Beginning with blessing number 10, we turn our attention to communal needs. This is important. The Jewish nation survives or fails based on our concern for one another. We believe that KOL YISRAEL AREIVIN ZEH B’ZEH, every Jews is responsible for every other Jew. I saw this first-hand last Thursday at Ben Gurion. I went to pick up my wife Rivka from visiting the US. Outside entrance 3 were young women (B’NOT SHEIRUT) handing out flags and backpacks to Jewish refugees from war torn Ukraine. The singing (HAVEINU SHALOM ALEICHEM) and the tears told the whole story: Jews care about Jews!
This fits right in with the topic of Blessing 10: Blast the great Shofar for our freedom, and raise high the banner to gather our exiles. This thrilling start to our blessing paraphrases two famous verses from the book of Yeshayahu: 1. On that day a great ram’s horn will be blown, and those lost in the land of Assyria will come, as well as those dispersed in the land of Egypt; and they will worship the Lord at Jerusalem on the holy mountain (Yeshayahu 27:13), 2. And he shall lift up a banner (NES) to the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth (11:12). The first verse has a prominent place in the Rosh Hashanah davening.
The reference to a ‘great ram’s horn’ prompts the Midrash to note that the ram which Avraham slaughtered in place of Yitzchak had two horns. The smaller was blown during the epiphany at Har Sinai. The larger being reserved to be blasted at the outset of the final redemption. Clearly, the final redemption will dwarf the former.
This is clearly just the first stage of the redemptive process, because we don’t discuss the rebuilding of Yerushalayim and the restoration of the Davidic monarchy until later blessings. Nevertheless, the reunification of the scattered nation is a significant step. The idea that there is tremendous power in the unity of all the Jews is seen in the mitzva of HAKHEL, when the whole the nation gathers every seven years to hear the king read Sefer Devarim. In Kabbalistic thought KNESSET YISRAEL is actually a manifestation of SHECHINA, Divine Presence, in our world.
The sad historic reality of the dispersion of our people has been a weakness of our nation for 2700 years. When Haman wanted to describe the decrepit nature of our people, he told Achashveirosh, ‘There is one nation which is scattered and dispersed (MEFUZAR U’MEFURAD) among the other peoples in all the provinces of your realm (Esther 3:8). The Malbim describes this double whammy: MEFUZAR, they have no land for themselves; MEFURAD, even in the lands in which they do dwell, they have no cities or specific territory for themselves. This dispersal has made us extremely vulnerable.
We conclude, ‘Blessed are You, God, Who gathers the dispersed of His people, Yisrael.’ This term for ‘dispersed’, NIDACH, implies more than just separated. Again, the Malbim explains that NIDACH means truly isolated and alone. It’s a pitiable image.
When, at long last, the Jewish people finally begin to reassemble, what is our first need? Well, that’s blessing number 11. We need good leadership. The term SHOFET means so much more than only a ‘judge’. As in the book of that name, these are leaders who have judicial, political, and military power. These leaders require expert advice, and that’s where YO’ATZEINU, ‘our advisors’ come in. These are people with technical and logistical knowledge, who can provide sage advice for the SHOFTIM. Never denigrate the contributions of competent technocrats and bureaucrats.
This reference to judges and advisors is a paraphrase of a verse in Yeshayahu at the end of chapter one, which makes up the Haftorah for the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av. Destruction has come to the Jews as a result of corrupt leadership. Yerushalayim will never return to its former glory as a City of Righteousness, Faithful Citadel unless the leadership is caring and compassionate.
Now comes one of my favorite lines in the whole Shmoneh Esrei: and remove from us YAGON (suffering, sorrow, discomfort) and ANACHA (sighing, groaning). Under Antisemitic regimes our people have suffered beyond belief. Now, we can finally reverse that trend of governmental oppression. This line is an exhortation to Jewish leaders, including rabbis: Rule with a light touch! Don’t burden the people unnecessarily!
Understanding full well that we will never find such perfect leaders, we turn to God, and beseech, ‘May You alone, O Lord, reign over us.’ The rabbinic authors of the prayer then use four terms to describe this desired kind of leadership: CHESED (kindness), RACHAMIM (compassion), TZADKEINU (vindicate us, find us innocent), B’MISHPAT (in justice).
Jews have been unjustly accused of horrible crimes throughout history. Blood Libels and claims of terrible depredations have been the common fare of Antisemitic screeds for many centuries. This last phrase is a specific demand that we be exonerated from all those lies hurled upon us by our unscrupulous enemies from time immemorial.
We close this blessing by describing God as the ‘King, Who loves righteousness and justice’ (from Psalms (33:5), ‘Who loves TZADAKA U’MISHPAT’). This is remarkable. It’s the only blessing in the requests section where the words ‘King’ and ‘love’ appear. Rav Yeshayahu HaLevi Horowitz (Shnei Luchot HaBrit) explains that when you love something there is no need to explain your attachment. God loves TZADAKA U’MISHPAT. That’s all there is to say.
When we refer to God as MELECH, king, we are describing our Creator as being in total control over our lives. Historically, a king had unlimited power over his subjects. Even though, in our modern world we’ve become accustomed to constitutional monarchies which limit the rulers, the authors of our prayers were thinking of kings as a force of unbridled power.
Our vision of society demands TZEDAKA U’MISHPAT. There must be an enforced system of justice and fair play. That’s definitely worth praying for.