Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 23 May 2015 / 5 Sivan 5775

Shemoneh Esrei: The Thirteenth Blessing

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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“For the righteous, and for the devout, for the elders of Your people the House of Israel, and for the remnant of their scribes.”

This blessing for the righteous comes immediately after we pray for the downfall of the wicked in accordance with the verse, “All the horns (the pride) of the wicked will be cut off, upraised will be the horns of the righteous”. (Tehillim 75:10; Tur)

Which righteous and devout ones do we pray for here? The Torah states, “There is no man so righteous on earth who always does good and never sins.” (Kohelet 7:20) In comparison to the truly wicked, even someone guilty of sin can be deemed righteous. According to this we can understand why the Men of the Great Assembly put these two blessings together. The bad deeds of the wicked make the righteous “look better”, and, so too, the good deeds of the righteous make the wicked “look worse”. Thus, when goodness is increased, the wicked automatically fall lower.

“For the righteous”: This refers to those who guard the commands of the Torah. By virtue of the good deeds of Torah one is deemed righteous and will assuredly have a place in the World-to-Come, as it is written, “And all of Your people are righteous.” (Isaiah 60:21) By mentioning “all” it must include those that have sinned. “And for the devout ones”: This refers to those who immerse themselves in good deeds, such as giving charity and helping those in need. “And for the elders among Your people”: It is explained in the Talmud that one that has acquired Torah wisdom is called an elder. Thus, the elders are Torah scholars. According to the Avudarham “the righteous” are those that have never sinned, and “devout ones” refer to those that have repented wholeheartedly. Thus, David Hamelech proclaimed, “Guard my soul for I am a devout one (Tehillim 86:2), i.e. I have repented. Some explain that “the elders of the nation” are the leaders of the generation who are involved in helping the community for the sake of Heaven. This would explain the added phrase “of the nation”, meaning that they are responsible for the nation.

“And for the remnant of their scholars”: This refers to the teachers of Jewish children, of whom it is said, “Those who teach righteousness to the multitude will shine like the stars forever.” (Daniel 12:3) Teachers of Torah to Jewish youth are compared to stars that shine in the night. People who instill the proper foundation of love and fear of G-d in young children will continue to gain merit from the deeds of their students long after they stop teaching — in the dark the “stars will continue to shine”.

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