By Roy S. Neuberger
“Baruch Ata … Hashem, our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers, G-d of Avraham, G-d of Yitzchak and G-d of Yaakov, the great, mighty and awesome G-d, the supreme G-d, Who bestows beneficial kindnesses 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, Shield of Avraham.”
Thus we begin every Shemoneh Esreh. Why do we say, “G-d of Avraham, G-d of Yitzchak, G-d of Yaakov,” repeating the word “G-d” three times? Why didn’t Chazal “economize” and say, “G-d of Abraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov?”
“Each Patriarch forged his own relationship with G-d based on his unique character attributes. It is similarly the task of every Jew to discover, relate to and serve G-d according to his or her own primary nature.” (The Art of Jewish Prayer, *Rabbi Y. Kirzner)
This explanation teaches a lot about life. Yitzchak Avinu grew up in the home of Avraham and Sarah. But it was not sufficient for Yitzchak to learn from his parents. He had to feel the need for G-d within himself; he had to know from personal experience that he could not live without G-d. He forged his own personal path to G-d. The same for Yaakov Avinu and for their descendants. Each Jew can follow the footsteps of his ancestors.
When we say Shemoneh Esreh, we are seeking a personal relationship with the Ribono shel Olam. “[A person] saying the Shemoneh Esreh is required to daven with kavanah. One who is unable to ‘remove distractions from his mind’ (Biur Halacha) … should at least say the bracha ‘Avos’ with kavanah.” (Shulchan Aruch 101:1). Mishna Berurah writes: “In this bracha, the praise of the Ribono shel Olam is set out, and it is therefore not right that one’s heart should turn then to other matters.”
This week we read, “Yitzchak davened opposite his wife, because she was barren.” (Beraishis 25:21) Can you imagine! Their tefillah changed the bria! In Parshas Vayeira we read that “Sarah conceived and bore a son to Avraham in his old age.” (Beraishis 21:2) There also, a barren couple overcame the boundaries of nature through tefillah. All Jews have inherited this ability, and that is why we continue to exist, even against nature, until this very day!
Some months ago in this column, I recounted the amazing interview with U. S. President Harry S. Truman by Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz zt”l, in which President Truman explained why he had recognized the fledgling state of Israel “although it was against the better interests of the United States” (since there were relatively few Jews in Israel surrounded by millions of Arabs). Truman said, “It is only because I believe that, just like in the past, three thousand years ago, [when] you Jews saved humanity – wild mankind! – via your Torah, so too I believe and hope that, even nowadays (in the atomic era), you, the Jewish Nation, will be successful again, to enlighten and to heal the beasts of cruelty in our midst and save the world from total destruction.”
Because we are above nature, we are able to save all of mankind!
Avraham Avinu thought about the world and discovered the Existence of the Ribono shel Olam. Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt”l states: “The most important part of serving Hashem is thinking.” (Chovos Halelovos, Shaar Habitachon). Unless we think, we cannot “find” Hashem in order to serve Him. If our neshomas are not focused on Hashem, then we are somewhere else. That, I believe, is part of what we mean when we say “b’chol levav’cha.” Any part of our mental state which is separated from Hashem is in a non-existent place!
This is both powerful and frightening. Ideally, at every moment, we should be focused on Hashem. As human beings, we have a cosmic challenge to reach that ideal condition, but we have to try. At least we can attempt to say the first bracha of Shemoneh Esreh with kavanah and focus on the meaning of each word, forgetting all other considerations.
If we can do this, we imitate our Avos and Imahos, and this will save us. Our Avos and Imahos prepared the way for Moshiach. They found Hashem in a depraved world of idolatry. If we (very understandably) doubt that Moshiach can come to our chaotic world, we can take comfort in the words, “Umaivi goail … He brings the redeemer to their children’s children, for His Name’s sake.” To whom does this refer?
“This means us! This redemption will come even if we don’t deserve it, purely out of the love of Hakadosh Baruch Hu for Bnai Yisroel. (Rav Shimon Schwab, “On Prayer.” See Artscroll Sanhedrin 98a, Footnote 43 and Even Sheleimah 11:9)
The Gemara (Shabbos 55a) suggests that “zechus avos” may have limits, but “l’maan briso …because of His Covenant” with the Avos, Hashem will continue to protect us forever. Thus, Hashem will bring Moshiach “for His Name’s sake, with love,” because “even though the Jews might not have deserved to be saved, Hashem could not allow His image in the world to become discredited through [our inadequacies].” (Art of Jewish Prayer)
“During the end of Golus, at the time before the coming of Moshiach … conditions will exist that will make this the darkest epoch of the Golus. (See Sotah 49b) For the Jewish Nation to survive in such a world is due only to the example shown by Avraham Avinu, who taught us that, even if the whole world is against us on one side, we can successfully remain firm in our convictions on the other side.” (Rav Schwab)
The beginning of our national service of Hashem is contained in this bracha, as well as the end of history, in which the redeemer will come to save us. The hope and the promise are all in this bracha! May we see its complete fulfillment soon in our days!
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Roy Neuberger, author and public speaker, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
© Copyright 2016 by Roy S. Neuberger
*More about Rabbi Yitzchak Kirzner. I was one of his attendees for the Rabbi’s interesting and eclectic lectures in Boro Park.