As we proceed through the blessings leading up to the recitation of SHMA, there is a clear progression. We began with the Creation which is universal. Then we moved to the loving relationship between God and B’nei Yisrael, particular. And in the middle of this second blessing, AHAVA RABA, we begin discussing fulfillment. We want to find meaning in our existence, and here we’re being told that the quest for meaning should lead us to Torah.
The midpoint of the blessing declares: V’HA’ER EINEINU (and enlighten our eyes). This demand is asking for more than sight. It’s a plea for meaning: attach our hearts (LIBEINU)…unify our spiritual core (L’VAVEINU). Rav Soloveitchik describes this petition as a need for ‘the most sublime kind of worship, a way of meeting God, of breaking through the barrier separating the Absolute from the contingent and relative’. I would have said the Absolute from the ‘mundane’, but what do I know?
The Rav suggests that serious Torah study is ‘a great religious experience, an activity bordering on the miraculous’. That endeavor which many of us would, perhaps, describe as intellectual activity or cerebral enterprise is so much more to the Rav. For him that engagement, that others might find in prayer or Kabbala, is to be found in TALMUD TORAH.
A person who studies Torah on this level of commitment is transported from many earthly impediments. Curiously, the blessing only mentions one: BUSHA, embarrassment. If a person commits to Judaism without a strong engagement with Torah, one may find the experience leads to shame. Without that powerful commitment, the slings and arrows of outsiders might lead us to feel outcast, alone, and degraded in this vast world over 99.9% gentile. Torah gives life meaning, and therefore insulates the practitioner from shame.
And since ‘we have this great BITACHON (faith, security, confidence) in Your great Name we are sure that we will rejoice in Your Salvation’. It’s Torah study which gives us a sense of security and confidence about the final act of human destiny.
As the blessing begins to wind down, we state the ingredients of this awaited YESHUA, salvation. The first is the ingathering of the Exile: And bring us Home in peace from the four corners of the world, lead us KOM’MIYUT to our Land. This term KOM’MIYUT is fascinating, usually translated ‘upright’. It comes from the blessings at the end of Vayikra (26:13), and describes how we left Egypt. Rav Aryeh Kaplan translated it ‘with heads held high’. I think it’s the opposite of BUSHA. It’s with self confidence and pride,with a sense of purpose.
It’s how we should feel on Yom Ha’atzmaut! It’s how we should feel this week, in spite of whatever problems may face our beloved Medina. We came here with pride, hope and faith. And we pray that this is the beginning of the full YESHUA and GE’ULA. May it come speedily.
The Rav in discussing the BUSHA mentioned in our blessing said: We live in anticipation, but also face the fear that we might fail. I think there are many in our present situation who feel that concern. It seems like everyone is unhappy and protesting the situation in our country. Our blessing is reminding us that through Torah study we can remember the Promise, and dispel the doubt.
The blessing continues:
For You are the powerful God, Who enacts YESHU’OT (victories, salvation, deliverance). We remind ourselves of the infinite power and capability to achieve whatever purpose is in God’s plan. After we reference the power, we revisit the central theme of our blessing: And You have chosen us from amongst all nations and tongues.
The central theme of the first blessing of KRIAT SHMA is God’s infinite power. The central theme of this next blessing is the chosen status of B’nei Yisrael. But for one fleeting mention we combine those themes to show our BITACHON in the eventual YESHUA. Actually, we should always combine those ideas. Our peace of mind is based on God’s amazing love and power combo.
Finally, we are getting ready to make the ultimate declaration of our faith: The perfect unity of God. We prepare for the affirmation by stating: And You have brought us close to Your great Name, powerfully and in truth. This is acknowledging that we couldn’t have fully reached the recognition of God’s perfect unity and power without being enveloped in God’s Presence at Mt. Sinai. Full understanding of this transcendent idea requires God’s embrace. Avraham started the process, but we couldn’t grasp it fully until Moshe’s leadership at the epiphany of Sinai.
The last phrase before the HATIMA (sealing blessing), I believe is mistranslated in many texts. We say L’HODOT LICHA. ArtScroll renders that ‘to offer praiseful thanks’. I’m not sure that this HODA’A is ‘thanks’. I think that the declaration we’re about to make is more of an acknowledgment or recognition of God. Remember the root of L’HODOT means to admit or acknowledge. In legal proceedings it means an admission of guilt or responsibility. I think it is that sense which is in play here.
When we state L’HODOT LICHA U’LIYACHEDICHA. It’s about acknowledgment of God and the perfect Unity of Divinity. It is a proclamation of a reality which we believe beyond any shadow of a doubt.
Then we seal the blessing: Blessed are You O Eternal, Who has chosen His nation in love. The theme of blessing number two: the Universal God has chosen to have a unique and loving relationship with us, exclusively.
Now, we are ready to focus all our spiritual power and blast out the central theme of our service: Hear O Yisrael, the Eternal, is our God, the Eternal is a Singularity!!