Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 19 July 2014 / 21 Tammuz 5774

The Shemoneh Esrei The Fourth Blessing (Part 1)

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

The fourth blessing marks the beginning of the middle section of the Shemoneh Esrei, where one requests his needs from G-d. Although many of the requests in this section are for one’s personal needs, the worshipper is ideally meant to see himself both as an individual as well as part of the whole of Klal Yisrael. Therefore we find that even the personal requests for knowledge, forgiveness or a good livelihood are said in the plural, in order to include everyone in the request.

When the worshipper includes others together in his requests he emphasizes the fact that all Jews have a spiritual connection to each other. By virtue of this connection there is a collective merit of the Jewish People that can help awaken G-d’s mercy, causing one’s prayers to be answered. Also, the added merit of the worshipper’s selfless act to include others in his request can help his request to be answered for either himself or even for someone else who needs the same request as him.

“You Bestow upon Man…”

The phrase “You bestow upon Man” marks the beginning of our requests. Thus, it can be understood as an introduction for all of the blessings of this section.

The Hebrew word used here to convey the message of giving is “chonen ― bestow.” Rashi explains that the meaning of the word chonen always implies a request for an underserved favor. With this introduction we express before G-d that we are unworthy of His goodness, relying not on our merits, but rather His grace.

A Timeless Question:

What purpose would praying for a particular good serve if G-d has already decided to grant it? So too, if G-d has not decided to grant a particular good, then how would praying for it help to change G-d’s mind to want to grant something that He has not decreed? It is impossible to cause G-d to change from wanting to give something to not wanting, or to change from not wanting to yes wanting. As such, there is seemingly no purpose in praying (Sefer HaIkarim, 4:18).

Sincere prayer can cause G-d to judge a person with mercy and kindness instead of harsh judgment. It is possible for a person to be granted a request that would otherwise have been declined.

Accordingly, the Talmud relates the following story: “One Yom Kippur I entered the Holy of Holies to burn incense and G-d said to me: ‘Yishmael, My son, bless Me’. I said to Him: ‘May it be Your will that Your mercy conquer Your anger, and that for their sake You go beyond the letter of the law, favoring them in judgment.’ When I concluded the blessing, G-d nodded to me with His head, demonstrating His approval.”

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