi Shimon Schwab, the judges will take care of civil litigation, such as financial issues or damages to property. However, there is also a need for spiritual mentors to instruct us in the subtler dimensions of interpersonal relationships and how to live in harmony with all those around us. Therefore, we are asking for both judges and counselors who will raise us up to the spiritually exalted levels that once existed when there were prophets to lead us.

Our blessing’s underlying message is that the source of our troubles is that we lack the clarity of the leadership that once was. But, after the “great shofar” has been heard throughout the world, and we are again guided by leaders who are imbued with Divine Inspiration, we will no longer be burdened by persecution and subjugation. We will no longer live in a state of sorrow. It will be truly a sublime existence. Our righteous judges and pious counselors will steer and assist us in our service of Hashem.

However, it is Hashem alone who will reign over us. We ask Him to judge us, “charitably in judgment.” This wording seems to be somewhat of a misnomer. “V’tzadkeinu — charitably” — means “without strictness,” whereas “mishpat —– judgment” means “with strict justice.” A sign of a true ruler is being able to mete out strict justice that is tempered with compassion. In the Book of Shmuel (2 8:15), King David is described as being this type of a leader, “And David executed judgment and righteousness for all his people.” He ruled on all matters only according to the Torah’s dictates, never wavering from the truth. His judgment was one of strict justice, and he never allowed himself to be influenced by the personal situation of either litigant standing in front of him. The Talmud relates (Sanhedrin 6b) that if a rich man and a poor man came before him to have their case tried, he would rule only according to the truth. If that meant ruling against the poor man and causing him terrible financial hardship, so be it. In King David’s eyes there was no alternative to the truth. However, once the judgment had been passed and King David saw that it was impossible for the poor person to could pay the debt, King David would pay the debt from his own pocket! In the words of the Talmud, “This is the meaning of ‘judgment and righteousness.’ King David rendered judgment to this one and righteousness to the other.”

In truth, this is not a mitzvah reserved only for those holding communal or official positions. We are all commanded to emulate Hashem in blending together the attributes of judgment and righteousness. The Rabbis teach that this is essence of the mitzvah to judge others favorably. In Hebrew, the mitzvah of judging favorably is called “kaf zechut.” The word “kaf” literally means “spoon.” The Pnei Menachem used to say that judging someone favorably is similar to a person using a spoon to stir the contents of a pot carefully to find a choice morsel to fish out and eat. In the same way, he said, we should dig and search to find ways to judge others positively.

Certainly it is not an easy mitzvah to perform, especially when it is a mitzvah that needs doing frequently. In fact, it is so difficult that the Kotzker Rebbe used to say that Hashem created people with the ability to think crookedly just so they should use that ability in order to give others the benefit of the doubt!

To be continued.....

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