This is the third and final installment of my modest survey of the famous prayer called by our Sages Kidusha D’Sidra and by most shul goers Uva L’Tziyon. We’ve already seen that this prayer contains Tanach study, a reprise of the doxology (KADOSH, KADOSH…) and a discussion of the benefits of Torah study. Now, we conclude with a sort of blessing for Torah study and a prayer for those preparing to depart from the sanctuary of the synagogue for the dangers of the wide world outside.
Part four of the prayer begins: Blessed is our God Who has created us for His glory, separated us from those who are mistaken (or ‘gone astray’), given us the Torah of truth, and has implanted within us eternal life.
I believe that these four endowments represent four stages in the development of the Jewish nation’s relationship with God. Our creation was part of the general Creation process at the beginning of Breishit. The separation of us from those who err (worship idolatry) was accomplished through the BRIT AVOT, the cumulative covenants with our Patriarchs, and confirmed during the Exodus. Next, we were given the Torah at Har Sinai. Finally, the boon of eternal life was granted in the Covenant of the Thirteen Attributes, when we were forgiven for the Sin of Golden Calf and received the second Tablets of the Law.
We move on to describe the specific aspirations we desire to fulfill through our Torah study, which also number four. We begin by asking God to open our hearts to this endeavor. So that, there should be implanted in our hearts the love and awe of God. This should bring us to perform the acts of His Will, Mitzvot, Finally, we arrive at the goal of worshipping God with the complete energy and emotion of our hearts.
Then we conclude this section by informing God that we desire all this so that we will ‘never toil in vain, nor produce futility (chaos, confusion)’. What can vain efforts be compared to? It’s been suggested it is similar to a barren couple who produce no offspring. What are futile exertions? That is having children who either don’t survive or reject our path. So, the two Torah study failures are not accomplishing anything and, frustratingly, achieving success in the study but ultimately rejecting the life style, going OTD (off the DERECH).
The fifth and final section of our prayer is actually a prayer for specific Divine help and guidance. It begins with the traditional rabbinic prayer opening: May it be Your will, O Lord, our God and God of our ancestors that you should…Familiar? Well, it should be.
What’s the initial ask? ‘That we should 1. observe Your decrees in this world, 2. merit, live, see and inherit goodness (live a fulfilling life of honor and respect), 3. have blessing into the years of the Messianic Era, and 4. into the World to Come. I know that I forced this phrase into 4 categories, because I want it to line up with the ‘fours’ of the previous paragraph. I believe that this is important because the redemption process from Egypt had four steps, hence the four languages of Redemption, representing four stages until total freedom (work stoppage, departure from Egypt, crossing the Sea, receiving the Torah). Plus, four is my lucky number, having been born on the Fourth of July.
We also add the famous reason for wanting a long life and enter into the realm of eternal life: That my soul may sing of Your Glory and never be silent. O Lord my God, I will acknowledge You forever (Tehillim 30:13).
The almost final section of this long prayer, according to Rav Soloveitchik prepares us to venture out of the holy precincts of our prayers into the cruel world beyond. Many people remove their Tefillin before reciting this section, because we ‘re announcing our reliance on God without holy props. There are three verses discussing the term BITACHON (reliance or trust) in God. This trio fits the Ba’al Shem Tov’s description of the BITACHON process. There must be an individual with the trust or faith, there must a Power deserving of our faith, and a cause or purpose worthy of our effort.
The first verse is one of my favorites because we all learned to sing it to the secular tune Crocodile Rock back in the day (consider yourselves lucky that you’re reading this and I’m not attempting to sing it to you). ‘Blessed is the person who trusts in God, and God will become their security (or Rav Sacks-whose trust is in the Lord alone, Yirmiyahu 17:7). This describes the BOTEACH, one with trust.
Next, we discuss the Power (MAVTEACH) in whom we have this trust (like on the back of US dollars). ‘So, trust the Lord always, because in the Lord God you have a place of safety forever (Yeshayahu 26:4).’ In Hebrew, that ‘place of safety’ is TZUR, massive rock or ‘immoveable object’.
At last, we refer to the cause in which we are placing our great effort (MIVTACH). ‘And those who know Your Name trust in You because You have never abandoned those who seek You, O Lord (Tehillim 9:10). What is the worthy cause? The seeking of God in this world. How do we do that? We go about our business with faith, honesty and integrity. The best way to find God in the great, wide world is to add a little bit of Godliness and goodness into the environment. Always search, seek and eternally hunt for God, and, Lo and Behold, you’ll discover God all over the place, because God enters every place that desires the Devine Presence.
We close this prayer with the most famous verse about Torah study. It’s the one which ends every chapter of Pirkey Avot and recited by Torah learners to introduce a Kaddish D’Rabanan. The Lord is well pleased (desirous) for His righteousness’ sake; He will magnify the law and make it honorable (glorious or grand, Yeshayahu 42:21). God wants the increase of Torah study and even of Torah content (D’Rabanan). It’s one area where inflation is always desirable.
This is a fitting close to this prayer which ends our prayer service and contains both Torah ideas and hopes for success in the world beyond the four walls of prayer and study. We’re announcing to the world, and ourselves, that it’s okay to venture beyond the walls of shul and study hall, but only under the eternal watchfulness of the Eternal.