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The Sabbath Prayers - Archives

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BORCHU

"Blessed is Hashem, the Blessed One, forever and ever."

We open the evening prayers by proclaiming the Borchu, just as we do in the morning before beginning the Shema blessings. This practice is based on the Midrash, which states that there is a certain celestial angel which reads--during the daytime--"Emes" (truth). At night the inscription reads "Emunah" (faithfulness). This angel, says the Midrash, constantly repeats the refrain, "Blessed is Hashem, the Blessed One, forever and ever." So we too repeat this credo in the morning and in the evening. During Mincha we omit it, for we have already proclaimed the daytime Borchu.

And it is with this proclamation that we open the evening prayers. We thereby express an important idea. True, during the "nighttime" of history Hashem does not openly demonstrate the "truthfulness" of all that he has promised us. But even then we are sent another message from heaven--that amidst the darkness of night Hashem never ceases to show His "faithfulness" to His nation. We are never really forsaken. And the signposts of Hashem's presence amongst us are visible even today, if we but take the trouble to look for them.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


FIRST SHEMA BLESSING (MA'ARIV ARAVIM)

"He causes day to pass and brings night, and separates between day and night--Hashem, Master of Legions, is his Name."

Why do we speak of Hashem as the Master of Legions in this blessing?

Eliyahu Rabba writes that this is based on the verse in Amos (4:13), "He turns the dawn into darkness and tramples upon the heights of the earth; Hashem, Lord of Legions, is his Name." In this verse, we speak of the fact that Hashem turns the dawn into darkness and demonstrates His mastery even upon the highest places and mightiest beings of the earth. The verse closes by saying that Hashem thereby shows that he is the Lord of Legions.

The commentators explain that we ought not to think that Hashem just created the world at the beginning of time, with all the wonderful things that it contains, and then just allowed it to follow its own merry way. Rather, Hashem constantly exhibits his mastery over the world. If his creatures do not utilize their world in the way which it is meant to be used, then Hashem will take back all the gifts which he has given to them. Thus the verse says that not only did Hashem create the dawn, and the entirety of the universe at the dawn of time; but even today he will turn the dawn into darkness and trample upon the heights of the world if that is necessary in order to re-establish his mastery over his world. Thereby, Hashem demonstrates that he is the Lord of Legions. That is the idea of this verse in Amos.

Says Eliyahu Rabba: this very idea is brought out in our blessing. We speak of Hashem in the way in which He relates to his world during the nighttime. And in this blessing we wish to emphasize that Hashem shows something to us even when He takes things away. When Hashem plunges his world into darkness, that, too, has a lesson for us. Not only did He once create the world and allow it to stand; but from then on he continues to remain Master of the world, as the Master of Legions.

Thus in this blessing, in which we speak of the fact that not only does Hashem give, but at times He finds it necessary to take away, we close by giving Hashem this title: "Hashem, Master of Legions is his Name."

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


THE EVENING PRAYERS: AHAVAS OLAM

"For they are our life and the length of our days, and in them we will meditate day and night."

In the second blessing of the evening prayers, we discuss the great gift Hashem has given to us: the study of the Torah. We say that we will always study Hashem's Torah, in the daytime and in the night.

Rabbi Eliezer, the author of sefer Rokeach, writes in his commentary on siddur that there is an allusion here to the verse in Psalms (42:9), "In the day Hashem will command his lovingkindness, even at night his song is with me." In this Psalm, David writes that when the daytime came, and light shone upon his life, he was able to clearly perceive Hashem's lovingkindness. But even before that, when he walked amidst the darkness of the night, David always took with him the song of Hashem. "Even at night, his song is with me." Even when it was difficult to perceive Hashem's presence, David never stopped singing the song of Hashem.

The Torah, in Parshas Vayelech, commands us, "And now, write for you this song." From there, our Sages have derived the commandment to write the sefer Torah. In this verse, the teachings of the Torah are described as a song. And indeed, the Jew never stops singing this song. Wherever he goes, in whatever circumstances he finds himself, he takes the song of the Torah with him always.

In this second blessing of the evening prayers, we say that we will meditate upon the teachings of Hashem in the day and in the night. Not only in the daytime, when things are going well and life has cast its glow upon us, will we take the time to look in the words of the Torah. But even during the night when things are difficult, and it seems as though we cannot find Hashem's guiding hand--even then, we look into the words of the Torah to find the inner rhythm in the twists and turns which our lives have taken. And at last, when the daytime does come and we clearly perceive Hashem's lovingkindness, we will see that it is all nothing but the realization of that song which we have been singing all along.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


THE EVENING PRAYERS: THE SHEMA

"You shall love Hashem your Lord with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources."

"What is meant by the expression, with all your heart?" ask the Sages of the Mishnah. "This means that one should serve Hashem with both of his inclinations--with his good inclination and with his evil inclination."

Rabbi Jacob Tzvi Mecklenberg, nineteenth century Chief Rabbi of Koenisberg, Germany, offers an explanation to this startling dictum. Frequently, writes Rabbi Mecklenberg, one who wishes to do good finds himself in the midst of a pitched battle. Intellectually, his mind wants him to do the right thing. But his heart wills him to go the other way. And so even if he succeeds in forcing himself to do good, such a person cannot find satisfaction in his way of life.

We are taught here that something more is expected of man. One is expected to mature to the point where his drives and inclinations themselves will match that which is expected of him from the Torah; where he will find his satisfaction in those very things which lead to his spiritual fulfillment.

Indeed, this is within our reach. One who has experienced a Shabbos, for example, is not tempted by the idea of attending a rock concert. He has tasted of the tranquility which can be realized through Shabbos, and he finds his pleasure in that. He does not have to search for the base, physical gratification which the concert would provide for him.

This, writes Rabbi Mecklenberg, is the idea that our Sages have found in our verse. One should serve Hashem with both his good inclination and his "evil inclination." This means that we have the ability to transform our evil inclination, which looks to find satisfaction in areas outside of our spiritual fulfillment, and change it into a force that can assist us in our service of Hashem. Someone who has experienced the joy and satisfaction of a Torah life, imbued with the fulfillment of the mitzva experience, will naturally wish to provide himself with the kind of life that Torah and mitzvos can provide for him.

We open the Shema prayer with the proclamation, "Hear OIsrael, Hashem is our Lord, Hashem is One." Apart from the philosophical implications of this verse, it has a very practical aspect. It says that it is possible for a person to find his fulfillment while he is wholly directed with every fiber of his existence to the service of Hashem. We need not think that all of our lives must be lived as a pitched battle between our minds and our hearts. No: we can reach beyond that. We can ourselves experience Hashem's Oneness, and become people whose very being is permeated through and through with the fullness of His Torah.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


V'EMUNAH KOL ZOS

"He who struck with his anger all the firstborn of Egypt, and removed his nation Israel from their midst to eternal freedom."

What is meant by "eternal freedom?" Didn't the Jews again become subjugated and enslaved in later eras?Chasam Sofer writes that to understand this, we must first consider the true meaning of freedom. For there is many a well-to- do individual who is not really a free man at all. His mind is consumed with his business affairs through all of his waking hours. He is enslaved to his lifestyle, and cannot even contemplate a lessening of his standard of living. Such a man lives his life constantly preoccupied, working to ensure that he will always be able to maintain that which he has.

This is not true freedom!

Immediately after the plague of the firstborn, Hashem took the Jews out of Egypt and into the desert. The Jews went out trustingly, though the desert was a land filled with desolation: an arid land where nothing could grow and no one lived. Despite this, they trusted in Hashem. They relied on him to supply their needs, and they willingly accepted the life that He decreed upon them.

This acceptance paved the way for all future generations. Whatever circumstances the Jew finds himself in, even if he is beset by poverty or difficulties, he is always able to live by his faith; able to live with whatever Hashem provides him. This is the true freedom that we speak of in this passage. It may not be certain that we will never lose our freedom in the simple sense--in the way in which the world understands freedom. But the inner freedom that the Jew experiences goes with him wherever he goes. This is the freedom of the heart: to live our lives to the fullest, and to make use of all the capabilities which Hashem has provided us with, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.

And this freedom we have never lost. We have taken it with us into every exile and every land--and no person can deprive us of it.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


HASHKIVEINU

In this blessing, we pray to Hashem that He lay us down to sleep in the shelter of His peace. The blessing closes with the words, "Blessed are you, Hashem, Who protects His people Israel forever." On the Sabbath, however, we close the blessing differently: "Who spreads the canopy of peace upon us, upon all of His people Israel and upon Jerusalem."

What is the reason for this change?

Sefer HaPardes L'Rashi writes that this may be compared to a king who on occasion found it necessary to leave his entourage and go off on his own private affairs. Because the king would be traveling alone, without all of his usual security officers, he found it necessary to take along a weapon of his own. Whenever the king would return, however, he would set aside his weapon. Now that he was in the midst of his entourage once again--whose job it was to protect him--he had no longer any need of it.

So too the Jew. During the weekdays, the Jew may find it necessary to go out in places and among circumstances that are foreign to his religious experience. During the week, therefore, he must pray to Hashem for His Divine protection. On the Sabbath, though, we do not ask Hashem for this protection. We close the blessing instead by declaring about Hashem: He spreads the canopy of His peace upon all of His people Israel.

There is a profound message here. Wherever the Jew goes, wherever he finds himself, he never loses his inner majesty. He carries that dignity with him always. But during the week, when he goes out into the world, he may at times feel that he is alone, and he prays to Hashem to offer him Divine assistance.

On the Sabbath, however, he comes back into his own. Then he can perceive the full measure of the majesty of the Jewish people. On that day, the Jew envelops himself in the mitzva experience. And therefore, on that day--enveloped in sanctity--the Jew may proudly declare the praises of Hashem, Who shelters His people with the canopy of His peace.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


V'SHOMRU

"The children of Israel shall observe the Sabbath ... Between Me and the children of Israel is a sign forever, that in a six day period Hashem made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed."

Rabbi Avrohom Mordechai of Gur, the Imrei Emes, commented that we find that throughout the forty years that the Jews spent in the wilderness, they partook of a special food that descended from heaven, called manna. Each day, the Jews would gather the manna for that day, and they had to consume it on that same day. Anything that was not eaten that day would decay; it would not last overnight.

But the Sabbath was different. Moshe told the people that on the Sabbath, no manna would fall. Instead, on the sixth day they would gather a double portion of manna, and they would leave one portion overnight, to be eaten on the Sabbath. And so it was. "They put it away until morning, as Moshe had commanded; it did not decay, and there was no infestation."

This phenomenon, Imrei Emes commented, is not limited to that forty year period which the Jews spent in the wilderness. Rather, it is part and parcel of the Sabbath itself. In a six day period, Hashem made heaven and earth. These six days are the beginning of a continuum which lasts for the entire duration of our universe. And everything contained within this time-bound universe must eventually decay, and cease to be.

But the Shabbos imposes itself upon that universe as a day of eternal freshness--a day not bound by time limitations. The Sabbath brings to a halt the inexorable process of decay. On the Sabbath, one is reinvigorated and inspired, and lifted above the time-bound universe in which he dwells during the rest of the week.

"In a six day period Hashem made the heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed." This sentence contains within it the essence of the Sabbath. It is a day in which one rests, and is refreshed. So on the Sabbath, each and every one of us can experience for himself the miracle of the manna.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


SHEMONEH ESREI

"Hashem, open my lips, and let my mouth speak of Your praise."

Before we begin the Shemoneh Esrei, we offer a short entreaty to Hashem that He assist us in speaking words of prayer to Him.

Sefas Emes notes that the faculty of speech is not one a human being is born with. A small baby, from the moment of birth, is able to hear, feel and touch things. But he is not yet able to speak. It is only when the baby begins to mature that he learns to speak.

There is a lesson here, writes Sefas Emes. It is that speech is not something that man is automatically endowed with. It comes to us as we mature. And it is given to us in order that we utilize it in our service of Hashem.

Sefas Emes adds that the Talmud, in Sukkah 42, teaches that when a child begins to speak, his father ought to teach him a sentence of Torah. This sentence paves the way for the child to use his faculty of speech in this manner for the rest of his life. Talk is not something trivial, to be thrown around at every opportunity. The ability to speak was given to us by Heaven for a specific purpose, and we are supposed to use it in a positive and constructive manner.

I once heard from my Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman zt"l, that in the parsha of Balak we are told that Bilaam's donkey spoke to him. This was a special miracle from Heaven. The Torah writes, "And Hashem opened the mouth of the donkey." Seforno comments that this means that Hashem gave the donkey the ability to speak--and in like manner, it is written, "Hashem, open my lips."

The Rosh Yeshiva commented on this: if we find that Hashem granted the gift of speech to a donkey, we certainly consider that to be a very great miracle. But the fact that each and every one of us is able to speak is something that we do not perceive as a miracle at all. We accept it matter-of-factly: it is just the way things are. Everyone is able to speak.

This is where we are mistaken. The donkey's speaking to Bilaam is described in the Torah as "Hashem opened the mouth of the donkey." So too with regard to our own ability to speak. We say to Hashem, "open my lips." We use the same expression that the Torah uses when it describes the speaking of the donkey--which was undoubtedly a very great miracle.

And if we recognize this, if we impress upon ourselves that speech is not something that comes automatically, but is a heaven- sent gift, then certainly we will do our utmost to use it in the best possible way. And so we open our Shemoneh Esrei in this manner. Before we begin to say anything to Hashem, we acknowledge that our ability to speak must be channeled into something meaningful. And we can only do this with the assistance of Heaven.


FIRST BLESSING:

"O King, Helper, Savior, and Shield. Blessed are you, Hashem, Shield of Abraham."

The depictions of Hashem in this blessing appear to be in ascending order. Not only is Hashem our King, but He even provides us with assistance. And not only that--even when we are completely without resources of our own, Hashem steps in and acts as our Savior.

But what of "Shield"? In what sense can we say that this description of Hashem as a Shield is the culmination of all the titles which we confer upon Him?

Rabbi Abraham, son of the famed Gaon of Vilna, writes in his commentary on prayers that this may be compared to a warrior who steps out into battle. The warrior is consciously bringing himself into danger. And so, wherever he goes, he holds his shield before him, and he is thus protected from onslaught by whatever danger confronts him in his path.

Abraham found it necessary at times to boldly step forth, even sometimes entering into dangerous situations in order to uphold the honor of Hashem. But wherever he went, he felt that he was not alone. For before him went the presence of Hashem--protecting him and ensuring that no harm would befall him.

It is in this sense that we speak of Hashem as our Shield in this blessing. Not only is Hashem our helper when danger and difficulty befall us; not only is He our Savior when we are unable to find any succor from our own means; but Hashem is even our Shield. With His presence before us, we can boldly step forth into difficult situations, and confidently trust that we will emerge unscathed.

At the close of this blessing, we speak of Hashem as the Shield of Abraham. By this, we do not mean to speak of Abraham the individual.

Abraham is our forefather; he is the progenitor of us all. And so we know that even if at times it takes courage to live as a Jew, we are never alone. For with us, wherever we tread, goes the presence of Hashem.


SHEMONEH ESREI : SECOND BLESSING:

"He sustains the living with kindness, and revives the dead with abundant mercy."

Rabbi Moses Chaim Rosenbaum, one of the leading disciples of the renowned Chasam Sofer, writes that someone who has no conception of the infinite will fill the days of his life with frivolous pleasures, and will never produce anything of substance. One who sees today as a fleeting entity, destined to pass away and never to return, will surely live it by the motto, "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die."

Only if we have a vision of posterity will we have the drive to produce something enduring; something of true value.

And in fact, the Jew possesses an element of the infinite. He is assured by Hashem that though he will depart from this world, nevertheless in time to come Hashem will bring all the righteous back to life, and there they will be priviliged participants in the lasting and enduring universe of the future.

This is the meaning of the prayer here. "Hashem sustains the living in kindness"--but this alone is not necessarily a blessing in itself. For if one sees his life as a fleeting thing, soon to vanish into nothingness, he will misuse those gifts that are given to him, and will merely indulge in the meaningless pleasures of the here and now. And so the prayer continues, "and he revives the dead with abundant mercy." It is this second thought which gives meaning and permanence to the life of the Jew.

And so we dedicate ourselves, then, to finding that path that will enable us to leave behind a world that has been enriched by a life devoted to meaningful activity.


SHEMONEH ESREI : THIRD BLESSING:

"You are holy and your name is holy, and holy ones praise you every day, forever. Blessed are you Hashem, the holy Lord."

Shebolei Haleketh records in the name of the Midrash: When Jacob our forefather was at the gateway to the heavens (on his way to Lavan), he sanctified there the name of Hashem. Immediately the angels in Heaven proclaimed, "Blessed are you Hashem, the holy Lord."

Consider! Surely the angels must have known before then that Hashem is holy. After all, the angels enjoy a constant proximity to the presence of Hashem. Unlike man, who only on rare occasions is able to feel that closeness with his creator, the angels constantly bask in His presence.

And yet, only now when the angels behold how Jacob, having seen in a dream vision the ladder reaching upward to the presence of Hashem, proceeded to sanctify Hashem's name--only then did the angels call out this blessing: "Blessed are you, Hashem, the holy Lord."

For in truth, it is man who must live in this world, who must find G-dliness within the ubiquity of the mundane. This is something which is not given even to the angels. Only man can aspire to achieve it.

When the angels saw that Jacob could lift himself above his dull and lowly surroundings and find even there the G-dly essence within, only then were they truly able to proclaim that throughout the entirety of the universe reverberates the recognition of the holiness of Hashem.

Rabbi Jacob Tzvi Mecklenberg, in his commentary on the prayers, explains the sequence of the blessings here at the beginning of the Shemoneh Esrei. In the second blessing, we speak of Hashem as the one who heals the sick, who releases the confined, who supports the fallen. Then in the next blessing we go on to say that important as all these are, there is a G-dliness in the world which transcends all of that, and through which we can aspire to lift ourselves above the ordinariness of our surroundings. That is the sanctity of the name of Hashem, and it is our job to bring it out and disseminate it in this world.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


VAYECHULU

"On the seventh day, Hashem completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day ... Hashem blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because on it He had rested from all his work which Hashem created to make."

Rabbi Meir Leibush Malbim, in his work Eretz Chemdah, takes note of a dichotomy in this passage. On the one hand, we speak of the seventh day in negative terms. We say that on the seventh day, Hashem rested from his work, and did not continue to create the universe. Yet on the other hand, for the first time we now speak of the introduction of Hashem's blessing into the universe. Hashem blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, and through this there entered the quality of bracha (blessing) into Hashem's creation.

These two elements, writes Malbim, are really one. For on the Sabbath, we have the meeting of the finite with the infinite. On the one hand, the world is shown to be finite. On the seventh day, the creation process comes to an end. Yet on the other hand, it is only through the Sabbath that blessing enters into the world. For it is through experiencing the Sabbath that man can lift the world up from being just a conglomeration of bits and pieces, and transform it into something holy, something more far-reaching than mere finite fragments of creation.

He can turn all the world into something meaningful.

This is the meaning of the last sentence in the passage. "Hashem blessed the seventh day ... because on it he rested from all his work which Hashem created to make." What is the meaning of that language, "which Hashem created to make"? It is written that way for a reason.

For the Torah wishes to tell us that the work of creating the universe did not end in those original six days of creation: rather, it is a process which is meant to go on and on, under the guidance of man himself. It is man, and only man, whose job it is to take all those finite pieces and transform them into something higher. And this is achieved through the Sabbath experience. For on the Sabbath, Hashem rested and looked back, as it were, upon the wholeness of all that which He had created. And under the watchful gaze of Hashem, all those bits of creation fused and blended together and became one.

The whole became greater than the sum of its parts.

And it is our job to do this too, by re-creating the Sabbath anew each and every week.

This is the overarching meaning of the Sabbath. The Sabbath transcends all of creation, but it lifts all of creation up with it. And in taking part in the Sabbath, in participating in that day in which all of creation comes together to serve as a mirror for Hashem's presence--thereby the Jew himself brings a measure of the infinite into the humdrum finitude of life.

Copyright (c) 1998 by Rabbi Levi Langer


FRIDAY EVENING SHEMONEH ESREI: MIDDLE BLESSING

"Oh Hashem, with love and favor grant us your holy Sabbath as a heritage."

From the words of the Torah, "six days you shall work and perform all your labors, but the seventh day shall be a Sabbath unto Hashem," the Talmud derives a dictum. From this verse, says the Talmud, we learn that "on the Sabbath you should feel as if all your labors have been completed." In other words, the Sabbath is not merely a day of physical rest. It is a day when a person shall actually feel a sense of fulfillment, a sense of completion. On the Sabbath, one is free from all the pressures and demands that assail him throughout the week. He is physically and emotionally at rest.

We may say, then, that the Sabbath experience is one which cannot be fashioned entirely by man alone. He must of necessity receive the assistance of the Almighty in the making of his Sabbath. For the Sabbath is not merely a day when one does not work: it is a day upon which one may achieve a measure of fulfillment. The Sabbath is "a microcosm of the World to Come," in the words of our Sages. And if we do our part, then Hashem will help us to experience this.

The Siach Yitzchak commentary on siddur writes that it is in this sense that we ask Hashem in this prayer to grant us the holy Sabbath as a heritage. For we are well aware that all by ourselves, we cannot make the Sabbath. It is true that it is up to us to refrain from doing any labor on this day. But this by itself will not be enough. And in recognition of this, we offer a prayer to Hashem. "We can do our part," we say to Hashem, "but the rest is up to you. And we ask of you that you place the crowning touch upon our efforts, and grant us success in our attempt to fashion a Sabbath day which will serve as our eternal heritage."


RETZEH

"Be favorable, Hashem our Lord, toward your people Israel and their prayer. And restore the service to the Holy of Holies of Your Temple."

In this blessing, we ask Hashem to accept our prayers. But we do so, writes the commentary Otzer Hatefillos, with the full recognition of our failings. So we do not ask Hashem to accept our prayers because they are worthy in and of themselves. Instead, we ask him to be favorable toward His people Israel, and therefore to accept also their prayers.

For we are fully cognizant of the fact that in our present day exile, we cannot hope to fully express all that which is within our hearts, and to converse freely with Hashem. But despite this, we turn to Hashem and ask him to accept our hesitant, faltering words of prayer, as if they contained all the heartfelt emotion which we would wish to express.

On the face of it it seems remarkable that, in the very next sentence, we have the termerity to ask Hashem to restore the service to the Holy of Holies of His Temple. We don't merely ask Hashem to restore the Temple service. No: we speak specifically of the Holy of Holies, the "dvir" of Hashem's Temple. The "dvir," the Hall of the Word, could be entered by man only once in the course of the year. The Kohen Gadol, the high priest, would enter it whilst performing the Yom Kippur service. But we are taught that all through the year, all prophecy originated from the Divine presence which dwelt within the Hall of the Word.

And yet it is in this blessing in which we speak so candidly of our shortcomings in the realm of prayer, that we have the termerity to ask Hashem to restore to us that Hall of the Word.

Or perhaps it is not so surprising after all.

For what we are really saying is: although we are only human, and we cannot find words for all that is within our hearts, nevertheless may You accept our prayers in the spirit in which they are offered. Look beyond the individual words themselves, and see that contained within those words is our desire to be your people. And restore to us that ability to be able to converse fluently with You.

Accept our prayers in the spirit in which they are offered, and restore to us the "dvir," the Hall of the Word.

Copyright (c) 1998 by Rabbi Levi Langer


MODIM

"We give thanks to you and recount your praises, for our lives which are delivered over to your hands, and for our souls which are entrusted unto you."

The commentators find a source for this idea in the book of Psalms. There (Psalm 31:6), David says to Hashem, "In your hand I entrust my spirit; you redeemed me, O Hashem, Lord of truth." In this psalm, David speaks of how he had placed his trust in others, and how they had ultimately turned out to be deceitful connivers. So he turns to Hashem and says, "In your hand alone, Hashem, I place my spirit. For you always redeem me from whatever difficulties I encounter."

The Midrash writes, "Each evening the spirit of man leaves him, and it is given over to the Master of Trust. In the morning it is returned to him again, as it is written, 'In your hands I entrust my spririt; you redeemed me, Hashem, Lord of truth.'" The Midrash takes this verse, which was spoken by David of his own particular circumstances, and applies it to what each and every one of us goes through each night of his life. We are tired from the day's labors, and our strength has ebbed. We must sleep. But now when vulnerable, who will protect us? The answer, says the Midrash, is found in this verse. Hashem, the master of trust, will always be there for us, and will always provide us with that security.

During the daytime, man sees himself brimful with strength, filled with vigor. He thinks that he can rely upon his own resources, and need not resort to another. But when the nighttime comes, and we feel our strength ebbing away from us, then we see how defenseless we really would be, were it not the security which Hashem provides for us. And in fact, each night before we go to sleep we repeat this verse from Psalms. We affirm to Hashem that it is to Him, and to Him alone, that we entrust our souls when we go to sleep at night.

So in this blessing of Modim, before we speak of all the countless miracles which Hashem has always performed, and still continues to perform, for His people, Israel--before that, we begin with the stark affirmation that our souls and our very lives are entrusted to Him alone. That in itself is a sufficient reason to offer this Modim blessing: the blessing of thanks.


SHEMONEH ESREI: SHALOM RAV

"Blessed are you Hashem, who blesses His nation with peace."

This thought is taken from the last verse of Psalm 29. There, Psalmist speaks of the majesty of Hashem: "The voice of Hashem is upon the waters, the Lord of glory thunders, Hashem is upon vast waters ... the voice of Hashem breaks the cedars, Hashem shatters the cedars of Lebanon! ... Yet all the while, in His Temple all proclaims His glory ... Hashem will bless His nation with peace."

Malbim writes that this psalm was composed on the occasion of a mighty storm which swept through the land. The storm broke the great cedars of Lebanon; it wreaked untold havoc. Yet, when the storm reached Jerusalem, the dwelling place of Hashem, it stopped, and all was peaceful. The Psalmist saw in this incident a message for all time. Even amidst all the tumult and bedlam that at times appears to envelop the world, Hashem leaves a niche of peacefulness, a special corner of tranquility which He makes available for His people Israel.

This is the gift of peace which we speak of in our blessing. It isn't always easy to find. Sometimes our lives seem to be overcome by tumult and chaos. Events overtake us at breakneck pace, and we find it difficult to catch our breath. But if we search deep within ourselves, then we will find the ability to maintain that tranquility of heart which makes life liveable.

This last blessing, the blessing of peace, concludes the shemoneh esrei prayer. Throughout the shemoneh esrei, we have spoken of many different kinds of blessings which Hashem bestows upon His people. But we conclude the shemoneh esrei by speaking of the blessing of peace. For, as the Sages of the Talmud comment, "Hashem has found no other vessel in which to hold blessing than that of peace." If one cannot achieve peace of mind, then all the blessings which have been granted him are as nothing. He is unable to appreciate any of them.

So we ask Hashem, not only to grant us peace, but also to give us that inner energy which will enable us to find the peace of mind that will let us appreciate all our other blessings.


SHABBOS EVENING MAARIV: VAYECHULU

At the conclusion of the Shabbos evening shemoneh esrei, we recite once again the vayechulu passage from parshas Beraishis, which states that on the seventh day the creation of the world was complete, and Hashem rested. The vayechulu passage is recited three times on Friday evening: during the shemoneh esrei, after the shemoneh esrei by everyone in the shul together, and at the introduction of the kiddush service when one commences the evening meal.

Abudraham writes that the reason the vayechulu is recited three times is in order to ensure that all Jews will be able to take part in this all-important affirmation of the Creation by the hand of Hashem. First, each individual recites it during shemoneh esrei. Then, it is recited in a collective manner following the shemoneh esrei, in order to include those who are not fluent in the prayers and were not able to recite it as part of the prayer. After one has arrived home, he recites it for a third time during the kiddush in order to include all of the members of his family within this affirmation.

The Kabbalists inform us, however, that this triple recitation of the vayechulu is important in itself. Tzeror Hameor explains that in the context of the Creation, we can speak of three "worlds" which Hashem created. There is the Upper World, which contains all the angels and the celestial beings. There is the Intermediate World, which consists of the infinite reaches of space and all of the galaxies contained therein. And then there is the Lower World, which is peopled by Man and the many other living creatures which inhabit the earth. The three-fold repetition of vayechulu is an affirmation that all these worlds, without exception, were created by Hashem during the days of creation.

It may be that there is something we can learn from this. The great teacher of mussar, Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, commented that it is relatively easy for man to acknowledge the kingship of Hashem over all four corners of the earth, and over the heavens above and the depths beneath the sea. What is more difficult, said Reb Yisroel, is for us to acknowledge Hashem's kingship and mastery over ourselves. The real challenge is not in being able to speak of Hashem's dominion over the vast reaches of space, but rather it is found in being able to commit ourselves to doing what is right in His eyes.

In the synagague we recite the vayechulu twice, and we acknowledge the fact of Hashem's creation of the Upper and Intermediate Worlds. Then we come home, and we recite it for a third time. And that is perhaps the most meaningful recitation of them all. For it is then that we state that this world upon we ourselves dwell, and within which we ourselves live out our lives--this world, too, owes every bit of its existence to the handiwork of Hashem.

Perhaps it is no coincidence,then, that this third vayechulu is recited in the home.

For it is with this third recitation that we take the story of Creation and make it something real, something meaningful to us. We recite those words yet another time, and with that recital we commit our lives to being an expression of the ideas contained therein.

Copyright (c) 1998 by Rabbi Levi Langer


MOGEN AVOS

"Who sanctifies the Shabbos, and blesses the seventh day."

The mogen avos blessing is a concise recitation of the essence of all the blessings in the shemoneh esrei prayer. It was instituted by the Sages because in former times, the synogagues were situated in fields outside the city. There was thus a concern that one who spent extra time at his prayers might be left alone in the field, in a position of danger. Therefore the Sages instituted that after the shemoneh esrei, there would be a recital of this extra mogen avos prayer, in order to lengthen the ma'ariv so that everyone could finish together.

The phrase that we have quoted, "Who sanctifies the Shabbos, and blesses the seventh day"--poses a bit of a puzzle. Why do we identify the Shabbos by two different names, the Shabbos and the seventh day? And why do we say specifically that Hashem sanctifies the Shabbos, and He blesses the seventh day?

It seems likely that this is based on the last verse of the vayechulu passage. "Hashem blessed the seventh day and He sanctified it, for on it He had abstained (shovas) from all of His work." Here it would seem we speak of both these elements of the Shabbos. We say that Hashem blessed the seventh day, and then we say that He sanctified it, because on that day He had abstained from all of his work--thus making it the Shabbos day.

And in fact, there are two distinct elements to the Shabbos. On the one hand, it serves as the culmination of all of the labors of the entire week. As the "seventh day" of the week, it provides a focal point for all the labors of the week, and enables one to see his week in its entirety from a spiritual perspective.

On the other hand, the seventh day is also the Shabbos day, a special festival when we take out the time to commune with Hashem. We speak of these two elements in the kiddush recitation. In the kiddush, we say that Shabbos is "a remembrance of Creation," and we add too that Shabbos is "first among the holy festivals." These are the two elements of the Shabbos. On the one hand, it serves as the culmination for all the labors of the entire week. Yet on the other hand, it is a stepping stone to enable us to raise ourselves from our preoccupation with our mundane weekday activities, and to become uplifted to a world of spirituality, a world of communion with Hashem.

"Hashem blesses the seventh day"--that is, He makes it serve as a channel through which all the week's labor is blessed. But there is more: "He sanctifies the Shabbos." The Shabbos is a day which is amidst the other days of the week, yet at the very same time, it is a day of sanctity, when one may tear himself loose from the mundane and ascend into the rarified atmosphere of the G-dly.


MEKADESH HASHABBOS BLESSING

"Satiate us with your goodness, and gladden us with your salvation."

Our Sages teach, writes the author of the work Yismach Moshe, that on Friday evening we light Shabbos candles near our table. One reason for this is because one cannot properly and fully enjoy a meal which he does not see. Merely tasting the food isn't sufficient. Only when one is actually able to see what one eats can he fully enjoy his meal.

In our Friday evening prayers we express this idea on another level. Intellectually we know that Hashem is constantly showering us with his beneficience. Everything that befalls us is really for our good. Yet at the time, we are unable to see this, and therefore we fail to recognize the good that Hashem bestows upon us, and we do not appreciate it properly.

So in our prayers, we do not merely ask Hashem to provide for us. Indeed we know that everything Hashem does for us is really for our good. But we ask for something special: "Satiate us with your goodness, and gladden us with your salvation." We ask that we may be given the gift to be able to perceive the good in everything Hashem gives to us. We ask to be given that vision which would enable us to understand all that befalls us. Then we will be satiated and be gladdened by all of the bounty which Hashem bestows upon us.

The Shabbos is a time when the Jew has a few moments to take out for contemplation. And so, it is on the Shabbos day that one may come to achieve this special perceptiveness, and one may be able to properly thank Hashem for all that He has given us.

Copyright (c) 1998 by Rabbi Levi Langer


KADDISH

"He who makes peace in the heavens, may He make peace amongst us and amongst all of Israel.

The first part of this phrase--"He who makes peace in the heavens"--is based on Job (25:2). Rashi there explains: when the constellations rise each evening in the sky, each one, as it is rising above the horizon, cannot see any constellation before it. Therefore each thinks that it is the one that is rising first. In this way none of the celestial bodies is jealous of any other.

Clearly, this passage is intended in a metaphorical manner. Obviously, the celestial bodies do not actually have an attribute of jealousy. What we are taught here is the secret of how we may avoid jealousy within our own lives. Certainly, it is natural for someone to become envious of others when he looks around him and sees that others have things which he lacks.

But it is possible for us to rise above it, and that is what we are taught by this cryptic idea in Job. Each of the constellations has its own role to play, and their orbits through the sky have been set up in such a manner that each one, as it is rising, does not see any of the others. Its role is completely unique, and does not overlap the role of any other celestial body.And so it should be with man. If we can internalize this idea, that our own role within the universe is completely unique, completely our own, then we will be able to be happy with our own lot. It is when we think that others have things which rightfully ought to be ours, when we see what others have and think that they ought to belong to us--it is then that we become jealous. But in fact, if Hashem had wanted us to have these things, He would have given them to us. We have each been granted everything that we need to achieve our own unique purpose in life.

"He who makes peace in the heavens, may He make peace amongst us and amongst all of Israel." This seemingly untopian objective is actually within our power. We have but to look to the heavenly bodies, and learn from the manner in which Hashem has set them in the sky.

Copyright (c) 1998 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Aleinu

This prayer is recited at the conclusion of each of the services. In it, we affirm that we feel supremely privileged to be a part of the chosen nation of Hashem, and we look ahead toward the future when all the nations of the world will unite in serving Him.

Teshuvas HaGaonim and Kol Bo record a tradition that this prayer was originally expressed by Joshua ben Nun, after he led the Jews into the land of Israel. The commentators, notably Iyun HaTefillah, write that there are passages in it which reflect this. For example, we say, "But we bend our knees, bow and acknowledge our thanks before the King Who reigns over kings." This statement is particularly appropriate in Israel, the land in which the Jews are taught to ascend together three times each year to the Temple and to bow before Hashem. Similarly, later in Aleinu we say of Hashem, "The throne of his honor is in the heavens above." This too reflects the fact that it was composed in Israel, for the land of Israel itself is described as the throne of Hashem in this world.

And so, important as this prayer is, it was never expressed by the Jews until they entered the land of Israel.

For in praying, one does not simply give voice to soaring poetry and lofty ideas. Prayer must be an expression that comes from within the heart of man, and it must reflect that which lies within one's own heart and mind. And therefore, it was only after the Jews had entered Israel, only after they felt themselves standing in the presence of Hashem's own throne, then did they feel ready to speak these words of Hashem's praise.

It is in like manner that we too express the Aleinu prayer only at the conclusion of the prayer service. We do not feel ready to speak of the utopian vision depicted in Aleinu until we have lifted ourselves through focusing our thoughts upon our role in life, and through speaking words of supplication before Hashem.

That is the essence of prayer. Prayer is not measured by the eloquent expressions contained therein, but rather by how it expresses one's inner desire to come closer to Hashem.

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In Loving Memory Of Our Father, Mr. Joseph Black (Yosef Ben Zelig) O"H
In Loving Memory Of Our Mother, Mrs. Norma Black (Nechama Bas Tzvi Hirsh) O"H
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