[Note: The following teachings on the shemoneh esrei are mostly based on my notes from two books: one I read in the years 2007–2008 at Yeshivat Shvilei HaTorah in Jerusalem, Israel and the second book is Rav Schwab on Prayer which I read in 2016. I neglected to capture the name of the earlier book and I’ve since forgotten, so if anyone might recognize it please tell me. Hint: it was written in English and was unique in combining the history (biblical episode + angels singing), sequence/number significance, and textual analysis for each of the 19 blessings. Notes from the earlier book were transcribed to electronic version in 2014. At some point around then or thereafter further teachings were added but again I too often neglected to attribute the source.]
I haven’t studied this Torah in far too long and the quality of my shemoneh esrei is not what it once was. Putting my as-yet unfinished notes here online will be a good motivator to change that.
First some background:
What is the shemoneh esrei?
The shemoneh esrei is the focal point of Jewish prayers. It was first formulated by a court of Jewish leaders, scholars, and Prophets known as the Men of the Great Assembly in the Second Temple era, then updated / standardized in the Mishnaic era.
I say ‘formulated’ because each word was crafted with precision and divine inspiration. Every phrase has its source somewhere, whether in the Torah itself (Old Testament-inclusive) or generational teachings passed down. Using the holy Hebrew language in so precise a way so as to be sourced in history AND enlicit God’s mercies AND to be timeless through the long Exile of two millennia AND to be relevant to each and every individual each and every day — wisdom or even mere prophecy doesn’t do it justice. When they formulated the shemoneh esrei the Sages and Prophets did with the Hebrew language something akin to what God did when He created the world and when He created the Torah. Nothing like it, of course, but reminiscent (aka l’havdeel).
By Rabbinic law, the shemoneh esrei must be said / read / prayed three times daily by each Jewish male 13 years old (see here for females). He should say it as part of a prayer group of 10 and attend three such prayer services daily, morning afternoon and night, but the prayers can also be done by any individual at any time.
‘Shemoneh esrei’ means the number 18 in Hebrew, symbolizing the amount of blessings in this prayer. chai, which adds up to 18, means life. We toast l’chayim! ‘to life!’ and we put it on jewelry. Additional symbolisms of 18: mentions of God in the shema, mentions of the forefathers listed together in Torah/Old Testament, mentions of the phrase “[he / they did] as God commanded Moses” referring to the building of the Tabernacle (Shemot 38–40, parshat Pekudei), 18 chapters in Psalms prior to the 19th [according to the original count of combining Psalms 1 and 2], which starts with a reference to prayer ‘May HASHEM answer you on the day of distress’ (Psalms 20,2), mentions of God’s Name in Psalm 29, times Torah said that someone made a prayer, tefilla, to God, and the 18 annual total days of Holiday (R’ Saadia Gaon).
The current number is 19, where the 19th blessing was actually added long ago in the early centuries CE, but the moniker shemoneh esrei has stuck for the last two millennia so we’ll go with that.
Why do we pray?
It is both an elemental human need (see some sources below) and a replacement for the Temple service (Brachot 26b).
In modern Hebrew the word for someone who is praying, mitpael, is reflexive, indicative of prayer as a self-discerning, self-initiated process toward self-discovery and actualization.
What is a blessing?
A blessing in which we say ‘Blessed are You, God…’ is both an acknowledgement of the blessings God has given us — along with due praise and thanksgiving — and a request for further blessings from Him.
More Hebrew etymology: in the word for blessing, ‘bracha,’ its primary letters all represent multitude in the Hebrew alpha-numeric system (bet, 2, chuf, 20, raysh, 200 as the next level up from 1, 10, and 100). A related word, braycha, means ‘pool’ in Modern Hebrew or also ‘flowing spring.’ Just like the flowing spring, blessings flow to us from God and we request for it to never cease.
What’s the source?
Here are two Biblical sources for prayer (among others):
1. “It will be that if you continually hearken to My commandments that I command you today, to love HASHEM, your God, and to serve Him with all of your heart and with all of your soul” (Deuteronomy 11:13). Praying is service of God. This represents praying for things we need i.e. knowledge, financial success, health. We need these things to succeed and since God is the One Who brought us into this world it’s a reasonable request.
2. “Take words with you and return to God…and may the utterances of our lips substitute for bulls” (Hoshea 14:3). This represents praying for repentance. We ask God to give us a whole new life with a whole new perspective — true repentance. This verse also points to prayer as a replacement of the Temple service, which included offerings of bulls.
Prayer is therefore considered as both service and talking to God.
Biblical historical accounts of people praying to God, starting from the beginning: Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Noah before and after the flood, Abraham throughout his saga and most notably on behalf of Sodom (he’s the source of the morning prayer, schacharit), Isaac (he’s the source of the afternoon prayer, mincha), Jacob on his travels (he’s the source of the evening prayer, arvit), and the list goes on.
A paragon of prayer is Hannah, who prayed for a child. We learn many laws of prayer from her example. (Samuel 1:10–18)
The Three Steps
We take three steps backward then three steps forward — approaching our God — before beginning the shemoneh esrei. This parallels Moses’ advancement through three levels of holiness when he ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Torah from God.
In addition, these three steps forward mirror three Biblical mentions of ‘approaching,’ vayigash: by Abraham, Judah, and Elijah (R’ Saul Berman, RCA Artscroll Siddur).
By what right do we stand before God? On whose behalf? For which qualities of God are we appealing?
- Abraham ‘approached’ (Genesis 18:23) God after He told him of Sodom’s impending destruction. Abraham challenged God’s justice, by virtue of the circumcision covenant, on behalf of general humankind.
- Judah ‘approached’ Joseph (Genesis 44:18) after Joseph had their brother, Benjamin, arrested on false charges as part of Joseph’s scheme to reunite the family. Judah appealed for mercy, by virtue of his servile attitude toward Joseph, on behalf of the Jewish people.
- Elijah ‘approached’ in challenging the false prophets of his day (I Kings 18). After they failed to prove their phony mode of worship, Elijah approached and proved Judaism’s connection to the One True God. Elijah requested God’s presence, by virtue of his intimate relationship with God, on behalf of God Himself.
“Abraham represents our sense of awe in the presence of infinity, Judah our humility in the face of majesty, Elijah the grandeur and dignity of those who are bearers of the Divine word.” (R’ Lord Jonathan Sacks)
At the end of the three steps our feet are placed side-by-side as in Ezekiel’s vision of the angels ‘Their legs were a straight leg’ (Ezekiel 1:7)
The blessings of the shemoneh esrei are grouped as praises, requests, and thanksgiving. In the first three blessings the focus is on praising God.
אֲדֹנָ-י, שְׂפָתַי תִּפְתָּח וּפִי יַגִּיד תְּהִלָּתֶֽך
My Lord, open my lips that my mouth may tell Your praise. (Psalms 51:17)
BLESSING #1: THE FOREFATHERS, ABRAHAM, & LOVINGKINDNESS
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי, אֱלֹקינוּ, וֵאלֹקי אֲבוֹתֵֽינוּ, אֱלֹקי אַבְרָהָם, אֱלֹקי יִצְחָק, וֵאלֹקי יַעֲקֹב; הָאֵ-ל, הַגָּדוֹל, הַגִּבּוֹר, וְהַנּוֹרָא, אֵ-ל עֶלְיוֹן, גּוֹמֵל חֲסָדִים טוֹבִים וְקוֹנֵה הַכֹּל, וְזוֹכֵר חַסְדֵי אָבוֹת, וּמֵבִיא גוֹאֵל לִבְנֵי בְנֵיהֶם לְמַֽעַן שְׁמוֹ, בְּאַהֲבָה: מֶֽלֶךְ, עוֹזֵר, וּמוֹשִֽׁיעַ, וּמָגֵן: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, יי, מָגֵן אַבְרָהָם
Blessed are You, HASHEM, our God and the God of our forefathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; the Almighty, the Great, the Powerful, the Awesome, most high, Who bestows beneficial kindness and creates everything, Who recalls the kindnesses of the Patriarchs, and brings a redeemer to their children’s children for His Name’s sake, with love. O King, Helper, Savior, and Shield. Blessed are You, HASHEM, the Shield of Abraham.
- Toward the beginning of his career as a prophet and missionary, Abraham was condemned to death by King Nimrod. Abraham believed in and promoted the One True God and opposed mainstream paganism and idolatry. Nimrod, known as mankind’s first great king, knew that Abraham represented a threat to his power and had Abraham thrown into a fiery furnace.
- The Biblical account of five weaker kings versus five stronger kings, where the four kings kidnapped Abraham’s cousin, Lot, and Abraham came to rescue him which is what they wanted him to try in the hopes that they could kill him.
We praise God for saving Abraham in his defiance of idolatry, as when the angels witnessed it and sang ‘Blessed are You, HASHEM, the Shield of Abraham.
This first blessing is associated with God’s attribute of chesed: mercy / lovingkindness / giving.
Our greatest weapon against evil, both within and without, is His love for us. God loves to bestow blessings on us.
Giving should always come first.
Blessed are You, God
- God is the source of all blessing and we want it to flow into the world.
- We are recipients of His blessings.
our Lord and the Lord of our forefathers
- Everyone can establish a unique relationship with God just like our forefathers did. We must discover, relate to, and serve God according to our unique nature.
- We have a tradition that is passed down to us from our forefathers.
- We must first discover God on our own and then through our tradition. (Ohr HaChaim)
the Lord of Abraham
- Abraham represents love and kindness and he related to those attributes of God. Similarly, one who has a positive trait will be more likely to see it in other people.
- He related to God’s bountiful giving.
the Lord of Isaac
- Isaac represents discipline, self-control.
- He saw the clarity of God’s spiritual manifestations in this world.
- He related to God’s holding back of giving.
the Lord of Jacob
- Jacob represents truth and beauty — the harmony and balance of the world.
- He reconciled God’s giving and holding back of giving.
Great, Powerful, and Awesome, Most High
- Moses used these adjectives to praise God (Deuteronomy 10:17). The Sages called this the ‘coin’ or ‘form’ of prayer (Megillah 27a) — just as a coin contains but a few words, so too this foundational text of the shemoneh esrei.
- ‘Great, Powerful, and Awesome’: ‘Great’ = God’s first attribute of mercy/lovingkindness, best exemplified by the love He showed the Jews in the Exodus from Egypt. ‘Powerful’ = God’s second attribute of justice, best exemplified by God’s final punishment of Egypt at the Reed Sea. ‘Awesome’ = the awe-inspiring event of the Tabernacle’s completion, when fire came down from heaven and God’s presence became manifest.
- Great: God manifests his greatness by doing deeds of lovingkindness.
- Powerful: God relates to the world through acts of justice.
- Awesome: God manifests his presence through truth and beauty [and nature].
- Most high: God is greater than all other powers and is above human comprehension.
Who does good deeds of lovingkindess, the Creator of all
- Even though He is ‘great, powerful and awesome,’ He is not aloof. Rather, He is involved in human affairs and does acts of lovingkindness.
- When God does ‘good’ deeds they are always ultimately good, unlike when people do things with good intentions.
- God created everything and His resources and abilities to do good are limitless.
- He created this world for our benefit.
- And for His? In a way. We are taught by our Sages that He wants a ‘dwelling place in the lower world [earth]’ and it’s incumbent upon us to make it more habitable for Him.
Who remembers the deeds of lovingkindness of our forefathers
- We pray to God to give us the merit of our forefathers if we strive to achieve their values.
- We all have the ability and potential to achieve the same spiritual heights as our forefathers.
- Our forefathers observed the mitzvot before they had to since they knew it was the will of God.
- Any act done outside the realm of obligation is lovingkindness.
- Deep down we want to do God’s will but we have spiritual and superficial temptations.
Who brings a redeemer to their children’s children for the sake of His name, with love
- After the sins of the golden calf (Exodus chapters 32–34) and the spies (Numbers chapters 13–14), God wanted to punish us but didn’t because it would desecrate His name.
- Even though God may (sometimes) end up redeeming us for the sake of His name, He will still do so with love.
- Redemption is an ongoing process.
King, Helper, Savior and Shield
- God helps us overcome the evil inclination when he sees we’re trying.
- God created us with an evil inclination greater than we can overcome on our own so we would realize we need Him and this helps to foster a relationship with Him.
- King: ?
- Helper: associated with the Rosh HaShanah holiday, the birthday of mankind and our freedom to make choices, and the ensuing judgement of such choices.
- Savior: associated with the Yom Kippur holiday, when God forgives us of our iniquities and sins. A savior saves even if the beneficiary isn’t worthy of being saved.
- Shield: associated with the Sukkot holiday, when God protects our repentance. God protects us from the evils — both physical and spiritual — that surround us, just like God protected Abraham from the wickedness of Sodom.
Blessed are You, HASHEM, the Shield of Abraham
- Why only Abraham? Because he popularized a love of God among mankind — especially for his descendants — and God rewarded him by being able to bestow blessings on others and being a source of blessing, where people are blessed through his agency.
- Abraham loved God and He promised to love his descendants. We should feel God’s love in all our blessings and reciprocate.
BLESSING #2: GOD’S MIGHT
אַתָּה גִבּוֹר לְעוֹלָם, אֲדֹנָ-י, מְחַיֶּה מֵתִים אַתָּה; רַב לְהוֹשִֽׁיעַ: [מַשִּׁיב הָרֽוּחַ וּמוֹרִיד הַגֶּֽשֶׁם:] מְכַלְכֵּל חַיִּים בְּחֶֽסֶד, מְחַיֵּה מֵתִים בְּרַחֲמִים רַבִּים, סוֹמֵךְ נוֹפְ֒לִים, וְרוֹפֵא חוֹלִים, וּמַתִּיר אֲסוּרִים, וּמְקַיֵּם אֱמוּנָתוֹ לִישֵׁנֵי עָפָר; מִי כָמֽוֹךָ, בַּֽעַל גְּבוּרוֹת, וּמִי דּֽוֹמֶה לָּךְ, מֶֽלֶךְ מֵמִית וּמְחַיֶּה, וּמַצְמִֽיחַ יְשׁוּעָה: וְנֶאֱמָן אַתָּה לְהַחֲיוֹת מֵתִים: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, יי, מְחַיֵּה הַמֵּתִים
You are eternally mighty, my Lord, the Resuscitator of the dead are You; abundantly able to save. [He makes the wind blow and He makes the rain descend.] He sustains the living with kindness, resuscitates the dead with abundant mercy, supports the fallen, and heals the sick, and releases the confined, and maintains His faith to those asleep in the dust. Who is like You, O Master of mighty deeds, and who is comparable to You, O King Who causes death and restores life, and makes salvation sprout! And You are faithful to resuscitate the dead. Blessed are You, HASHEM, Who resuscitates the dead.
The binding of Isaac: Isaac, was 37 years old (or 13 according to others) and God commanded Abraham to sacrifice him. This was in direct violation of everything God taught Abraham about the disgust of human sacrifice, not to mention a ‘request’ to kill his own son, yet Abraham obeyed. Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac when an angel stopped him and Abraham sacrificed a ram instead. When the knife was lifted upon Isaac’s neck in preparaton to strike, Isaac’s soul left him because of his fear and/or because of the emotional and spiritual intensity. His soul came back after the angel stopped Abraham. Isaac experienced resuscitation from the dead. When his soul came back to him, angels sang ‘Blessed are You, HASHEM, Who resuscitates the dead.’
In ‘opposition’ to God’s love and mercy is His attribute of justice. Crude simplification (aka l’havdeel), but I sometimes think of God’s love-justice dual ‘personality’ as ying and yang. To each force a counter force to maintain world order. Beyond the scope of the battle between good and evil, but we all know light vanquishes darkness in the end.
Resurrection is so fundamental to Jewish faith that it is the second blessing.
You are eternally mighty, my Lord, the Resuscitator of the dead are You; abundantly able to save
- ‘Eternally’: God alone is eternal.
- ‘My Lord’ first attributed to Abraham who recognized the personal relationship God has with each person. God as our Lord combines mercy in sustaining us and justice in holding us accountable.
- This judicial attribute of God is known as gevurah, strength.
- Even under God’s justice we still think of Him as a Resuscitator and savior.
- A mortal king takes pride in how many people he can kill whereas God in how many dead people he can save, redeem, and resurrect.
- God brings physical rain and dew to water the earth, and spiritual rain to resurrect.
- God’s power doesn’t fade, unlike humans’.
- When He brings back people who have died, it’s an act of great salvation.
- When a person dies he might not be worthy of resurrection in the future, but through atonement in the afterlife and good deeds that will benefit people after he dies, he becomes more worthy. Therefore, God judges us when we die but also again before the designated time of resurrection. (Vilna Gaon)
- The source of the word ‘to save’, lehoshiya, is yeish, existence. If God allows us to emerge successfully from the final judgement, we are brought bac kto life and judged as being worthy, and it will be an everlasting life / existence. (R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch)
You cause the wind to blow and the rain to fall
- This is not said during summer since it doesn’t rain then in Israel.
- Now is the praise and later (9th blessing) is the request for rain, which symbolizes material prosperity.
- Cause the wind to blow: blows souls back into corpses.
- Makes rain fall: gives resurrected people the nurturing they need to exist.
Sustains the living with lovingkindness
- God has put into this world all we need to sustain life — this is evidence of His lovingkindness.
CONSIDER the four classical elements that make up matter (water, air, fire, earth) and their now-known building blocks (the elements of the periodic table)— that which is vital for life is available in abundance. By scientific definition and/or natural order.
- ‘Sustains’ connotes limitations, sufficiently enough to sustain life, represented by the three mini-resurrections mentioned below. That which God does for us in this world in a limited way…
Resuscitates the dead with abundant compassion / mercy
- …He will resuscitate us without limitations.
- God sustains life with kindness while he resurrects it with compassion.
- Why ‘abundant’ compassion? Because we will be resurrected fully clothed and because God grants the soul its wish to reunite with the body.
You support the falling, heal the sick, and release the confined
- These are all mini-forms of resurrection:
- Gives people who suffer tragedies the fortitude to go on living.
- Heals those on their deathbed from illness.
- Releases prisoners who consider their current lives meaningless.
Maintains His faith to those asleep in the dust
- Another reference to resurrection.
- ‘Those asleep’ — the righteous through the ages. God maintains His faith in remembering His promises to them and their descendants.
- A dead person’s spirituality is always alive — a certain spark remains. It is from this spark that resurrection will be built. In that sense, dead people are really only ‘asleep.’
Who is like You, O Master of mighty deeds:
- Some people were able to resurrect the dead (Yehezkel, Elisha, Eliyahu) but only because God, the Master, granted them this power — He was the Source of the miracle.
- ‘Deeds’ plural, also translated as ‘strengths’ = God’s dual strengths over life and death. God as both destroyer of life and ultimately (upon the final Resurrection) the destroyer of the destroyer of life.
Who is comparable to You
- when a person resurrected someone it lasted for only some years, but when God will resurrect us in the future it will last forever and there will no longer be death in the world.
You are a King who causes death and restores life
- …for the purpose of bringing them back to life! There is death only so God can bring a higher form of life afterwards.
- based on verse ‘I deal death and give life’ (Deuteronomy 32:39)
You cause salvation to sprout forth
- One can’t see the day to day growth of a plant but only over a long period of time. Like sped up National Geographic footage where one can see nature’s movements. It’s the same with God’s salvation: slow and steady movements and growth. During this process we encounter death and it seems counterproductive to growth, but when the process is over we will see the growth in a higher form of life. Just like a planted seed first needs to disintegrate into the ground before new life emerges, so too will we.
- Upon death, our souls and bodies begin the purification process, culminating in the ultimate Redemption when they’re reunited at Final Resurrection.
And You are faithful to resuscitate the dead
- When we say these words we must believe in God’s promise to resurrect the dead. It’s not enough just to think it — we must verbalize it and make it more real as a result.
Blessed are You, HASHEM, Who resuscitates the dead
- This prayer has five references to resurrection, why?
- five levels to the soul: nefesh, ruach, neshama, chaya, yechida. G-d will resurrect all five levels of the soul with the body.
- three resurrections in the past (Yechezkel himself and those performed by Elisha and Eliyahu…Elisha’s, the boy in the attic, was Chavakook?…who was Eliyahu’s?) and the 4th will be during the days of the Messiah rewarding those who cared for the destiny and salvation of the Jewish people. The 5th resurrection will be for everyone who merits the World to Come.
- We make the blessing over blossoms in the spring: ‘Blessed are You, HASHEM, Who has not left out anything from the world.’ We make the blessings over blossoms and not fruit because it teaches us that what seems to be a death in this world is really a stepping stone to the next world. Sometimes life seems over, like when everything dies in autumn and remains dormant and frozen during the winter, but when spring comes we realize it wasn’t really death. Death is only a transitional phase.
- ‘Resuscitates’ in present tense to affirm our belief
- Significance of rain: When Abraham and Lot parted ways, Lot went eastward toward the plains of Jordan because it was near a river, and he would rely on the river than on God for material prosperity. (Egypt too, relied on the nile for irrigation.) In Israel in those days, rainfall was paramount to success. Too much rain or too little meants one’s livelihood was in ruins. Lot went to Sodom whose greatest sin is how they treat guests and poor people in contrast to Abraham who excelled in welcoming guests and took care of the poor. The people in Sodom thought their fortune came from material labor (the river) and therefore refused to share their hard-earned wealth with others. Abraham, however, recognized everything comes from God so it was easier for him to part with his fortune. Sodom’s failing in mitzvot between man and his fellow stemmed from their failing in mitzvot between man and God.
- All blessings are from God: ‘yovel’ is mentioned twice in Torah — first as an instrument (referred to as a shofar) which was used at Mount Sinai, and second referring to the Jubilee year. Just as God shared the Torah with us we should share our blessings with others, as during the year of the once-upon-a-time Jubilee when servants were set free, property restored to former owners who had fallen on hard times, and the land left uncommercialized for anyone to partake of, especially the poor. The sound of the shofar reminds us that everything belongs to, and comes from, God.
BLESSING #3: GOD’S HOLINESS / SANCTIFICATION OF HIS NAME
,אַתָּה קָדוֹשׁ, וְשִׁמְךָ קָדוֹשׁ, וּקְדוֹשִׁים בְּכָל־יוֹם יְהַלְ֒לֽוּךָ סֶּֽלָה: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי, הָאֵל הַקָּדוֹשׁ
You are holy, and Your Name is Holy, and holy ones praise You every day, forever. Blessed are You, HASHEM, the holy God.
Of the three patriarchs, Jacob was best at recognizing the spirituality that exists behind everything material. The unity of material existence and spiritual purpose is called Truth. When Jacob came to the place where the Holy Temple would be built he saw a ladder with angels going up and down. The top and bottom of the ladder illustrated that God isn’t only in heaven but also in the physical world. Descending angels symbolized God giving to the world while ascending angels symbolized that God put spirituality into the physical world and elevated the world because of it. At the top of the ladder Jacob saw the Gates of Compassion open up and this inspired him to sanctify God’s name.
Angels sang ‘Blessed are you, HASHEM, the holy God.’
- What does the word ‘holy’, kadosh, mean in Hebrew? Sanctified / separate.
- Three mentions of the root word kadosh, ‘holy,’ corresponding to:
- the three levels of God’s holiness perceived in this world — that of regular people, of the righteous, and of the angels.
- Isaiah’s prophecy of angels singing thrice-repeated ‘holy’ (Isaiah 6:3) —
1. 1st ‘holy’:accented by a rising tone, darga, symbolizing God being beyond our comprehension
2. 2nd ‘holy’ accented by a falling sound, symbolizing that God has revealed aspects of His Being such as His Names and other attributes He wants us to know
3. 3rd ‘holy’ refers to the angels to whom God and His Torah was first revealed and they have a higher level of comprehension of Him than humans, but still recognize that His essence is beyond them as well.
- God’s pleasure with the world is at its highest when He sees Jewish people speaking of His holiness because it shows that people recognize spiritual purpose in this world, following in Jacob’s footsteps.
- ‘You shall be holy’ (Leviticus 19:2) — we are to be holy because God is holy and we seek to emulate Him. God has created us with a spark of His holiness, and God created man in His image’ (Genesis 1:27), and that gives us the ability to overpower our Evil Inclination.
- The holier we become, the greater our perception of God’s holiness.
- Angels can’t sing the blessing until we proclaim that God fills all of the earth, and acknoledging our role in His world.
- This is the means by which we ratify God’s purpose in having created the world as well as our purpose in being Jews.
Rounding up themes of the first three blessings:
The next 13 blessings are requests:
BLESSING #4: WISDOM & UNDERSTANDING
אַתָּה חוֹנֵן לְאָדָם דַּֽעַת, וּמְלַמֵּד לֶאֱנוֹשׁ בִּינָה: חָנֵּֽנוּ מֵאִתְּ֒ךָ דֵּעָה, בִּינָה, וְהַשְׂכֵּל: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, יי, חוֹנֵן הַדָּֽעַת
You graciously give man discerning knowledge, and teach people understanding. Graciously grant us from Yourself discerning knowledge, understanding and intellect. Blessed are You, HASHEM, who graciously grants discerning knowledge.
- God taught Joseph the 70 languages of the world through the angel Gavriel, a needed skill to become Egypt’s 2nd-in-command.
- God taught Moshe the powers of all of His names.
Angels saw and sang ‘Blessed are You, HASHEM, who grants knowledge.’
- The first three blessings were praises of God. This is the first of the 13 requests. This request for wisdom / discriminating knowledge / insight is the first of the requests because knowledge allows us to see differences between things, something we always need. Also, without this we would not know what to ask for in the following 12 requests.
Havdala at Shabbat’s Departure
- Differentiating between holy days and non-holy days.
You graciously give man discerning knowledge and teach people understanding
- ‘Graciously give’ from the word chein, connoting spiritual and/or undeserved giving. (R’ Hirsch) We request from God the ability to understand His Torah and plumb its depths, which requires a spritual endowment beyond human intelligence.
- This ‘knowledge,’ da’at, is not factual but rather the ability of evaluation, qualitative discernment. The ability to think and form connections. ‘Understanding,’ beena, refers to having a relationship with that which we come to understand and understanding something from something else, which requires deduction and intuition. Must first learn something exists, ‘wisdom,’ chochmah, and can then draw a conclusion, ‘understanding,’ binah. ‘Knowledge,’ da’at, comes from combining the two. This gift of intellect has only been given to humans.
- ‘People,’ enosh, related to the word sickness, anush, connotes a lower level than the ‘man’ from earlier in the blessing. Adam’s grandson Enosh is associated with mankind’s decline from the behavior God wanted us to live by in the Garden of Eden. Even when we don’t merit the honorable title ‘man,’ God still gives us this gift of the intellect.
- Each generation has both inherited knowledge from the previous generations and uncovered new learnings. This is limited to intellectual development and doesn’t hold for moral development. There are those with intellection achievements and low morals. Secular knowledge may have increased since Mount Sinai but overall Torah understanding has diminished.
- Without discernment our relationships — with ourselves, with others, and with God — are superficial.
- Takes one to know one: when we achieve a level of understanding or proficiency we can better appreciate others who possess it.
- When the Torah refers to people having sexual relations, it uses the word da’at, knowledge. One truly bonds to a spouse when there’s a deep understanding of the spouse’s uniqueness.
- We acknowledge and praise God that He has already granted us knowledge and ask Him to continue granting it.
- This acknowledging / thanking + praising + requesting formula serves as a transition between the first three blessings of praise and the following blessings of requests and thanks.
Blessed are You, HASHEM, who graciously grants discerning knowledge.
- ‘graciously grants’ — this is in the present tense, a theme of the shemoneh esrei. God’s constant involvement in worldly affairs in a prerequisite to existence. Nothing and no one can exist without Him. As we acknowledge daily in the morning prayers before the shema: ‘and in His goodness renews daily, perpetually, the work of Creation,’ and based on the verse: ‘And You give them all life.’ (Nehemiah 9:6)
- Before his elevation to Egypt’s 2nd-in-command Joseph had previously become a ruler over his passions by not succumbing to Potiphar’s wife’s seductions, and only then became worthy of his gift and station. Only after somebody demonstrates internal leadership are they ready for external leadership.
- This prayer acknowledges that wisdom is a gift from God and not just developed or earned ourselves.
- ‘Who is wise? He who learns from every man’ (Pirkei Avot 4:1)
BLESSING #5: REPENTANCE
הֲשִׁיבֵֽנוּ, אָבִֽינוּ, לְתוֹרָתֶֽךָ, וְקָרְ֒בֵֽנוּ, מַלְכֵּֽנוּ, לַעֲבוֹדָתֶֽךָ, וְהַחֲזִירֵֽנוּ בִּתְשׁוּבָה שְׁלֵמָה לְפָנֶֽיךָ: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, יי, הָרוֹצֶה בִּתְשׁוּבָה
Return us, our Father, to Your Torah, and bring us close, our King, to Your service, and return us with complete repentance before You. Blessed are You, HASHEM, Who desires repentance.
After the death of his stepmother Rachel, Reuven stressed to Jacob inappropriately to be more involved (intimate, perhaps) with his mother, Leah. Because of this impulsiveness / brashness demonstrated here and elsewhere, Reuven lost some of the spiritual and material birthright as Jacob’s firstborn son. When he realized this he repented, possibly for the rest of his life.
Years later when Moses blessed the 12 tribes, he told the tribe of Reuven: “Reuven will live in this world and not die in the world to come.” (Deuteronomy 33:6) This was recognizing that God accepted Reuven’s repentance.
Angels saw and sang ‘Blessed are You, HASHEM, Who desires repentance.”
Once we have knowledge and understanding, we can apply them to the study of Torah and repentance, both of which connect us and bring us nearer to God. We achieve repentance, teshuva, based on understanding the true meaning of Torah and mitzvot.
Return us, our Father, to Your Torah
- We ask God as a father, just as any father would always let his children come home.
- Ideal method of learning Torah is directly from parent to child, traditionally father to son. This shared learning enhances their relationship.
- Parents love their children unconditionally and if the child feels this they wont fear rejection when they come home.
- We ask God to bring us to the awareness of the Torah’s divine wisdom and our sacred treasure. This is so important that the Sages intituted this blessing as a prayer to stay focused on the true meaning of learning Torah and service of God.
Bring us close, our King, to your service
- ‘Service’ refers to prayer — prayer replaced the ‘service’ of the Temple sacrifices.
- ‘Prayer is the harbinger to moral reformation.’ — R’ Soloveitchik
- We are asking God to help us become aware we are serving Him in our prayers and mitzvot, and a clear awareness that we’re talking directly to Him in our prayers.
- We can elevate our good deeds to the highest level of divine service by performing them not our of the goodness of our hearts or to elevate our consciousness but simply because it’s the fulfilment of God’s will. ‘Love your fellow as yourself: I am the LORD’ (Leviticus 19:18)
- We need God to bring us back to Him, like a son who stole father’s money and asks for more money for the fare home.
- Service comprises the totality of commandments, fulfilling our obligations to Him.
- Prayer is spiritual but is termed service / work because it requires much internal effort and introspection. We must be honest with God and ourselves when we use prayer to communicate with Him. Honesty requires work.
- Prayer, more than anything else, creates consciousness of God.
And return us with complete repentance before You
- This seems repetitive since you would think that returning to Torah and helping us to pray (which we just asked for), is enough repentance. This phrase teaches us that these two commandments in particular — Torah learning and prayer / service — help us become close to God.
- The repentance process must be initiated by ourselves — ‘Turn back to me — says the LORD of Hosts — and I will turn back to you’ (Zecharia 1:3).
- ‘Complete’ = doing a good deed just because it’s God’s will + doing repentance while we’re young and still have the temptations.
Blessed are You, HASHEM, Who desires repentance.
- God wants our repentanec and waits until the last moment of our lives, no matter how many sins we’ve committed and even if repentance alone wont fully atone — in which case it’s done more so for its own sake/God’s will.
- Torah should be learned for its own sake, lishma, simply because God commanded us to learn Torah. The Temple was destroyed because we lacked this awareness and treated Torah as a science, some field of study like other types of knowledge. (Bava Metzia 85b)
- One must repent in and for all three faculties of human activity: thought, speech, and action.
- 15 words in this prayer — same amount as the following verse in Prophets (in Hebrew) that talks of repentance. “The wicked man shall leave his path and the man of iniquity his thoughts, and he shall return to G-d. And G-d will have mercy on him, [and he’ll return] to our G-d, for He forgives abundantly.” (Yeshayahu, 55:7). 15 words represents seven heavens with seven spaces between them, and an additional space from the highest heaven to God’s Throne of Glory — marking 15 levels of space between us and God that we must transcend, with the help of repentance, to reach Him.
- God’s ultimate desire is for us to return to Him after we sin so that He can embrace us again.
- Confirmation of God’s forgiveness of Reuven came not during his life but in his grandchildren’s and great-grandchildren’s. Our deeds live on after us, primarily through our offspring.
- ‘Who is mighty? He who subdues his evil inclination’ (Pirkei Avot 4:1)
BLESSING #6: FORGIVENESS
סְלַח לָֽנוּ, אָבִֽינו, כִּי חָטָֽאנוּ, מְחַל לָֽנוּ, מַלְכֵּֽנוּ, כִּי פָשָֽׁעְנוּ, כִּי מוֹחֵל וְסוֹלֵֽחַ אָֽתָּה: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, יי, חַנּוּן הַמַּרְבֶּה לִסְלֽוֹחַ
Forgive us, our Father, for we have sinned unintentionally. Pardon us, our King, for we have purposely sinned, for You pardon and forgive. Blessed are You, HASHEM, the gracious One Who forgives abundantly.
Judah, son of Jacob, had three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah. Er married Tamar but sinned in his refusal to impregnate her and died as punishment. Onan then married Tamar and, instead of continuing his brother’s legacy as he was supposed to, committed the same sin and also died. Judah didn’t want his third son Shelah to suffer the same fate as his other sons — and maybe he thought Tamar wasn’t totally innocent in his sons’ deaths — so he stalled the marriage for many years, until Tamar realized Judah’s true intentions and disguised herself as a prostitute, seduced Judah after his own wife died, and became pregnant.
When the town found out she became pregnant with twins, she was sentenced to death for her adulterous crime (she was technically ‘betrothed’ to Shelah even though they weren’t getting married). Judah himself handed down the death sentence before Tamar proved her identity and therefore Judah’s involvement. She did this privately, though, so as not to humiliate Judah in public. He then admitted publicly the children were his. Since he embarrassed himself and acknowledged that Tamar was righteous, God forgave him.
Angels saw and sang “Blessed are You, HASHEM, the gracious One Who forgives abundantly.
- Sages separated the prayers for repentance and forgiveness to emphasize our desire to improve and change, even if we cant be forgiven and even if we’ll still suffer the consequences. This way we wont only be returning to God for selfish reasons.
- First we want to change and become better and repent (previously blessing). Then, we ask God to forgive our sins (this blessing). After stopping to sin and committing not to repeat them, the next step is confession.
- When we ask God to forgive us we concurrently ask Him to consider the changes we’ve already made in the hopes of staving off corrective measures AKA punishment.
Forgive us, our Father, for we have sinned unintentionally.
- ‘Forgive,’ s’lach, related to a word meaning jump over and proceed further (tzalo’ach) — this is used in conjunction with accidental sins, where we ask God to ‘overlook’ these sins committed inadvertently, just like a father forgives naive children.
- Forgiveness means that God completely wipes away a sin, which we ask of Him as His children.
Pardon us, our King, for we have purposely sinned.
- Every Jew is charged with bringing to fruition God’s goals for the world. We must dedicate ourselves to his allegiance by accepting the yoke of Heaven, as a servant accept the yoke of his king.
- We approach God and ask Him for a ‘royal pardon’ for the sins we committed knowing they were wrong.
Forgive us, our Father…Pardon us, our King
- We ask to be forgiven for things we did unintentionally and to be pardoned for things we did on purpose — these two ideas reflect two relationships we have with God: as Father and child (forgiveness), and as King and servant (pardoning).
- When we sin as children, it’s viewed as an act of error. But when we don’t fulfill our duties charged to us as God’s officers, this brings disgrace to His kingdom, so we ask God to forgive us like a king pardons servants who purposely acted inappropriately.
- Two elements to every sin we commit: the mistake itself and the disdain we show for God’s kingdom by not discharging the duties He gives us.
- To rectify our lack of loyalty we must bring others to serve God.
for You pardon and forgive
- now the order is reversed — first we repent for sins done purposely and receive a pardon, and those sins become mitigated to inadvertent sins, then God overlooks them. Repentance from love would turn these sins into merits, similar to Jethro’s experience with idolatry becoming a source of merit for him.
Blessed are You, HASHEM, the gracious One who forgives abundantly
- We know from the Torah that God forgives abundantly and is gracious. ‘He will cry to me and I will hear, for I am gracious’ (Exodus 22:26). The prophet Yeshaya tells us to return because ‘He forgives abundantly’ (Isaiah 55:7). God never gets too tried of forgiving us.
- God has an abundance of forgiveness both quantitatively and qualitatively.
- God accepts repentance anytime, even on our deathbeds when we aren’t capable of repeating the sin.
- ‘the Gracious one,’ in reflexive language, indicating that if we pray for forgiveness, God allows Himself to be entreated.
- The prayer for repentance is associated with Reuven since he required a lifelong examination of his personality and a change in lifestyle to correct his character flaw, haste. The prayer for forgiveness is associated with Judah because what he did required forgiveness and didn’t stem from a character flaw.
- We ask God to forgive us of — and free us from — unintentional sins and iniquity. Even though we do the former by accident they still have a negative effect on us. ‘Iniquity’ refers to sins we do purposely, which then become easier to repeat. So, we ask God to cleanse us of these sins so we wont be more inclined to repeat them.
- Think of ‘mercy’ as God providing for our basic needs, and ‘grace’ as God providing more than is necessary. Repentance is sometimes necessary to avoid punishment by death, so that would be a measure of mercy. But some things are also beyond necessity, like God allowing repentance to transform sins into mitzvot and God holding a repentant in high esteem, even higher than before the sin.
- Why did Tamar, a righteous woman, behave this way? She knew from divine inspiration that her offspring with Judah would become the Davidic Dynasty. How can we understand a righteous man like Judah being seduced by Tamar disguised as a prostitute? Judah fell spiritually after he didn’t stop the sale of his brother Joseph. When Jacob was anguished over the loss of Joseph the brothers blamed Judah for not anticipating this reaction, which alienated Judah and led him astray. So his spiritual state was weakened, and while he did fight hard not to succumb to Tamar’s seduction, God made his desire strong to ensure the Davidic Dynasty through which Messiah will be born, and He sent an angel to push Judah toward Tamar when he turned to leave.
BLESSING #7: REDEMPTION
רְאֵה בְעָנְיֵֽנוּ, וְרִיבָה רִיבֵֽנוּ, וּגְאָלֵֽנוּ מְהֵרָה, לְמַֽעַן שְׁמֶֽךָ, כִּי גּוֹאֵל חָזָק אָֽתָּה: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, יי, גּוֹאֵל יִשְׂרָאֵל
Please look at our affliction, and fight our battles, and redeem us quickly, for Your Name’s sake, because You are a mighty Redeemer. Blessed are You, HASHEM, Redeemer of Israel.
God made four promises of redemption to the Jews when they were still in Egypt: He would remove them out of Egypt, save them from the Egyptian’s hands, redeem them, and take them to Himself as a nation (Exodus 6:6–7). The first three promises are God saving Jews from negative things — first rescuing them from slavery and danger, second protecting them from the Egyptians catching up with them, third redeeming them from the internal captivity they were subjected to. Once redeemed and the negativity cleansed, He will take / bring them closer to Him as His nation.
Angels heard the four promises and sang ‘Blessed are You, HASHEM, who redeems Israel.’
- The grouping of blessings 6, 7, and 8 is based on the verse: ‘The G-d who forgives all of your sins, G-d who heals you from all of your ills, the G-d who redeems you from all of your destruction’ (Psalms 103:3–4). But shemoneh esrei uses a different sequence, swapping the order of redemption (this blessing) and health (next blessing). If we put health first, it would be the 7th prayer and redemption the 8th. Our tradition teaches that Messiah will come within 6000 years from Creation. So, the Sages made redemption the 7th prayer to parallel our redemption by the 7th millennium period from Creation. Therefore this prayer is taken out of order from its scriptural source to teach us a lesson that God guarantees Messiah and the redemption.
- The number 7 in Judaism represents completeness, perfection, a harmonious whole, a completed cycle in nature: Shabbat is the 7th day of the 7-day week; Shmita is the 7th year of the 7-year agricultural cycle; six sides to a cube plus its inner core that sustains it; 6 directions (north, east, south, west, up, down), plus God.
- Health (next blessing) may be granted with or without forgiveness but redemption only comes after forgiveness. We first need to repent and ask for forgiveness before asking God to protect us from the dangers around us.
Please look at our affliction
- We want God to become intimately involved with us — to ‘look’ at us — and we want Him to see how oppressed we are by the world’s nations.
And fight our battles
- We ask God to give us the strength to resist the secular temptations and immoral influences around us in exile. We fight not to succumb to our urges and then ask God to fully and quickly redeem us from this situation.
- ‘riv’, the language used here, is a dispute outside of a legal court. If our struggles were confined to a court of judges, made up of scholars and God-fearing people, then we wouldn’t need God to fight our battles.
And redeem us quickly for Your Name’s sake, because You are a mighty Redeemer
- Even if we are unworthy God will redeem us so that His ultimate purpose for this world will come to fruition.
- Every day that God’s plan isn’t actualized is a desecration of His Name.
- ‘mighty Redeemer’: even if we don’t deserve to be redeemed, God will counter those arguments. God’s ‘might’ serves to counteract his ‘strict judgement.’
Blessed are You, HASHEM, Redeemer of Israel
- We acknowledge G-d’s constant involvement in the process of our redemption. Like a tree or plant in nature it’s hard perceive the day-to-day progress, but it’s happening right before our eyes.
- One kind of redemption is when people learn how to cope in a bad situation — this requires honesty in both identifying the situation and an appraisal of how one can best grow from it.
- God helps us to overcome our evil inclination and redeems us from a self-imposed, internal exile.
- God redeems us from both physical dangers and spiritual ills.
- We ask God to see our suffering and alleviate it — including unknown or unappreciated dangers.
BLESSNG #8: HEALING
רְפָאֵֽנוּ, יְי, וְנֵרָפֵא. הוֹשִׁיעֵֽנוּ וְנִוָּשֵֽׁעָה, כִּי תְהִלָּתֵֽנוּ אָֽתָּה. וְהַעֲלֵה רְפוּאָה שְׁלֵמָה לְכָל מַכּוֹתֵֽינו, כִּי אֵ-ל, מֶֽלֶךְ רוֹפֵא נֶאֱמָן וְרַחֲמָן אָֽתָּה: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, יי, רוֹפֵא חוֹלֵי עַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵלּ
Heal us, Lord, and we will be healed. Save us and we will be saved, since our praise is to You. And bring about a complete remedy for all of our afflictions, for You are God, a King who is a faithful and compassionate healer. Blessed are You, HASHEM, who heals the sick of His people, Israel.
God commanded Abraham to circumcise himself when he was 99 years old. God visited him on the third day afterward and sent the angel Raphael to heal him and Abraham recuperated. Angels witnessed God’s ability to heal and sang ‘Blessed are You, HASHEM, who heals the sick among your people, Israel.’
This blessing of healing being #8 is a reminder that we should do the mitzvah of circumcision, which occurs on the baby’s 8th day, with the confidence that God will then heal the baby.
We pray for health after redemption because we experience inner turmoil as long as we’re not spiritually free and redeemed. Medicine has started to appreciate the impact of ones internal, emotional state on one’s physical health.
- Origins: Opening words based on the prophet Yirmeyahu ‘Heal me, God, and I will be healed. Save me and will be saved’ (Yirmeyahu 17:14). He was completely heartbroken over the destruction of Jerusalem he foresaw / prophesied would occur. His spiritual pain made him physically sick and he prayed to God to heal him. We ask God to heal our souls of our spiritual ailments, but known and unknown.
Since our praise is to You
- If God heals us, we will praise Him as the One who enabled the doctors to treat us. We will turn to God in gratitude for having sent the doctors to heal us. We can praise the doctors too, but we need to know Who is ultimately in charge. (Brachot 60a)
- We will use the process of healing to reveal His role in the world in: the natural wonder of bodily self-healing, the miracles of medicine, and our own healing experiences.
Bring about a complete remedy to all of our afflictions
- This is a request to God to heal us physically, after we’ve first asked Him to heal us spiritually.
- We recognize that our ailments, both physical and spiritual, are a result of our sins, an atonement. If we realize this and repent, our suffering eliminates the sins and there wont be need for further punishment.
For You are a God, a King Who is a faithful and compassionate Healer
- Each Jew has a mission to complete for his King, God, but that mission can be sidetracked by illness which is caused by God to affect us, both physically and spiritually. He must want it to benefit us in some way, otherwise He wouldn’t have brought it upon us, knowing that it detracts from our mission to Him.
- Recognizing that God is a compassionate healer is a step toward spiritual growth.
- Once we recognize the need for spiritual healing we can go on to ask to be healed physically — ‘complete remedy for all of our afflictions’ — this duality is a theme of this blessing.
Blessed are You, HASHEM, who heals the sick of His people Israel.
- If a person is sick they cannot carry out their mission so we ask God to heal them and allow them to make their unique contribution to the Jewish people and the world.
- Science now agrees that poor emotional health affects the physical body (i.e. anger, anxiety, depression). There is a connection between the soul and body.
- Reality of Medicine: We often go to a doctor, get medication and become better. What about God healing us? God could heal us without medication or treatment but He didn’t want to make it an act totally His without human involvement. We can grow through the challenge of being sick by realizing God is behind it and directs our lives, and by looking at ourselves and figuring out the reason God made us sick.
- Some sicknesses are beyond curable at a certain point, at least according to nature / laws of medicine, but God wants us to realize He is above it. So too, we may feel we are beyond saving, but we must always turn to God. ‘Even if a sharp sword rests upon a person’s neck, he should not prevent himself from praying for mercy’ (Brachot 10a)
- God commanded the Jews to circle the walls of Jericho daily for 6 days, and 7 times on the 7th day then blow the shofar. The walls crumbled and Jericho’s inhabitants were caught by surprise, since they weren’t prepared for this changing of the ‘natural order.’ God wanted the Jews to internalize that they’re limited by the laws of nature and just by circling the walls they’d never enter the city. They blew the shofar as a celebration of a victory yet unseen — as per God’s instructions — and the sound of the shofar reminded them that God is the master of the universe and can do anything. We are vulnerable to laws of nature and its illnesses but He is not. If we link ourselves to God we too may enjoy His powers.
- True comfort and healing can only come from God.
BLESSING #9: PROSPERITY
בָּרֵךְ עָלֵֽינוּ, יי אֱלֹוקינוּ, אֶת־הַשָּׁנָה הַזֹּאת, וְאֶת־כָּל־מִינֵי תְבוּאָתָהּ לְטוֹבָה, וְתֵן [בְּרָכָה / טַל וּמָטָר לִבְרָכָה] עַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה. וְשַׂבְּ֒עֵֽנוּ מִטּוּבֶֽךָ, וּבָרֵךְ שְׁנָתֵֽנוּ כַּשָּׁנִים הַטּוֹבוֹת. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, יי, מְבָרֵךְ הַשָּׁנִים
Bless upon us, Lord our God, this year, and all of its types of produce for good. And give us [a blessing / dew and rain for a blessing] on the surface of the earth. And satisfy us from Your bounty, and bless this year like the good years. Blessed are You, HASHEM, who blesses the years.
There was a famine during the lifetime of Isaac. He thought he should do as his father Abraham did and go down to Egypt but God told him not to, that he wasn’t to leave the land of Israel because he was a ‘perfect sacrifice,’ a status that he attained when he willingly allowed himself to be bound to the alter in service of God (see blessing #2). Egypt was the land of impurity. God told Isaac to stay in Israel despite the famine and promised him that he would prosper. That year, when everyone else’s crops failed, Isaac’s land produced 100x that of a normal year. When angels saw this they sang ‘Blessed are You, HASHEM, that you are ultimately the source of blessing of livelihood that comes to the world.’
#9: the 9th chapter of Psalms discusses rich people destroying poor people financially. This reminds us that if we don’t view livelihood and wealth building properly, we may lose sight of reality and become greedy. If we become so greedy that we take advantage of poor people then we’ve clearly gone off the deep end and are denying our humanity.
This blessing follows that of health because someone who is sick is not concerned about livelihood — they must be healthy first, then they can earn a living.
Bless upon us, Lord our God, this year
- In finance, one thinks in years.
- We acknowledge the fact that God decides our financial well-being on a yearly basis on Rosh HaShana.
- We ask for His blessings to be ‘upon us’ because the object of our desired blessing may come but not in such a way that benefits us — such as rain at the wrong time, place, or intensity — so we pray to be worthy and receive the blessing in our desired form.
- One’s blessing of livelihood from God is determined annually during the 10 days of the High Holidays from Rosh HaShana to Yom Kippur (Beitza 16a). Our livelihood and earnings are determined not by our intelligence or harder efforts but by God. We must put in some requisite effort and applying our God-given intelligence may improve our abilities, but ultimately the outcome is decided by God. We may influence his decision by using our monetary assets in positive ways, specifically spending to enhance our holy days like the Shabbat and the holidays, and supporting Torah education for our children and others.
And all of its types of produce
- All forms of production (not just agricultural products) — includes all business dealings, manufactured goods, services, etc.
- We want our economic AND agricultural situation to be good — you can’t eat dollars.
- We run the risk of forgetting about God when we have things we want and that would be bad, so we say we want all this ‘for good.’
And give us [a blessing / dew and rain for a blessing] on the surface of the earth
- Agricultural bounty depends on the ‘surface of the earth’ — the quality of the soil where growth takes place.
- We pray that there be enough food to feed the world’s hungry and growing population.
- Even when enough food is produced, much of it goes to waste because of greed for higher prices. This is a sign of the pre-Messianic age (Sota 49b, Sanhedrin 97a).
And satisfy us from your bounty
- We ask God to satisfy us with both spiritual and physical blessings based on Jeremiah 31:12–13.
- Satisfaction, akin to the verse ‘And you shall eat bread to satiety’ (Leviticus 26:5), upon which Rashi comments: ‘one who eats a little and it satisfies him.’ Akin to ‘Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his lot’ (Pirkei Avot 4:1) and Jacob’s assertion that he had been blessed with ‘all’ (Genesis 33:11). The nature of man is such that when he gets what he wants he will want more. So we ask God to give to us and for us to be happy with what we have, which will lessen our greed for more.
- Someone who is constantly pursuing the things they (think they) lack won’t have time or energy to spend on spiritual development.
- We want to feel satisfied with normal portions and not be gluttonous eaters.
And bless this year like the good years
- ‘This year’ refers to this present year and the ‘good years’ refers to the future good years which God promised us, as described in Joel 2:18–3:2, as a recompense for all the bad years we’ve suffered.
- Major step toward acting with integrity in our business dealings if we realize God is responsible for our financial success and never wants us to be dishonest. Providing a livelihood for ourselves, done well, can serve to improve our philosophy, behavior, and character but we must steer clear of its detrimental side-effects like greed, selfishness and self-preservation. We should see the challenge of making an honest livelihood as an opportunity from which we grow.
- This prayer’s tail letters are a ‘bet’ and a ‘mem.’ Torah begins with a ‘bet’ and Talmud begins with a ‘mem’ — a person who learns both Torah and Talmud will be blessed with a livelihood.
- Biblical agriculture in modern times: agriculture was the predominant economic vehicle of the Biblical era. Their lives revolved around the seasons and agricultural cycles. Many mitzvot, laws, and rituals are based on it and therefore seem rooted in such a society. This may seem alien to us smartphone owners in the 21st century, so the simple thing to do when we encounter agriculture in Judaism is to think in terms of our own material goods and prosperity. Surely we can relate to that.
Whereas the first set of the 13 blessings (first six) focus mostly on present-day needs, the next set (following seven) focus on the future Redemption. The second set also corresponds to the first set, in order, as will be explained.
BLESSING #10: INGATHERING / RETURN OF THE EXILES
תְּקַע בְּשׁוֹפָר גָּדוֹל לְחֵרוּתֵֽנוּ, וְשָׂא נֵס לְקַבֵּץ גָּלֻיּוֹתֵֽינוּ, וְקַבְּ֒צֵֽנוּ יַֽחַד מֵאַרְבַּע כַּנְפוֹת הָאָֽרֶץ: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, יי, מְקַבֵּץ נִדְחֵי עַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל
Sound the great ram’s horn (shofar) for our freedom, and raise a banner to gather in our exiles, and gather us together from the four corners of the earth. Blessed are You, HASHEM, Who gathers in the scattered ones (the exiled) of His people Israel.
- 7th blessing is a redemption while within exile. This prayer is a request for the ultimate redemption that will end our exile and return all of the Jews to our land.
- Throughout history there were times when the Jewish people seemed to be dispersed forever or a lost cause, but in reality, God was always assuring the nation’s survival and ultimate cohesion.
When Jacob’s sons sold Joseph into slavery and showed Jacob the multi-colored coat dipped in blood, Jacob refused to be comforted because he knew that each of his sons was to make a unique contribution in the creation of the Jewish nation, and if one of the 12 tribes / brothers was missing the foundation of the Jewish nation would be incomplete. Without the unifying component of Joseph and his leadership talents the nation wouldn’t be a cohesive whole and therefore couldn’t fulfill their mission in the world nor survive the future.
When Jacob saw Joseph again in Egypt, his long lost son whom he thought dead, he realized that God wouldn’t allow the Jewish nation to be incomplete and that He had always been mindful of their destiny. The 12 tribes and their father were reunited.
Angels saw this and sang “Blessed are You, HASHEM, who gathers in the exiled of his people Israel.”
We speak of livelihood and then of returning to the land of Israel, of redemption.
The land of Israel was created to be the most beneficial place for Jews to live. ‘The air of the Land of Israel makes one wise’ (Bava Batra 158b).
Israel was designed to offer a perfect balance of resources so that one wont complain about having too little or worry about losing too much. Each Jew should have exactly what they need to flourish both materially and spiritually. Israel ‘has neither too little nor too much.’ (Deuteronomy 8:7–10) There’s a delicate balance between physical and spiritual bounty. They may be aligned and grow together, or aligned but sink together, or they may be at odds with one another. It all depends on the person.
Redemption and livelihood intertwined in the Prophets: ‘fruits will be bountiful and the economy will be healthy, because your day of the ingathering of the exiles has come.’ (Ezekiel 36:8).
- Present day needs versus future Redemption: This first blessing of Redemption, the ingathering, corresponds to the first blessing from present day, wisdom (#4). In the blessing for wisdom we ask God to bless us with wisdom as individuals. In this blessing for the ingathering we ask to be blessed with wisdom as described regarding the future Redemption: ‘In all of My sacred mount Nothing evil or vile shall be done; For the land shall be filled with devotion to / knowledge of God as water covers the sea.’ (Isaiah 11:9)
- The overall blessing is based on Isaiah 27:13: “On that day a great shofar will be blown, and those who are lost in the land of Assyria, and those cast away in the land of Egypt, shall come and prostrate themselves to the Lord on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.”
Sound the great ram’s horn (shofar) for our freedom
- The ram’s horn, shofar, was sounded at the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai and the fall of the walls of Jericho. The shofar functions as both an accessory to historic miracles and a ritual used during certain holidays. It can also be used to WAKE US UP and bring us home.
- The further removed we are from the giving of the Torah, the more removed we are from our spiritual heights, so we need a ‘great’ ram’s horn.
- Our redemption starts with God making us free from depending on other nations.
- The ‘great ram’s horn’ may be literal or metaphorical — a worldwide recognition of God as if by a loud proclamation, which will be a signal for our freedom from other nations.
- The closest historical example is when Cyrus, then the most powerful king on earth after defeating the Babylonian empire, declared that the Jews may rebuild the Temple. This followed in the footsteps of Isaiah’s prophecy from 200 years earlier where Cyrus was mentioned by name: “Am the same who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd, he shall fulfill all My purposes!’ He shall say of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be rebuilt,’ and to the Temple: ‘You shall be founded again.” (Isaiah 44:28). Similarly, the era of the ‘great ram’s horn’ will be when the world’s rulers recognize God as the one true Ruler.
and raise a banner to gather in our exiles
- The nations of the world shall see, as if by a signal or raised banner, that our ingathering is being fulfilled by God.
and gather us together
- Includes both ideological and geographical unity.
- Jacob gathered his children on his deathbed and was about to reveal what will happen at the end of days, what will ‘call’ to them. The next verse says: ‘Draw together and listen, sons of Jacob.’ (Genesis 49:2) The ‘call’ will consist of the Jewish nation’s recognition that a new time has come, when the whole world recognizes God, and a signal that we too must gather together as one cohesive nation.
from the four corners of the earth
- based on Isaiah 24:16: ‘from the edge of the earth we have heard songs.” The time will come when the earth will ‘sprout wings,’ experiencing an uplifting of the spirit and morality. We ask God to gather us together and unite us from all parts of this newly uplifted world.
Blessed are You, HASHEM, who gathers in the scattered / exiled ones of his people Israel
- Based on Isaiah 56:8: ‘Thus declares the Lord GOD, Who gathers the dispersed of Israel: “I will gather still more to those already gathered.”’
- One who is ‘scattered,’ nidach, has been pushed out from a place or group, like an outcast or refugee.
- The two exiles mentioned in Isaiah 27:13 (above): Assyria and Egypt.
- Assyria, which contains the Hebrew letters which mean ‘happiness.’ The Jewish nation in exile in Assyria weren’t enslaved or persecuted, rather they enjoyed a relatively good life. This represents complacency in exile, which leads to assimilation and ultimately being cut off and lost.
- Egypt, which contains the Hebrew letters which mean ‘contraints’ and ‘suffering.’ This is associated with the lands in which we suffered greatly, like in Egypt, and because of this suffering many Jews gave up their religion either for theological reasons or to survive physically and economically.
- The prophet Ezekiel chastises the Jewish leaders for failing to uphold their duties to five types of people (Ezekiel 34:4), including the two types mentioned above.
- Not only scattered ones as in people but also our scattered spiritual sparks.
- Abraham was able to rally and unify people from totally different backgrounds in the belief of the One God. 20 words in this prayer symbolizes the 20 generations of the world before Abraham. God will unite all the Jews in the merit of their forefather Abraham even though they all now have different opinions, backgrounds, and nationalities from each other.
- Three expressions of ingathering — ‘ram’s horn’ and ‘banner’ and ‘four corners.’ First two expressions reference the lost 10 tribes, dispersed and exiled from the land of Israel following the destruction of the First Temple. Some disappeared into the dark mountains, requiring the ‘ram horn,’ and some disappeared beyond the Sambatyon river where a ‘raised banner’ would suffice. The third expression is a request to God to gather the remaining two tribes who have since been dispersed to the four corners of the earth. (Vilna Gaon)
- Reinforces the idea that the Jewish nation is incomplete until all of our brethren are found.
- Sequence of redemption during Messiah parallels that of the Exodus:
BLESSING #11: LAW & ORDER
הָשִֽׁיבָה שׁוֹפְ֒טֵֽינוּ כְּבָרִאשׁוֹנָה, וְיוֹעֲצֵֽינוּ כְּבַתְּ֒חִלָּה. וְהָסֵר מִמֶּֽנּוּ יָגוֹן וַאֲנָחָה. וּמְלוֹךְ עָלֵֽינוּ, אַתָּה יי, לְבַדְּ֒ךָ, בְּחֶֽסֶד וּבְרַחֲמִים. וְצַדְּ֒קֵֽנוּ בַּמִשְׁפָּט. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, יי, מֶֽלֶךְ אֹהֵב צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט
Return our judges to us as they were in the earliest times, and the ones who gave us counsel as at first. And remove sorrow and groaning from us. And rule over us, You God, all by Yourself, with lovingkindness and compassion. And we should come out righteous in judgment. Blessed are You, HASHEM, a King who loves righteousness and justice.
Angels sang ‘Blessed are you, HASHEM, a King who loves righteousness and justice’ when God told Moses about the laws he should give to the people dealing with monetary issues. Why did this cause them to bless God? Samuel was at first very upset when the Jew asked him to appoint a king over them after he had led the nation for decades. He felt they should be happy with the One True King, without needing a human monarchy like the other nations. But God told him to appoint them a king (as it is one of the 613 mitzvot in the Torah) in order to destroy Amalek and then build the Holy Temple. So having a regular king was part of the process.
- Once we are ready to be brought back to Israel (previous blessing), we will be ready for the restoration of God’s justice.
- Due to the failure of Jewish leadership resulting in five types of deficient people, including those who are ‘scattered’ and ‘lost’ (Ezekiel 34:4, mentioned in previous blessing), we ask God in this blessing to return to us the leaders who will lead us on the right path.
- Present day needs versus future Redemption: this can be considered a blessing for communal repentance, corresponding to the earlier blessing about repentance (#5).
- One of the first things to occur after the ‘signal’ or ingathering is a mass repentance movement (some say this mirrors the miraculous 6 Day War in 1967 and the ensuing repentance movement), and we ask God to provide the proper leadership to lead this movement
Return our judges to us as they were in the earliest times, and the ones who gave us counsel as at first
- Based on Isaiah 1:26 - “I will restore your judges as of old and your counselors as of yore.”
- judge— person who interpreted and/or enforced the law.
- earliest times — years when the Jewish people had their first government.
- who gave us counsel as at first — reference to Moses and Aaron who gave great advice about how people should observe the law and settled disputes.
- We pray to God for a government / leadership who can enforce the law (in case we aren’t yet ready to accept God’s law ourselves) and for these judges and leaders to be as spiritually enlightened as Moses and Aaron.
- We need judges to solve civil disputes, and for counselors / prophets for matters involving ritual law and ethics. If we don’t heed the advice of our counselors, judges need to enforce the law.
And remove from us sorrow and groaning
- Based on Isaiah 35:10 — “And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come with shouting to Zion, crowned with joy everlasting. They shall attain joy and gladness, while sorrow and sighing / groaning flee.”
- sorrow: grief which one carries internally.
- groaning: audible expression of pain when grief can’t be contained.
- When there is a lack of leadership and justice, the righteous and good people get taken advantage of and everyone will suffer because of that.
- When we lack a universally accepted leader it’s as if we’re without any leaders.
And rule over us, You God, all by Yourself
- Ideally we don’t need a government or a king, all we need is God. We try to correct our desire to be like the other nations who have kings and rulers over them.
- We ask God to dwell among us and help us make the right decisions about how to live our lives.
with lovingkindness and compassion
- as in blessing #2: lovingkindness is associated with this world, compassion with the age of Resurrection and the next world.
And we should come out righteous in judgment
- Righteous judgement, tzedek, is a mitigated form of justice, whereas straight judgement, mishpat, is strict justice. We ask God to treat us charitably in judgment, especially as we don’t yet have judgers or counselors to guide us.
Blessed are You, HASHEM, a King Who loves righteousness and justice.
- Two of our ancestors, Abraham and King David, embodied this blessing. Abraham educated his household in God’s ways (Genesis 18:19) and King David personally helped cover the costs of the those found guilty of court-appointed penalties in case they couldn’t afford to pay. (Samuel II 8:15 and Sanhedrin 6b).
- Asking for restoration of the Sanhedrin, a court of Torah scholars who sat in judgement. It was viewed as a place that personified the presence of God among the Jewish people and God’s way of manifesting His presence in the world.
- God revealed Himself at Mount Sinai and gave us the 10 commandments, then the Torah teaches us tort law. These societal laws were given to the Jews immediately following the spiritual highs of Mount Sinai both to remind us that:
- Godliness can be found in the mundane.
- Religious law is no more or less important than civil law.
- We should carry some of our spiritual highs into our mundane lives.
- God loves mercy but He also loves justice.
- Three sorrows of exile: corrupt leaders + living in environments that weaken our spiritual health + our evil inclination. This blessing addresses all three:
1. First request is to restore good leaders who wont have prejudices and will preserve good spiritual standards that we need.
2. Second request is to take away ‘sorrow and groaning’ — ‘sorrow’ as in saddened and depressed over nothing and ‘groaning’ as in suffering from something real and painful.
3. Third request is for God to rule over us so that our evil inclination wont rule over us.
- Legal System: exists for the betterment of society — without a legal system in place, everyone’s needs, desires and goals would be in chaos. ‘Were it not for the fact that people are afraid of the government, one person would swallow up the next.’ (Pirkei Avot 3:2) The legal system also creates an atmosphere in which God can live in this world with us, such as:
- a king who helps maintain order in His kingdom where he feels at home
- the Talmud teaches that when a judge did properly, God came into the courtroom and that God sat amidst the judges in judgement (source in Brachot?)
- We want God Himself to rule over us and deliver justice.
- Giving charity is actually a form of justice, because God gives some people more than they need and others less — so those with more must restore the balance.
- ‘Zion will be redeemed with justice’ (Isaiah 1:23) — only when we ask God for a type of justice that allows God to manifest His presence in the world.
- “In righteousness shall you judge your colleague” (Leviticus 19:15) and “Judge your fellow favorably / give your fellow the benefit of the doubt.’ (Shavuot 30a)
BLESSING #12: AGAINST THE WICKED
וְלַמַּלְשִׁינִים אַל תְּהִי תִקְוָה, וְכָל הָרִשְׁעָה כְּרֶֽגַע תֹּאבֵד. וְכָל אֹיְבֶֽיךָ מְהֵרָה יִכָּרֵֽתוּ, וְהַזֵּדִים מְהֵרָה תְעַקֵּר וּתְשַׁבֵּר וּתְמַגֵּר וְתַכְנִֽיעַ בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵֽינוּ: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, יי, שׁוֹבֵר אֹיְ֒בִים וּמַכְנִֽיעַ זֵדִים
And for the slanderers let there be no hope, and may all evil be instantly destroyed. And all of Your enemies should be quickly cut off, and the rebellious sinners You should quickly uproot and smash and break and humble quickly in our days. Blessed are You, HASHEM, Who breaks enemies and humbles rebellious sinners.
[This blessing was added to the shemoneh esrei’s original 18. It wasn’t one of the original 18 blessings but the Sanhedrin later felt it was worthy and appropriate.]
After 210 years of oppression and slavery under the Egyptians, God took the Jews out of Egypt. The Egyptians regretted letting the Jews go and chased after them. God split the Reed Sea and the Jews passed through it. The Egyptians pursued and drowned in the sea. It was clearly manifest in the world that God noticed the Jew’s suffering under the Egyptians and punished their oppressor, and this reminded the nations that justice would eventually come to the entire world.
Upon witnessing the Egyptians’ destruction, the angels sang ‘Blessed are You, HASHEM, who breaks enemies and humbles rebellious sinners.”
Inclusion of a 19th blessing
- Psalm 29, which refers to the creation of the world and the sustaining of the world, mentions God’s name 18 times. So this number parallels the shemoneh esrei, which we pray with the goal of recognizing God as Master and Creator and Sustainer of the world. There is also a 19th mention of God’s ‘name’ in Psalm 29 but it refers to God’s attribute of justice, as opposed to the other 18 mentions referring to His attribute of mercy. Indeed, this 19th prayer talks about God meting out justice to His enemies and sinners.
- God’s Name appears 18 times in the Shema which affirms God’s unity, our belief in Him, and our commitment to do God’s will. God’s unity is the crux of the first line of the Shema. Sinners try to destroy His role as One in the world.
- Even without these extra 19th references, this prayer still would have merited being added.
- Talmud refers to this prayer is ‘blessing against the Sadducees.’ These people not only denied the Oral Torah, but also sought to destroy other people’s commitment to Oral Law. They trapped and snitched on the Jews to foreign governments, causing many to be killed. Rabbi Gamliel commissioned Shmuel HaKatan to create this prayer in order to remove the negativity of the Sadducees. This was originally supposed to be said only on fast days but changed to every day because of the great threat of the Sadducees.
- Present day needs versus future Redemption: This blessing begins with ‘and,’ signifying that it’s associated with the previous blessing. Just like the previous blessing was associated with blessing #5, repentance, so too this one. In the previous blessing we asked God for leniency in judging us, but we want the evildoers to be dealt with more harshly, with strict judgment. In so doing, hopefully they repent more quickly.
And the slanderers
- The original textual version referred not to slanderers but to heretics and converts who misconstrued the Talmud as being anti-Christian and slandered us to local church authorities, often resulting in the confiscation and burning of the Talmud.
- Refers to people who came from knowledgeable Jewish backgrounds, knew Jewish Torah and Oral law, and still became heretics.
- Uneducated Jews who sin are considered to be inadvertent sinners.
- Usually we pray for evil people to repent but some such educated Jews are so far removed that they become connected to rebellious sins and need to be broken to become humble and return to Judaism.
- People who try to eradicate the concept of God and spiritual values.
and the rebellious sinners You should quickly uproot and smash and break and humble quickly in our days
- ‘rebellious sinners’ — purposeful evildoers who attempt to influence Jews away from their faith and/or convert them.
- This is for people who need to be forced to return.
- One whose goal is to destroy the fabric of Judaism or the Jewish people needs to be destroyed.
- uproot: preventing any future growth.
- smash: separate them into various factions, rendering them less effective.
- break: cut them into even smaller pieces — dividing those factions into lne individuals without support.
- humble: render harmless the remaining individuals.
Blessed are You, HASHEM, Who breaks enemies and humbles rebellious sinners.
- enemies: those who wish to destroy us physically.
- rebellious sinners: those who wish to destroy us spiritually.
- We pray for destruction of heretics together with destruction of barriers that prevent God’s spiritual energies from reaching us.
- When we pray to God to destroy heretics we must also realize the harm we create by our own negative actions, speech, and thoughts.
- If someone is intent on hurting us we must defend ourselves.
- We want God to rid this world of the sinner’s arrogance and all other evils, not the sinner himself.
- The shemoneh esrei is still called such, referring to 18 blessings instead of the actual 19, because we hope this threat of rebellious sinners will be vanquished and we can then remove this blessing.
- The sect of rebellious Judeo-Christians disappeared and Christianity became a religion separate from Judaism — so in a way this blessing was effective. The textual version of the blessing in modern form is a watered down version of what it once was, watered down out of fear because Christians, especially the knowledge Judeo-Christians, accused the Jews of cursing their religion.
BLESSING #13: THE RIGHTEOUS
עַל־הַצַּדִּיקִים, וְעַל־הַחֲסִידִים, וְעַל־זִקְנֵי עַמְּ֒ךָ בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְעַל פְּלֵיטַת סוֹפְ֒רֵיהֶם, וְעַל גֵּרֵי הַצֶּֽדֶק, וְעָלֵֽינוּ, יֶהֱמוּ רַחֲמֶֽיךָ, יי אֱלֹוקינוּ, וְתֵן שָׂכָר טוֹב לְכָל הַבּוֹטְ֒חִים בְּשִׁמְךָ בֶּאֱמֶת. וְשִׂים חֶלְקֵֽנוּ עִמָּהֶם לְעוֹלָם, וְלֹא נֵבוֹשׁ, כִּי בְךָ בָּטָֽחְנוּ: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, יי, מִשְׁעָן, וּמִבְטָח, לַצַּדִּיקִים
On the righteous, and on the devout, and on the elders of Your nation, the House of Israel, and on the remnant of their scholars, and on the righteous converts, and on us, (please) bestow Your compassion, Lord our God, and give a good reward to all those who trust in Your Name in truth. And put our portion together with them forever, and we will not be embarrassed, because we have trusted in You. Blessed are You, HASHEM, Mainstay of, and Assurer to, the righteous.
Jacob was so saddened by Joseph’s ‘death’ that it prevented the Holy Presence, shechina, of God from visiting him. When he discovered that Joseph was still alive he was very happy, but still uneasy about leaving Israel to go down to Egypt. He was unsure if Joseph was able to maintain his exalted spiritual status after he had become Egypt’s secular leader, and Jacob knew the Jewish people now required both Joseph’s spiritual greatness and his secular governmental authority while the Jews remained in Egypt. Further, Jacob realized he was beginning the long exile of the Jewish nation.
God finally appeared to Jacob after all these years and reassured him, saying: “Do not be afraid of descending to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt and I shall also surely bring you up, and Joseph will place his hands upon your eyes.” (Genesis 46:3–4) Not only did Joseph maintain his spirituality throughout his stay in Egypt, but he would be there til the end and even close Jacob’s eyes when he died.
Jacob trusted in God’s promise and when it was eventually fulfilled the angels sang, “Blessed are you, HASHEM, the Mainstay of, and Assurer to, the righteous.”
- Previous blessing refers to those who seek to destroy Judaism. This prayer refers to the people who suffer most from those sinners.
- ‘He guards the lives of His pious ones, He rescues them from the hand of the wicked.’ (Psalms 97:10)
- ‘God protects all who love Him, but all the wicked He will destroy.’ (Psalms 145:20)
- Present day needs versus future Redemption: this blessing corresponds to that of forgiveness (#6) in that it refers to people who have already done repentance and have subsequently been forgiven.
On the righteous
- The highest level of human perfection: people who live exactly as God wants them to. This same root word, exactness, also refers to accurate weights and scales in business, (Leviticus 19:36) and to the character of the Jewish nation at the time of Redemption when our sins will be forgiven. (Isaiah 60:21)
and on the devout
- The next highest level — not quite the near-perfect ‘righteous,’ but these people do more mitzvot and kindnesses than required of them.
and on the elders
- Refers to Torah scholars, people we can turn to for answers to our questions and who can instruct us in both the letter and spirit of the Torah.
and on the remnant of their scholars
- Refers to people who teach written Torah to children, and all teachers of Torah.
- Referred to as ‘remnant’ because most people don’t become Torah scholars as it’s an unappreciated profession and isn’t financially lucrative, and fewer of those who do wish to spend their time teaching children.
and on the righteous converts
- The nations will flock to the Jewish nation to join them in the Messianic era (Zecharia 8:22–23), but here we’re praying for the converts who join us in every generation.
- This includes Jewish repentants, ba’alei teshuva. Every Jew becomes a new person after Yom Kippur, a ba’al teshuva in their own right, though this prayer specifically refers to those who were born Jewish but were raised in a non-observant home and have become observant Jews of their own volition and initiative.
and on us
- the simple ordinary Jew.
bestow your compassion
- God’s mercy is always there, but we ask that He make it apparent.
And give a good reward to all those who trust You in Your Name in truth
- Refers to those who trust in God and keep faith in Him without fear even in dangerous or dire situations (Isaiah 12:2) — true trust.
- We’re not always as careful as those who ‘trust in Your Name in truth’ but our hearts are in the right place. Since our hearts are in the same place as theirs, who righteously actualize their heart’s desire, we deserve to share in some of their reward from God.
- It’s a ‘good reward’ in that it can be shared with others.
And put our portion together with them forever
- We always want to be associated with the righteous though our behavior may not always be on the same level as theirs.
- We create spiritual reservoirs within us when we observe the mitzvot and when we sin we lose access to those reservoirs. So we ask God to give the righteous the spirituality we built but can no longer access. The righteous will then access it and return it to us in ways that will benefit us. When Jews promised God ‘we will do and we will listen,’ (Exodus 24:7) they were given golden crowns to symbolize their spiritual greatness. When they sinned with the Golden Calf just a few weeks later their crowns were removed and given to Moses for safeguarding. He spent the rest of his life giving them their [spiritual] crowns back through his inspirational teaching of the Torah.
We won’t be embarrassed
- We may be embarrassed because we know the truth of God and Torah but we don’t always show it.
- There is a lack of dignity in depending on someone else, so this verse states we will never be embarrassed about our dependence on God. God can shoulder all our problems.
- We ask not to be embarrassed when we leave this world, because when we enter the next world everyone sees the absolute truth about all of us and we don’t want to be ashamed of our actions.
Blessed are you, HASHEM, the Mainstay of, and Assurer to, the righteous
- Whenever things are bad the righteous person can always lean on God and He will always embrace and come for them.
- God is a mainstay, a supporter, for those striving to become righteous and a source of trust, an assurer, for those aiming to have true trust in Him.
- God is wherever people yearn for Him and appreciate His importance.
- ‘Whoever places his trust in the Holy One, Blessesd is He, will merit that He will be a refuge for him in this world and the next.’ (Menachot 29b)
- We should aspire to become righteous, always striving toward that perfection. We should ask God to help us become a righteous person when we say the shema and shemoneh esrei — we can’t do it without His help.
Related understanding of the five types of people mentioned in this blessing:
- Tzadikim/’righteous’: those who are meticulous in performing all of God’s expectations and mitzvot. Some say this refers to people who have never sinned (only a few throughout history: Benjamin, Amram, Jesse, Chileab).
- Chasidim/’devout’: those who are meticulous in their own personal observances and also do good deeds on behalf of others, going beyond the call of duty. According to this interpretation they’re on a higher spiritual level than tzadikim. Some say this refers to people who sinned and then repented, ba’alei teshuvah.
- Zekainim/’elders’: Jewish sages who made/make decisions that mold the Jewish people. Same or similar group of people we refer to in blessing #11.
- Pleitat sofreihem/’remnant of scholars’: those who developed the Torah’s wisdom with the same intensity and freshness with which it was accepted at Mount Sinai. Wisdom comes from exhaustively studying the Torah. Not many can count themselves among this group. Some say this refers to people who teach Torah to the young.
- Gerei hatzedek/’righteous converts’: not originally in the blessing composed by the Men of the Great Assembly, but added by Rabbi Gamliel and Shmuel HaKatan later. He saw Jews suffer from persecutions but also witnessed many sincere converts to Judaism concurrently. He felt that they made a great statement of truth and faith in God against all odds and deserved to be prayed for so they wouldn’t fall to all the negativity around them.
BLESSING #14: REBUILDING JERUSALEM
וְלִירוּשָׁלַֽיִם עִירְ֒ךָ, בְּרַחֲמִים תָּשׁוּב, וְתִשְׁכּוֹן בְּתוֹכָהּ כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבַּֽרְתָּ. וּבְנֵה אוֹתָהּ בְּקָרוֹב בְּיָמֵֽינוּ, בִּנְיַן עוֹלָם. וְכִסֵּא דָוִד מְהֵרָה לְתוֹכָהּ תָּכִין. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, יי, בּוֹנֵה יְרוּשָׁלָֽיִם
And to Jerusalem Your city, You should return with compassion, and You should dwell there as You have told us You would. And build it [the Temple] very soon in our days, as an everlasting building. And may You speedily establish the throne of David within it. Blessed are You, HASHEM, who builds Jerusalem.
Angels sang ‘Blessed are You, HASHEM, who builds Jerusalem’ when King Solomon finished building the First Temple, an event that demonstrated that people have the ability to strengthen the reality of God. It was a remarkable thing to build a place where people can go to feel an extra dose of God’s presence. When this blessing was said in the time of the Temple, it was said as a request for the Temple’s continued existence. Since then, we say it as a request for the Temple to be rebuilt.
This prayer starts with the word ‘and’ which tells us that it has a connection to the previous prayer.
God takes care of the righteous (previous prayer) and we ask that they receive honor and respect since they are dedicated to contributing to the world. Just as we pray for people who fight in God’s Name and publicize it, we also pray for the place from where the God’s reality should emanate. The honor of Jerusalem is inseparable from the honor of its inhabitants since they strengthen each other.
- Present day needs versus future Redemption: this blessing corresponds to the blessing of redemption (#7) — the great Redemption is synonymous with the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple.
And to Jerusalem Your city
- God’s holiness is still in Jerusalem but we ask that His presence be felt in His returning. God’s maintaining of some part of His holiness in Jerusalem allows us to yearn for the fuller reality of His presence there, a reality we enjoyed when the Temples stood.
- The righteous achieve their full greatness only in Jerusalem.
- There are two Jerusalems: one in the world and one in the heavenly world. God won’t enter the one on high until He comes to the one below. (Taanit 5a).
- The Jerusalem on high is the abode for those who helped rebuild the earthly Jerusalem — they will have ‘front-row seat’ to witness and experience the earthly rebuilding.
You should return with compassion
- Even if we don’t deserve it, we pray that God should return and transform Jerusalem into a place that can legitimately be called ‘Your / God’s city.’
and You should dwell there as You have told us You would
- Based on the promise spoken in God’s Name: “I have returned to Zion, and I will dwell in Jerusalem” (Zecharia 8:3). The fulfillment of this promise will follow the city becoming ‘God’s city’ and precede the rebuilding of the Temple. It will be ‘God’s city’ when its inhabitants faithfully follow His ways.
- dwell: this will happen when the Temple offerings are resumed, and this can be done even before the Temple is fully rebuilt (Zevachim 62a) — but first we need a prophet to identify the precise location of the sacrificial alter for the offerings.
And build it [the Temple] very soon, and in our days, as an everlasting building
- The First and Second Temples were built by people with spiritual deficiencies so they were built with human limitations. When the Third Temple will be built, the Jews will be on such a high spiritual level that ‘God Himself will build it.’ Technically, people will build it, but our relationship with God will allow us to transcend nature in such a way that the Third Temple will never be destroyed, it will be beyond human limitations.
Throne of David
- The throne of David (and his son Solomon) taught the values that allowed the First Temple to be built.
- It is a symbol of the honor due to G-d.
- David’s soul will be reincarnated into the Messiah’s. (based on Isaiah 11:1)
Blessed are You, HASHEM, who builds Jerusalem.
- This is in the present tense to show that it partly occurs in the present, though the major part of it will not be fully apparent until the future. It extends outward like an iceberg in the water whose mere tip is visible.
- It is an ongoing process, slow and steady, with our long exile serving as its foundation — the higher the building, the deeper the foundation.
The rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple depends on us. Every good deed and mitzva contributes to the rebuilding. From every sad event, difficulty, or spiritual challenge in our lives, some spiritual contribution is being made to the everlasting ‘walls of fire’ of the Third Temple. Every generation must contributes which is why it’s ‘eternal / everlasting.’
BLESSING #15: DAVIDIC DYNASTY
אֶת־צֶֽמַח דָּוִד, עַבְדְּ֒ךָ, מְהֵרָה תַצְמִֽיחַ, וְקַרְנוֹ תָּרוּם בִּישׁוּעָתֶֽךָ, כִּי לִישׁוּעָתְ֒ךָ קִוִּֽינוּ כָּל הַיּוֹם: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה,יי, מַצְמִֽיחַ קֶֽרֶן יְשׁוּעָה
Make the offspring of David, Your servant, sprout forth quickly, and raise his glory in Your salvation, because we hope for Your salvation all day. Blessed are You, HASHEM, who makes the glory of salvation flourish.
When the Egyptians chased after the Jews after letting them go free, God split the Reed Sea. Jews safely passed through but when the Egyptians tried it they drowned. Jews saw their enemy had been killed and praised God with the Song of the Sea. The angels simultaneously sang ‘Blessed are You, HASHEM, who makes the glory of salvation flourish.’
- Present day needs versus future Redemption: this blessings corresponds to healing (#8) — the Messianic age represents the ultimate healing for what ails the Jewish nation. We’ve been sick in exile, absorbing non-Jewish values and abandoning core Jewish values like modesty and compassion. Thankfully we’ve kept the value of doing charitable deeds and acts of kindness.
Offspring of David
- ‘Offspring,’ tzemach, is a reference to the Messiah (Zecharia 3:8, Jeremiah 23:5, & Psalms 132:17)
- King David is associated with the idea of salvation because his crises brought him to greater heights of faith.
Sprout forth quickly
- The process of plant life sprouting forth is generally a slow but steady process that dependent on water. In the case of the Redemption, it’s a process that is built on the tears through the generations.
- Developing dynasties and flourishing countries doesn’t happen overnight. We simply ask God to make it happen as fast as possible. Just like the growing plant where we are blind to its day-to-day growth, so too does our generation contribute to the ultimate redemption. We ask God to make it like a fast-growing plant and not a slow one. We want it to be OUR GENERATION.
and raise his glory in Your salvation
- ‘Glory,’ is also a word for ‘horn,’ which symbolizes power, and ‘ray (of light).’ This bespeaks the dual role of the Messiah: to rid the world of evil through the power of prayer; and to have a positive spiritual influence on the Jewish nation, radiating his light on them as did Moses, causing a mass repentance movement and elevating the Jews to the level of righteousness. (Isaiah 60:21)
- Without the fear of heaven the Messiah is nothing. God is the source of his strength and the true savior. The Messiah is among those saved by Him.
- The ancestry of the Messiah was paved with repentance — Judah with Tamar (see history to blessing #6). The Messiah must have a connection with and understanding of the needs to repentants to successfully institute the global repentance movement while maintaining his own righteousness amid any personal struggles, just like his ancestor King David.
Because we hope for Your salvation all day
- We don’t mean God’s salvation of the Jews, but rather the world. We don’t want the idea of God to disappear for the sake of the world. At the Reed Sea our ancestors reveled in the fact that God’s reality was made apparent to the world. Here, we ask God for that same opportunity.
- When we say we’re waiting for the Messiah we really mean we’re waiting for God. We should have the thought that we’re eagerly awaiting His salvation, in which the Messiah will be His agent.
- The ‘whole day’ should be permeated with this hope and excitement for God’s salvation.
Blessed are You, HASHEM, who makes the glory of salvation flourish
- Here, ‘keren’ is translated as ‘glory,’ not the usual ‘horn.’ The glory here refers to the anointing of kings, who were anointed with oil poured from a horn. We blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah to help us accept God’s dominion over us. The first moment of royalty was when God blew the soul of life into Adam’s nostrils and he immediately accepted God as king. The blowing of the shofar horn will forever bring that royalty back into the world. We yearn for a return to such royalty.
- The process of the coming of the Messiah may feel slow but when it finally becomes clear it will feel like a sudden event (Malachi 3:1), like a building’s foundation breaking above the enclosure.
- This is one of three things that come unexpectedly, along with finding a lost object and the bite of a scorpion. (Sanhedrin 97b)
Song of the Sea: After the Jews crossed the miraculously split-open Reed Sea and the Egyptian soldiers drowned in the ensuing waters’ regathering, the Jewish nation thanked God for being chosen to proclaim His presence and power to the world. This song is a praise of God borne from wisdom. When the Egyptians threatened to annihilate the Jews at the Reed Sea, God brought ferocious animals on both sides of the Jews to prevent them from trying to run away. After the miracles of the sea, the Jews might have been less grateful to God for saving them since He was the One Who brought the animals and prevented their escape in the first place. But having witness God’s reality at the fullest possible sense— it was so tangible they could point to it: ‘This is my God and I will glorify Him (Exodus 15:2) — at the sea, they now understood that God puts them in situations for a special purpose. God wanted to show the Jews and the world that He is the Master and Controller of everything.
BLESSING #16: ACCEPTANCE OF PRAYER
שְׁמַע קוֹלֵֽנוּ, יי אֱלֹקינוּ, חוּס וְרַחֵם עָלֵֽינוּ, וְקַבֵּל בְּרַחֲמִים וּבְרָצוֹן אֶת־תְּפִלָּתֵֽנוּ, כִּי אֵל שׁוֹמֵֽעַ תְּפִלּוֹת וְתַחֲנוּנִים אָֽתָּה. וּמִלְּפָנֶֽיךָ, מַלְכֵּֽנוּ, רֵיקָם אַל־תְּשִׁיבֵֽנוּ, כִּי אַתָּה שׁוֹמֵֽעַ תְּפִלַּת עַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּרַחֲמִים: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, יי, שׁוֹמֵֽעַ תְּפִלָּה
Hear our voice, Lord our God, have pity and be compassionate to us, and accept our prayer with compassion and willingness, because You are a God who listens to prayer and supplication. And from before You, King, do not turn us away empty-handed, because You listen with compassion to the prayers of Your people. Blessed are You, HASHEM, Who hears prayer.
The Jews had been in Egypt for 210 years — enslaved for over 100 years — until God ‘heard’ their cries and started the process of redeeming them. Angels saw this and were so excited they praised G-d and said ‘Blessed are You, HASHEM, who hears prayer.’
But the Jews wouldn’t leave Egypt for another year and they still faced may obstacles, so why didn’t the angels wait until the Jews got out safely before praising God?
The Jews were enslaved in Egypt and knew this wasn’t the way to live life, but had lost the capacity to know exactly what to pray for. God heard their cries and unsaid pleas even without them saying what they wanted — this is what excited the angels, the fact that God is so eager to form a connection to every Jew that he listens to our cries just like He listens to verbalized requests.
The previous blessing asked for the reestablishment of the Davidic Dynasty. King David’s primary method of growth was through prayer. When the Davidic Dynasty is restored, a higher level of prayer will be possible and this blessing refers to that level of worship.
- Present day needs versus future Redemption: this blessing corresponds to that of prosperity (#9) — in this case we are addressing the needs of the soul instead of the body’s. Our soul naturally wants to be connected to God and this connection is enhanced through prayer, which is related to prophecy (Chatam Sofer) and is within the realm of miracles.
Hear our voice
- This is the first, most elemental type of prayer: a voice that has no words or speech. We simply want God to hear our cries, without our even knowing what to pray for.
- Our voice, before any words, is associated with our concentration, which gives our prayers their true value.
- Like a son pleads with father: “Please, father! Hear my voice!”
Lord, our God
- We ask God to listen to us because He is our God.
Have pity and be compassionate to us
- This is the second type of prayer: we verbalize our requests and ask God to grant us what we recognize we need, as well as the things we don’t know we need. Here, the person simply knows he needs something.
- Chus/Pity — we acknowledge to God that we might not be worthy of the removal of our pain, but since God is all-good, we know it pains Him to watch us suffer.
- Racheim/Compassion — unlike pity which evokes a feeling of anguish, compassion actually makes God empathize with us and want to help our situation.
- Pity is the feeling one has to something which he made himself with great care (Vilna Gaon, based on Genesis 45:20 & Isaiah 13:18). We ask for compassion because we can’t exist without it.
And accept our prayer with compassion and willingness
- This is the third type of prayer: we ask for general help and salvation. We ask God to help the Jews arrive at the spiritual level they should be at.
- Ratzon/willingness — if we are able to pray with ratzon then we ask God to hear our prayers with that same willingness.
- Some prayers are accepted because of God’s compassion, while others are accepted because they’re made from the righteous and God ‘wants’ to accept them.
- ‘Our prayer,’ not ‘prayers,’ because each person in unique and has different needs for which they’re thinking about when praying.
God who listens to prayers and supplication
- ‘Prayers’: when we’re worthy of being heard.
- ‘Supplication’: when we’re not worthy.
- Prayer connotes thinking and requires focus whereas supplication comes from our heart and is an expression of our emotions. We mustn’t let prayer becomes a set routine, rather each one should be a unique experience.
- ‘Prayers’ here in the plural, as we now refer to the prayers of all mankind, not just the Jewish nation’s. (Psalms 65:3)
And from before You, King, do not turn us away empty-handed
- Our prayers arrive into the heavenly courts and we’re deemed worthy or unworthy.
- When our prayers go before God the King we pray that He won’t turn us away, as God our Father won’t turn from His child.
- We pray for lots of things and sometimes the answer is no. In such cases we at least ask not to be sent away empty handed with total rejection, at least let our hearts be filled with faith and an awareness that our prayers are heard and the great merit we have in talking to God — like like Hannah’s positive demeanor after she prayed.
because You listen with compassion to the prayers of Your people
- This emphasizes the importance of praying as part of a congregation — joining with all of the Jewish nation, using standardized prayers. God has a special relationship with the Jewish nation, especially when we call out to Him in prayer (Deuteronomy 4:7). If we are unable to pray with others, then we should try to time our prayers to coincide with theirs and to think of ourselves as part of the Jewish nation praying.
Uniqueness of the final request of the shemoneh esrei:
- Unlike other blessings where any unwritten private requests should correspond to the theme of the blessing, here in this blessing one may ask for anything because ‘hear our voice’ encompasses all.
- This is a message to every Jew that there’s nothing we should feel uncomfortable about when talking to God —no request too small or selfish — we talk about what is important to us and this forms a bond with God.
The final three blessings are expressions of thanksgiving [with requests mixed in]
BLESSING #17: SERVICE OF GOD
רְצֵה, יי אֱלֵֹֽקינוּ, בְּעַמְּ֒ךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל, וּבִתְפִלָּתָם, וְהָשֵׁב אֶת הָעֲבוֹדָה לִדְבִיר בֵּיתֶֽךָ. וְאִשֵּׁי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וּתְפִלָּתָם, בְּאַהֲבָה תְקַבֵּל בְּרָצוֹן, וּתְהִי לְרָצוֹן תָּמִיד עֲבוֹדַת יִשְׂרָאֵל עַמֶּֽךָ. וְתֶחֱזֶֽינָה עֵינֵֽינוּ בְּשׁוּבְ֒ךָ לְצִיּוֹן בְּרַחֲמִים: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, יי, הַמַּחֲזִיר שְׁכִינָתוֹ לְצִיּוֹן
Be pleased, Lord our God, with Your people Israel, and with their prayers, and reinstate the service to the Holy of Holies in Your house. And (also restore the) sacrifices of Israel, and accept their prayers with love and willingness, and may the service of Your people Israel always be pleasing (to You). And our eyes should see Your return to Zion with compassion. Blessed are You, HASHEM, Who returns His divine presence to Zion.
The Jews sinned with the Golden Calf and 80 days later Moshe came down from Mount Sinai and declared that God had forgiven them — the first Yom Kippur. The next day, God commanded the Jews to build the Tabernacle so that His presence could reside there among them. When the Jews offered sacrifices at the completed Tabernacle months later, God sent down His holy fire as a symbol that He resided in the Tabernacle. Angels saw this and sang ‘Blessed are you, HASHEM, who returns His divine presence to Zion.’
God’s presence had resided in the homes of the forefathers, essentially the first tabernacles. During the exile in Egypt the divine presence disappeared from Jewish homes. So, witnessing now God’s presence returned to the Jewish People, the angels understood that God was now with them just as He was with the forefathers, a cause for thanks and praise.
Be pleased, Lord our God, with Your people Israel, and with their prayers
- Sounds similar to the previous blessing, but here we emphasize the Jewish nation’s historic mission of sanctifying God’s Name in this world.
- We only merit returning to our Source because we are ‘Your people.’ We may be able to ask for things as individuals (the 13 prior requests), but returning to God requires a unified Jewish nation. So we refer to ourselves in the third-person here, ‘Your people,’ unlike in the 13 requests when we use first-person.
- We ask God to see us as part of Himself.
- We ask God for Himself, not for the purpose of receiving reward, but only to become closer to Him. His pleasure is our greatest reward. We attempt to be a giver, rather than a taker, in our relationship with God.
and reinstate the service to the Holy of Holies in Your house
- The Temple offerings express the closest connection we have with God, and so its reinstitution will bring about the greatest sanctification of His Name. The Yom Kippur service in the Temple partly takes place in the Temple’s Holy of Holies. Contained therein were the tablets and Moses’ written copy of the Torah, representing the written Torah, and the Kaporet and Keruvim, representing the oral Torah.
- The purpose of creation will be realized when God’s presence permeates the world and He is recognized by all mankind, which will take place when the Temple service is restored.
And (also restore the) sacrifices of Israel
- Sacrifices were used to become closer to God as part of the Temple service. Every living thing has an affinity with the source they came from. When we sacrificed the animals we understood they were taking our place, that really we deserved to sacrifice more of ourselves but instead used the animal as a substitute. In identifying with the sacrificed animal the offerer / penitent ‘returned’ themselves to God, whether with remorse, thanksgiving, or celebration. God has no need for sacrifices, of course, but by doing them according to His Word and returning the animals to God, people realized that they too want to be as close as possible to their Source.
- ‘Sacrifices’ refers to the souls of the righteous people that have already died — we ask that their souls come into a total union with God.
and accept their prayers with love and willingness
- We ask not for ourselves (so we don’t say ‘accept with compassion’) but for God’s sake — so we ask for His willingness, for it to be pleasing in His eyes.
and may the service of Your people Israel always be pleasing (to You)
- We substitute our prayers for the Temple service, specifically the prayer for the return of God’s Holiness manifest in the world.
And our eyes should see Your return to Zion with compassion
- The Hebrew word for ‘see’ here connotes seeing with prophetic vision, which is needed to conceptualize the return of God’s presence, along with all the miracles that took place when the Temple stood. We need God’s compassion to grant us this vision as we are unworthy of being blessed with such sight. We ask God to make us worthy of seeing His return.
- When we return to God, we will see the things we merit to see. Lot’s wife wasn’t worthy of being saved from the destruction of Sodom, which is why she was forbidden to witness their destruction.
- ‘Zion’ refers to the Temple, the soul of the Jewish nation, whereas Jerusalem the city is the body of the Jewish nation.
As mentioned in the background, the daily prayers were instituted as a replacement for, and in correspondence with, the daily Temple service. Specifically, this prayer corresponds to the meal offerings which were brought as adjunct after the animal sacrifice, conveying the idea of a token gift which forms an extra bond and ingratiates one to another, like a person who brings a bottle of wine to their meal host. (R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch) This idea, and our love for God, lies at the root of this blessing
BLESSING #18: THANKSGIVING
מוֹדִים אֲנַֽחְנוּ לָךְ, שָׁאַתָּה הוּא יי אֱלֹקינוּ, וֵאלֹקי אֲבוֹתֵֽינוּ, לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד. צוּר חַיֵּֽינוּ, מָגֵן יִשְׁעֵֽנוּ, אַתָּה הוּא לְדוֹר וָדוֹר. נֽוֹדֶה לְּךָ וּנְסַפֵּר תְּהִלָּתֶֽךָ, עַל־חַיֵּֽינוּ ,הַמְּ֒סוּרִים בְּיָדֶֽךָ, וְעַל נִשְׁמוֹתֵֽינוּ הַפְּ֒קוּדוֹת לָךְ, וְעַל נִסֶּֽיךָ שֶׁבְּכָל יוֹם עִמָּֽנוּ וְעַל נִפְלְ֒אוֹתֶֽיךָ וְטוֹבוֹתֶֽיךָ שֶׁבְּ֒כָל עֵת — עֶֽרֶב וָבֹֽקֶר וְצָהֳרָֽיִם. הַטּוֹב, כִּי לֹא כָלוּ רַחֲמֶֽיךָ, וְהַמְ֒רַחֵם, כִּי לֹא תַֽמּוּ חֲסָדֶֽיךָ. מֵעוֹלָם קִוִּֽינוּ לָךְ. וְעַל־כֻּלָּם יִתְבָּרַךְ וְיִתְרוֹמַם שִׁמְךָ, מַלְכֵּֽנוּ, תָּמִיד, לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד. וְכֹל הַחַיִּים יוֹדֽוּךָ סֶּֽלָה, וִיהַלְ֒לוּ אֶת־שִׁמְךָ בֶּאֱמֶת, הָאֵל יְשׁוּעָתֵֽנוּ וְעֶזְרָתֵֽנוּ סֶֽלָה: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, יי, הַטּוֹב שִׁמְךָ, וּלְךָ נָאֶה לְהוֹדוֹת
We thank You, that You are the Lord our God, and the God of our fathers, forever and ever. You are the Rock of our lives, the Shield of our salvation, in every generation. We’ll thank You and tell Your praise, for our lives which are given over into Your hand, and for our souls which are in safekeeping with You, and for Your miracles which are with us every day, and for Your wonders and goodnesses that (occur) at all times — evening, and morning, and afternoon. (You are) good, for You have not stopped Your compassion, and (You’re) the Merciful One, for Your lovingkindness has not ceased. We have always hoped in You. And for all of these may Your Name be blessed and exalted, our King, constantly, forever. And all of the living shall thank You forever, and praise Your Name with truth, the God who is our salvation and our help forever. Blessed are You, HASHEM, whose Name is Good, and to You it is fitting to give thanks.
God didn’t allow King David to build the Temple. David repented for his sins (most notably his inappropriate relationship with Batsheva) and asked God for a sign that he had been forgiven. David’s sole desire was to build the Temple, which God knew and was sensitive to, but He refused and said He will give the sign during his son Solomon’s lifetime. When Solomon built the Temple he wanted to bring the holy ark containing the 10 commandments into the Holy of Holies, but the gates wouldn’t open. Solomon prayed in 24 different ways but the gates still remained closed. Finally, Solomon asked God to remember the merits of his father David and the gates opened. Angels saw and sang “Blessed are You, HASHEM, whose Name is Good, and to You it is fitting to give thanks.”
We thank You
- Corresponds to the wine libations that accompanied the meal offerings in the Temple. This expresses the idea that we attribute all the joy in our lives to the blessings bestowed on us by God and we give thanks for it. This is inherent in the idea of ‘serving God in gladness’. (Psalms 100:2)
- We sing songs of praise to express our gratitude like the Levites who sang songs as part of the Temple service. (Tamid 7:4)
that You are the Lord our God
- We start our thanks by thanking God for revealing to us that He exists.
and the God of our fathers
- Second, we thank God for giving our forefathers the ability and wisodm to hand down to us their knowledge of God.
Rock of our lives
- Refers to our souls that are taken from beneath God’s throne of glory. Man is made of both matter and spirit, earth and soul. We are a chunk of the spiritual existence, which is God. God Himself lives within each of us.
- God is the basis of all existence and we wouldn’t exist without Him.
the Shield of our salvation
- God is our Protector.
in every generation
- We thank God in every generation.
- ‘Every generation’ is connected to both the verse that precedes it and follows it.
We’ll thank You and tell Your praise
- We confess, acknowledge, and admit our thanks to God that we have no way to repaying Him for all the good He gives us, especially the following…
for our lives
- Every moment of our lives is only because God gives it to us.
- We thank God for giving us a quality life, which is only possible with a human soul.
- Things that are obviously miracles.
- God’s hidden miracles
at all times — evening, and morning, and afternoon
- This parallels our moods and life situations we find ourselves in: morning, when everything seems bright and good; afternoon, when things are steady; evening, when things are uncertain.
- There are three forms of existence: this world which ends in death (evening); the souls separated from the body so it can be purified in the next world while our bodies remain in this world (morning); all for the purpose of everlasting life (afternoon).
You are good for You have not stopped Your compassion.
- There is no end to God’s compassion.
- God has repeatedly demonstrated His goodness to us (Purim, Chanukah).
We have always hoped in You.
- Throughout history we’ve maintained an unbroken attachment to God through our unshakeable hope that He answers our prayers.
And for all of these may Your Name be blessed and exalted
- We have thanked Him, now we praise Him.
- We express our delight with all of the goodness that God has bestowed upon us, unlike people who are ungrateful when they don’t get exactly what they ask for.
All of the living shall thank You forever
- As long as we’re alive, we have opportunities and challenges and hope and the ability to thank God. But we must be alive. When we’re dead, we can no longer do these things.
and praise Your Name with truth
- We must accept God’s judgment and praise Him ‘in truth’ — under all circumstances.
the God who is our salvation and our help forever
- ‘Salvation’ — when God helps us when we have no way of helping ourselves.
- We recognize the opportunities and gifts that God has given us out of His goodness.
- ‘Salvation’: people who feel sick then find health. ‘Our help’: sometimes there’s no alleviation of suffering. In such cases, we view God as our Helper in helping us achieve eternal life in the next world, since our sufferings cleanse us of our sins. (Brachot 5a)
Blessed are You, HASHEM, whose Name is Good, and to You it is fitting to give thanks.
- It’s fitting to thank God in all situations, even suffering, because God is pure good. By accepting suffering as such we become close to God.
- We bow here as an expression of our thankfulness to God. First we bowed at the beginning of this blessing in recognition of all the obviously good things in our lives, then we bow here at the end for the totality of everything God bestows upon us. In doing so we fulfill the requirement of thanking God for that which we perceive as bad with the same love and enthusiasm as our thankfulness for the obviously good in our lives.
- We bow at the beginning and end of the first prayer, Avot, and beginning and end of the 18th, Modim. When someone is unwilling to bend to the will of God his spine becomes like the snake in Gan Eden that symbolizes the evil inclination, yetzer hara. The snake convinced Adam and Eve to stray from God, ‘standing up’ in their arrogance against God and listening to their own evil inclination instead of Him in an act of defiance. We recognize our human limitations by bowing before Him.
- We bend our knees and our bodies, expressing that with out God we wouldn’t exist. We arise upon the word ‘God,’ expressing that God prevents us from falling.
- The Rabbis of the Talmudic period — a few hundred years after the Men of the Great Assembly — made a second communal Modim during the leader’s repetition so we may have another opportunity to thank God, this time with our emissary the prayer leader. We can never thank God enough.
Three different thank yous according to the gifts we receive from God:
1. Acknowledging that God is our God = gifts we receive as human beings.
2. Thanking God for selecting us a nation = gifts we received as Jews.
3. Bowing to God = gifts we received as individuals.
- We will forever admit our recognition of God, forever thank Him, and forever bow to Him. We are fortunate that we have a long relationship with Him through our ancestors.
During the prayer leader’s repetition of the shemoneh esrei, the congregation listens and responds ‘amen’ to each of the blessings. In this blessing, the congregation joins with the prayer leader in thanking God.
- Thanks and gratitude must be given personally; we can’t rely on the prayer leader to be our emissary here.
- There are various opinions on what should be included here, but all agree that the final line should be to thank God for instilling within us the concept of gratitude — gratitude for its own sake, not to receive additional benefits. (Sotah 40a)
- Gratitude is an expression of love.
BLESSING #19: PEACE
,שִׂים שָׁלוֹם, טוֹבָה, וּבְרָכָה, חֵן, וָחֶֽסֶד, וְרַחֲמִים, עָלֵֽינוּ וְעַל כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵל עַמֶּֽךָ. בָּרְ֒כֵֽנוּ, אָבִֽינוּ, כֻּלָּֽנוּ כְּאֶחָד, בְּאוֹר פָּנֶֽיךָ. כִּי בְאוֹר פָּנֶֽיךָ נָתַֽתָּ לָּֽנוּ, יי אֱלֹקינוּ, תּוֹרַת חַיִּים, וְאַהֲבַת חֶֽסֶד, וּצְדָקָה, וּבְרָכָה, וְרַחֲמִים, וְחַיִּים, וְשָׁלוֹם. וְטוֹב בְּעֵינֶֽיךָ לְבָרֵךְ אֶת עַמְּ֒ךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּכָל־עֵת וּבְכָל־שָׁעָה, בִּשְׁלוֹמֶֽךָ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, יי, הַמְ֒בָרֵךְ אֶת־עַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל בַּשָּׁלוֹם
Grant peace, goodness, and blessing, graciousness, and lovingkindness, and compassion, upon us and upon all Israel, Your nation. Bless us, our Father, together as one, with the light of Your face. Because by the light of Your face You have given us, Lord our God, a Torah of life, and a love of lovingkindness, and righteousness, and blessing, and compassion, and life, and peace. And it’s good in Your eyes to bless Your people Israel, at all times and every hour, with Your peace. Blessed are you, HASHEM, who blesses His people Israel with peace.
[A shortened version of this blessing is used in the afternoon and evening prayers.]
The Jewish nation entered the land of Israel under the leadership of Joshua. Then they spent seven years conquering the land and seven more years settling it. God promised to bring them peace after this time and when the angels saw that the Jews could have a feeling of total peace in the world, they sang “Blessed are you, HASHEM, who blesses His people Israel with peace.”
This is the final blessing. We need a vessel to capture all of the blessings God gives us. Peace is that vessel.
The priestly blessings said at the end of the previous blessings are held intact by peace (Brachot 2:4, Yerushalmi)
During the prayer leader’s repetition we include here the three-fold priestly blessing: ‘God should bless you and protect you. God should shine His countenance upon you and be gracious to you. God should find favor with you and grant you peace.’ (Numbers 6:23–27 )— a command for the Jewish priests to bless the Jewish nation that God should bless them.
- 1st priestly blessing: guarding and protecting our material blessings, such as: children, wealth, health, old age, dangers surrounding us, against suffering.
- 2nd: associated with our spiritual blessings, such as: children who are Torah scholars, Torah insights, friendly countenance from God, God dwelling among us, granting our wishes, hearing our prayers, finding favor and being well-liked by others, additional knowledge, compassion for each other.
- 3rd: associated with our personal relationship with God, specifically: individual attention He gives us, removing anger or malice from our sins, accepting our prayers, judging us favorably so that our mitzvot outweigh our sins. This third priestly blessing is also associated with peace in general, of which there are three types: absence of enemies and external disturbances, peaceful relations among the Jewish nation, and inner peace.
- This is associated with inner peace of mind, when one is at peace with oneself. This is the highest form of peace.
goodness, and blessing, graciousness, and lovingkindness, and compassion
- These are blessings through which a person can recognize that God loves them and makes them feel their soul is at peace with God.
- Includes our loved ones, whether or not they say this prayer themselves.
Bless us, our Father,, together as one, with the light of Your face
- We want God to willingly give us all of the blessings we have asked for and with loving attention, unlike the time He gives us things to keep us alive in the hopes that we will actually merit His giving.
- We want God to feel comfortable so that He directs the light of His face toward us — we want a relationship with Him.
- God shows us a ‘friendly’ face when we have peace among ourselves. God’s relationship with us mirrors our relationship with others.
- To be a true Torah scholar, one must be at peace with others.
- When we aren’t unified we aren’t capable of absorbing the blessing that flows from the light of God’s ‘face’ , which reflects one’s true uniqueness.
- This is the only blessing where we ask God for something that depends upon us being united as a people and race.
- Adam was created alone while all the other creatures were created en masse. This teaches us that it was worthwhile for God to create the entire world for one person’s merit — we learn from here that if you save someone it’s as if you’ve saved the entire world (Sanhedrin 37a). We also learn that we all come from the same father, Adam, so no one can claim that their family line is superior to someone else’s. This equal footing brings us closer to unity.
- Our soul can accomplish only its unique task but all souls derive their uniqueness from the same Godly source.
- When we come to God as one / united, we can ask Him to bless us willingly with gifts: a Torah that teaches us how to live, a love of doing acts of kindness, a sense of righteousness, and blessing, compassion, and peace.
- The most essential blessing God can grant us is internal peace, where we are able to harmonize our spiritual and physical selves.
- It’s much harder to find unity when everyone is in close proximity and shares resources because conflicts arise more frequently. That’s why it was so remarkable that the Jewish people found unity after settling the land of Israel and the reason it inspired the angels to say this blessing.
- We can accomplish the feat of unifying ourselves only because of God’s greatness and goodness — that’s why it’s truly a prayer of thanks.
- National unity was a prerequisite for receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai. “May the LORD grant strength to His people; may the LORD bestow peace on His people.” (Psalms 29:11) God gives His strength / Torah to the Jewish nation only if He has also blessed us with peace.
a Torah of life
- Not a stagnant text but a living, pulsating Torah that requires people to engage with it and enhance each other’s understanding of it, which also serves to enhance peace between people.
and a love of lovingkindness
- The desire to do kindness is a special blessing from God, and of course a crucial element in peace between people.
- It’s possible for people to forgive each other and reestablish peace.
- Associated with peace among the Jewish nation.
with Your peace
- Associated with the third type of peace: the absence of war with the other nations and not feeling endangered by others.
- We ask for six things in this blessing: peace, goodness, blessing, graciousness, lovingkindness, and compassion. These parallel the six blessings that the Kohanim gave to the Jewish people.
May the expressions of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart find favor before You, HASHEM, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalms 19:15)
These include prayers said by the Sages (Brachot 17a) and incorporated into the prayer book.
אֱלֹהַי נְצוֹר לְשׁוֹנִי מֵרָע וּשְׂפָתַי מִדַּבֵּר מִרְמָה. וְלִמְקַלְ֒לַי נַפְשִׁי תִדּוֹם וְנַפְשִׁי כֶּעָפָר לַכֹּל תִּהְיֶה. פְּתַח לִבִּי בְּתוֹרָתֶֽךָ וּבְמִצְוֹתֶֽיךָ תִּרְדֹּף נַפְשִׁי. וְכֹל הַחוֹשְׁ֒בִים עָלַי רָעָה מְהֵרָה הָפֵר עֲצָתָם וְקַלְקֵל מַחֲשַׁבְתָּם: עֲשֵׂה לְמַֽעַן שְׁמֶֽךָ עֲשֵׂה לְמַֽעַן יְמִינֶֽךָ עֲשֵׂה לְמַֽעַן קְדֻשָּׁתֶֽךָ עֲשֵׂה לְמַֽעַן תּוֹרָתֶֽךָ. לְמַֽעַן יֵחָלְ֒צוּן יְדִידֶֽיךָ הוֹשִֽׁיעָה יְמִינְ֒ךָ וַעֲנֵֽנִי: יִהְיוּ לְרָצוֹן אִמְרֵי פִי וְהֶגְיוֹן לִבִּי לְפָנֶֽיךָ יְהֹוָה צוּרִי וְגוֹאֲלִי
עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם בִּמְרוֹמָיו הוּא יַעֲשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם עָלֵֽינוּ וְעַל כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּ֒פָנֶֽיךָ יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ וֵאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵֽינוּ שֶׁיִּבָּנֶה בֵּית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵֽינוּ וְתֵן חֶלְקֵֽנוּ בְּתוֹרָתֶֽךָ: וְשָׁם נַעֲבָדְךָ בְּיִרְאָה כִּימֵי עוֹלָם וּכְשָׁנִים קַדְמוֹנִיּוֹת: וְעָרְ֒בָה לַיהוָֹה מִנְחַת יְהוּדָה וִירוּשָׁלָֽםִ כִּימֵי עוֹלָם וּכְשָׁנִים קַדְמוֹנִיּוֹת
My God, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully. May my soul be unresponsive to those who curse me; and let my soul be like dust to all. Open my heart to Your Torah and let my soul pursue Your commandments. And all who plan evil against me, quickly annul their counsel and frustrate their intention. Act for the sake of Your right hand. Act for the sake of Your holiness. Act for the sake of Your Torah. In order that Your loved ones be released, deliver [with] Your right hand and answer me. May the expressions of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart find favor before You, HASHEM, my Rock and my Redeemer.
He Who makes peace in His high heavens may He make peace upon us and upon all Israel and say Amein.
May it be Your will, Adonoy, our God, and the God of our Fathers that the Holy Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days, and grant us our share in Your Torah. And there we will serve You reverently as in the days of old, and in earlier years. And let God be pleased with the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem as in the days of old and in earlier years.
guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully
- We pray that our mouth, tongue, and lips, which have just served as the instruments for our communion with God, will not forfeit any of their moral purity in our dealings with our fellow men (Yaavetz).
- When we try to avoid evil talk we may conceal details and give misleading, deceitful information, so we ask to be spared from that too.
May my soul be unresponsive to those who curse me
- This requires a high level of inner peace and trust in God’s plan. It was demonstrated by King David. (Samuel II 16:5–13)
and let my soul be like dust to all
- Protect us from haughtiness if praised (the flip side of being cursed).
- Let us serve the needs of our fellow men, even if that means being stepped on like dust.
- A prayer for the continuity of one’s progeny never to be eradicated, just like dust. (based on Genesis 13:16)
Open my heart to Your Torah and let my soul pursue Your commandments
- While our relations with our fellow men requires humility, we ask for expansiveness when it comes to Torah.
- We ask for an open, receptive and understanding mind and spirit in the study of Torah. When it comes to mitzvot, let our souls know no indifference, indolence, or passivity. Let us demonstrate zealous and vigorous initiative in all things pertaining to His mitzvot.(Etz Yoseph, R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch)
And all who plan evil against me, quickly annul their counsel and frustrate their intention
- In case our humility leads us to be taken advantage of, we ask God to protect us.
In order that Your loved ones be released, deliver [with] Your right hand
- God’s right hand is associated with miracles, which applies to His loved ones.
and answer me
- Also for me, an ordinary person, please answer me
- The previous phrases referred to the righteous, and the final ones for ourselves
May it be Your will…and in earlier years
- The prayers are meant to act as a substitute for the Temple service, so it’s appropriate to end with a prayer for the return of the Temple.