Every morning we end SHMA with a resounding declaration of EMET, ‘It’s TRUE!’. This first section of the third and final blessing of Kriat Shma details our eternal confidence in the statements made in the SHMA. We emphasize that we will pass on this devotion throughout the generations. It’s a powerful affirmation of our faith. But then this prayer which began, ‘It’s TRUE and constant, and stable…’ shifts gears and describes our relationship with God throughout these millennia: You have been the Helper (Supporter) of our ancestors…in every generation. The text is transitioning from declaring our steadfast fealty to the truths stated in the SHMA to a preparation for our SHMONE ESREH prayer of requests to God for our needs. It’s a tricky shift.
The entirety of the blessings surrounding the SHMA and the SHMA itself are about what God bestows upon us and the world. The new paragraph which begins with. ‘You have been the Helper’, is for the first time recognizing our role in this relationship. God is helping us. This means, unlike the Exodus experience of, ‘Stand by and witness the deliverance of the Eternal!’ (Shmot 14:13), we have to participate. God will support our efforts; but we must make an effort!
We then describe God as dwelling B’RUM OLAM (in the highest realm of Creation). This could explain how God is able to tinker with the physical reality of our Cosmos, because He essentially exists outside of it. Nevertheless, His justice and kindness extends to the very ends of this reality, and we Jews are able to access that Divine largesse.
Indeed, one who observes God’s Mitzvot, Torah and Word is truly fortunate (ASHREI, which can mean ‘happy’, but more probably describes one who is contented, at peace). This state of bliss derives from the fact that God is the Lord and Master of our people, and is our powerful Sovereign who fights on our behalf. God is first and last, and is the only truly unique presence in Creation. He is the King, Who redeems and saves.
At this point, we return to the final idea in the third paragraph of SHMA, namely that God redeemed us from Egypt. We prepare to pray and supplicate before God by connecting the concept of Redemption, specifically from Egypt, to our SHMONEH ESREH prayer. Many authorities see this as reminding us that we should be praying for the final GEULA, redemption.
However, Rav Soloveitchik sees it differently. He asks:
Why do our Sages demand linking GEULA to TEFILA? And he answers: Because silence at a time of need signifies a lack of complete understanding of the need. This lack of awareness is identified with slavery (the opposite of GEULA). The fact that we can enunciate need in prayer means that we are free!
Freedom is a state of mind! We are free because God redeemed us from Egypt. It is that freedom which still provides us with the mental state to address God with our needs.
Then we make a clear differentiation between us and those who had oppressed us. The Tur demands that we make the following four part declaration: All their firstborns You killed; Your firstborn You redeemed…The arrogant you drowned; Your beloved ones were brought across. We must have a clear delineation in our minds between those who commit to the Covenant and those who would trample it. The continued existence of the Jews and the extinction of our tormentors may look like the random work of natural historic processes, but that is not true! It’s the hand of God.
We now enter the last preparation for standing before God in supplication. ‘For this reason the beloved ones praised God; the cherished ones sang praises…He humbles the haughty, raises the lowly…and ANSWERS HIS PEOPLE WHEN THEY CRY OUT TO HIM!!
With that sure knowledge that God is available to our prayers percolating through our heads and hearts, we can now daven. But like a great symphony, we can’t quite let go of this awesome theme: We pray to You because You have been there for us throughout all time.
So, we have a symphonic coda, recapitulating the great themes of Jewish prayer, before we enter into God’s ineffable Presence to supplicate for our requirements. So, what is the greatest prayerful theme in Jewish History? SHIRAT HAYAM, The Song of the Sea. we reprise: Who is like unto You, among the mighty? Who is comparable to You, majestic in holiness? Awesome in praises, performing wonders?
Then we intone the most quoted verse in all of our liturgy: The Eternal shall reign forever and ever! Rav Sacks famously explained that the phrase L’OLAM VA’ED really means ‘forever’ both in time and space, everywhere and everywhen.
Now we ready ourselves to step forward into the Divine Presence, and remind ourselves that God is the Rock of Israel; the immovable foundation of our people. We then beg:
Arise to the help of Israel. Redeem us as you assured the various incarnations of our people; Yisrael and Yehuda. That’s both the entire nation and that remnant who remained loyal. Redeem us, O Eternal, Lord of Hosts is his name (it’s true: God is the Ruler of all the Heavenly Hosts, but we know God as) the Holy One of Israel.
What do we mean by KADOSH YISRAEL? Rav Soloveitchik wrote:
Kedusha, under a Halachik aspect, is man-made; more accurately, it is a historical category. A soil is sanctified by historical deeds performed by a sacred people, never by any primordial superiority…Kedusha is identical with man’s association with nature (The Emergence of Ethical Man, p. 150).
God is KADOSH YISRAEL in that the Eternal imbued the nation of Israel with power to produce holiness. We have this power of Kedusha through our eternal association with God.
Finally, this remarkable prayer ends with the blessing: Blessed are You, O Eternal, Who has redeemed (GA’AL) Yisrael. Yes, we can DAVEN because God made us free by redeeming us from Egypt. That is the power of redemption.
It is because of this enduring relationship that we can pray our Shemone Esre in which we can then declare in the present: Blessed are You, O Eternal, Who continues to redeem (GO’EL) Yisrael. The relationship endures; dialogue persists.