Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 28 March 2015 / 8 Nisan 5775

The Shemoneh Esrei - The Twelfth Blessing

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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“And for (the heretics and) the slanderers let there be no hope…”

This blessing was instituted by the Sage Shmuel Hakatan at the time of Rabban Gamliel after the destruction of the Second Temple (Berachot 28a). Including it, there are a total of nineteen blessings, though the official name of this collection of blessings remains “Shemoneh Esrei”, meaning “eighteen”. In this most difficult period after the Temple’s destruction Rabban Gamliel was compelled to add this blessing due to the grave danger posed by the heretics and slanderers from among the Jewish People. They were reporting their fellow Jews to the Roman authorities in order to find favor in their eyes, thus risking the lives of many.

Rabbi Yonatan Eibeischitz explains that one should also have in mind the spiritual concept of the destruction of Amalek, thereby fulfilling a positive command to remember what Amalek did as the Jews passed through the desert. They are considered to be the enemies of G-d. And accordingly, it is taught that G-d’s Holy Name and Divine throne are incomplete as long Amalek remains in existence.

An Eternal Truth

This blessing also addresses those among us who do not believe properly in the Divinity of the Torah, namely, that it is an expression of G-d’s wisdom, given to us in the presence of over three million people directly by G-d. It also includes those that do not believe in the authority given by G-d to the Rabbis to enact rabbinic decrees and interpret the Torah in accordance with the principles by which it is expounded.

There are those among us who rise up and falsely claim authority as so-called “rabbis”, while in the same breath they attempt to uproot all rabbinical authority in order to virtually start a new religion. In the days of old they were called Sadducees and Boethusians, members of Jewish sects that denied the validity of the Oral Law, emphasizing acceptance of only the Written Law.

Today they may call themselves “enlightened Jews” and explain that the Torah is not actually the word of God, but rather the expression of the wise men of old. Likewise, they claim, we are to listen to today’s wise men, namely themselves.

We pray that G-d will protect us from the enemies within, that their evil schemes by thwarted, and that G-d will shield us from our external enemies. Our greatest weapon against them, whether they wear a smile or military gear, is our heartfelt prayers to the Almighty. It is taught in the Midrash, in connection with the verse, “The voice is the voice of Yaakov…,” that when we, Yaakov, raise our voices to Heaven, then the sword of Esav becomes powerless.

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