Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 4 June 2022 / 5 Sivan 5782

The Amidah (Part 13): Blessing of Ingathering of Exiles

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
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“Prayer is not a miracle. It is a tool, man’s paintbrush in the art of life. Prayer is man’s weapon to defend himself in the struggle of life. It is a reality. A fact of life.” ( Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer)

The tenth blessing reads: “Sound the great shofar for our freedom, raise the banner to gather our exiles and gather us together from the four corners of the earth. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who gathers in the dispersed of His people, Israel.”

The next series of blessings in the Amidah all focus, in one way or another, on the redemption that we so anxiously await. The first of the blessings is the Ingathering of the Exiles. It opens with a plea for Hashem to “sound the great shofar.” Yeshayahu (27:13) prophesizes that the final redemption will be heralded in by the sound of a “great shofar” and it will begin with the Jews all around the world returning to the Land of Israel. In the Midrash (Pirkei d’Rebbi Eliezer), the shofar is identified as being one of the horns of the ram that Avraham offered in place of his son Yitzchak at the Akeidah. The Midrash relates that the first horn was blown at Mount Sinai as the Torah was being given to the Jewish Nation; and the second will be blown at the onset of the final redemption.

Why is the Ingathering of the Exiles the tenth blessing? The number ten signifies the concept of completeness. The Zohar HaKadosh teaches that any number multiplied by ten is the totality of that number. The Land of Israel is the holiest place in the world. Maimonides writes that there are ten levels of sanctity within the Land of Israel. In keeping with the connection to the Hebrew alphabet, the tenth letter is yod. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch points out that the letter yod is the smallest letter because it represents maximal spirituality with as little physicality as possible. For example, when ten men come together to pray, they together achieve a level of sanctity that individuals cannot reach. Kaddish is recited, the Amidah is repeated and the Torah is read. None of this can be done if there are less than ten men present. Therefore, it is apt that the tenth blessing of the Amidah focuses on the ingathering of the exiles and the unity that that will ensue. Our blessing thus says, “Gather us together,” to emphasize that we will all serve Hashem — with our diversity and different customs — together in unified harmony.

“Blessed are You, Hashem, Who gathers in the dispersed of His people, Israel.” The Hebrew word for dispersed is “nidchei,” which also means rejected or gone astray. It is absolutely heartbreaking to ponder the large number of Jews in our generation who have chosen a path without an authentic relationship with Hashem. But the conclusion of our blessing is stirring and uplifting. It is full of confidence that at the auspicious moment when the shofar blast will be heard throughout the entire world, every Jew, even the most disenfranchised one in any location, will experience the reawakening of their soul and rush to join their greater Jewish family in the Land of Israel. Due to our absolute certainty that the forthcoming redemption is almost upon us and that it will include everyone, the blessing is written in the present tense and not in the future tense as might be expected. As if we feel it happening right now.

Many years ago, a friend of mine told me the most enchanting story. On Fridays here in Israel there is a delightful custom for sirens to sound at candle-lighting time to inform everyone it will soon be Shabbat and it is time to finish up any last minute preparations. One Tuesday in his neighborhood at seven o’clock in the morning, there was a malfunction and the Shabbat sirens went off. He said that his six-year-old daughter was woken up by the sound of the sirens. Jumping out of bed, she immediately washed her hands and came running to the kitchen, overcome with excitement. “Did you hear that?” she shouted. “That is the Mashiach’s shofar! He is finally here!” And she danced around the kitchen in absolute ecstasy. Afterwards, my friend told me that he did not know what was more troublesome: having to explain to his daughter that it was not the Mashiach’s shofar after all, or wondering to himself why his longing for the Mashiach wasn’t as spontaneous and as innocent as his daughter’s.

It is my heartfelt yearning that we all merit to hear the “great shofar” — that most anticipated and precious sound — reverberating throughout the entire world, very, very soon.

To be continued.....

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