In these articles discussing the Shomeh Esrei prayer, we’ve noticed the reality that this name, which means 18, is an anachronism. Around the year 100 CE, our Sages added a nineteenth blessing of request. However, the number of these requests is even more complicated, because the Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud) says that the two blessings which I will describe today were once together in the same blessing. At that point, apparently, there were 17 blessings, which is nice because that’s the numeric value, GEMATRIA of TOV or good.
These two requests are for the rebuilding of Yerushalayim and the reestablishment of the Davidic Monarchy, you know Mashiach. Our Sages have separated them into two distinct requests, because the first is about God’s presence on earth, while the second is about our ultimate aspiration: a partnership with God in developing a just, moral and spiritual society on earth.
Actually, the first request, a place for God on earth, is a more remarkable plea than the second, an inspired ruler. We’ve always believed that God can imbue certain humans with inspiration and, even, revelation, but asking God to dwell in our midst seems to be asking a lot. Our blessing is aware of the audacity of the petition and, therefore, informs us that we have the right to ask for this only because God has previously informed us of this possibility. The blessing says K’ASHER DIBARTA, ‘As You have promised.’
In the Midbar, God told the Jews, ‘Build for Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in your midst (Shmot 25:8).’ This dwelling within Yerushalayim (V’TISHKON B’TOCHA) is, perhaps, our greatest desire. This Divine Presence or SHECHINA is the goal of every prayer. Ultimately, this request only makes sense, because God has previously guaranteed it. It’s unlike any other request in our Shmoneh Esrei which we could generate on our own.
This reality, we believe, can only be achieved in Yerushalayim, because that term, like every Hebrew word which ends in AYIM, denotes a duality. Like YADAYIM, means two hands; Yerushalayim means two Jerusalem’s, one here and one in heaven. Many authorities claim that’s why our BERACHA begins with a VAV for connection between the paired entities, sort of a spiritual quantum entanglement.
We beg that this rebuilt BEIT HaMIKDASH reveal itself B’KAROV, soon, because it’s important to God as well as to us. The Talmud informs us that God has said, ‘I will not enter the Yerushalayim of Heaven, until I have entered the Yerushalayim of down here (Ta’anit 5a, also a great Avraham Fried song). And we assume that this rebuilding will be eternal because God will make it happen. The body of this blessing closes by referring to the next blessing: And the throne of David should speedily be established within it.
Blessing number fifteen is about the return of the King descended from David in the Holy City. The Messianic wish appropriately is numbered 15 of the blessings, because that number has holy connotations. It’s the GEMATRIA of the shortest name of God (YOD HEY), and represents the 15 steps leading from the outer court of the Beit HaMikdash to the inner area, upon which the Levi’im sang the 15 Shir HaMa’alot, and, as Pesach approaches, the steps in our Seder.
We refer to this new scion of the House of David as TZEMACH. There are two reasons for this, both based on verses. In Zecharia, it says, ‘Behold a man named TZEMACH will flourish (branch?) from this place (6:12). So, perhaps, his name will actually be Tzemach, even though there are sources which suggest Menachem. But it also describes the organic nature of the development of the Messianic Era, as described in Yirmiyahu, ‘In those days and at that time, I will raise up a true branch (TZEMACH) of David’s line, and he shall do what is right and just in the land (33:15).’
There is another description of the new King. He is also called KEREN, a magnificent horn or antler. This seems to reference that the individual will be the pride or glory of the nation. Historically, many crowns or helmets had horns attached to them to be more impressive.
At this point, there is a line which does not appear in the Siddur of either Maimonides or Reb Sadya Gaon: For we await Your Salvation every (perhaps: all) day. This is a paraphrase of a line in the blessing given to Dan by Ya’akov Avinu (Breishit 49:18). This powerful three-word verse is recited as an acrostic by many Jews every day at the end of TEFILA (ArtScroll p. 180).
But more importantly, it expresses the constant expectation of the future, great Salvation, which has sustained our nation all these millennia. In fact, the Talmud teaches that when a Jewish soul ascends to heaven, God asks six questions. One of which is, ‘Did you consistently anticipate My Salvation (Shabbat 31a)’.
Earlier in this essay, I tried to distinguish between asking for the rebuilt Yerushalayim and requesting Mashiach, but there’s another distinction which must be made as well. In blessing number seven, we asked for GEULA. Here in blessing fifteen, we are asking for Mashiach and YESHUA. What’s the difference between GEULA (usually translated as ‘redemption’) and YESHUA (often rendered ‘salvation’)?
Even though these two terms are often used interchangeably, they shouldn’t be. GEULA implies being freed or released from incarceration or from being oppressed. Leaving Egypt was definitely an example of GEULA. YESHUA or Salvation, on the other hand means spiritual liberation from the mundane and profane. GEULA describes a physical state; YESHUA characterizes a metaphysical circumstance. They require different requests, because they describe very different situations and needs.
In blessings fourteen and fifteen, we are expressing the deepest historic yearnings of the Jewish people. Our longing for Yerushalayim and Mashiach have allowed our people to keep the faith through exile, destruction, Inquisition, pogrom and Holocaust, and continues to sustain us.