The Good Guys

The last BERACHA we analyzed is about the most dangerous enemies of Jewish society. Those Jews who turn on our faith by joining or supporting our foes. That uniquely negative blessing in our prayer expresses the fear and frustration caused by these turncoats. It’s a prayer drenched in loathing. But now, our prayer turns back to its primary goal of communicating to or with God about our most important needs. The new need? After begging God to eradicate those most dangerous villains, we now describe the most valued members of our ideal society: The Good Guys.

So, who are the Good Guys, those people our Sages view as crucial for a well-run society? Here’s the list: TZADIKIM, CHASIDIM, Z’KEINIM, SOFRIM, and GEIREI TZEDEK. Now, let’s try to figure out what kind of individuals are described by these terms.

What is a ZADIK? Basically, the root of this word denotes just and right. This is a person who is always endeavoring to do the correct thing. Remember, no one gets it right every time, ‘Indeed, there is no one upon earth so good (ZADIK), that this one never sins (or ‘errs’, Kohelet 7:20).’ However, the ZADIK is always trying to perform Mitzvot and avoid transgressions.

That’s already a very high bar. So, what constitutes a CHASID? The Etz Yosef suggests BA’ALEI MA’ASEH, people whose every deed is good and kind, whether this performance is a mitzva per se, or not. Generally, we define CHASIDUT as going beyond the letter or demand of the HALACHA, Jewish law.

The Z’KEINIM, on the other hand, are known for their scholarship. A ZAKEN is one who has acquired knowledge. The first two categories strive to fulfill Jewish Law; this class of individuals is working hard to discover what the HALACHA truly is. This group is always struggling to apply HALACHA to the latest technological advances.

Who are the PLEITAT SOFREIHEM, the remnant of the transmitters of Torah? They are the elders amongs us who knew and experienced the greatness of previous generations of Torah giants. In my post Holocaust generation, this group was so vital for the continuity of our people and our MESORA, which the Nazis tried so hard to stamp out. The term SOFER, often rendered ‘scribe’, comes from the word to count, because they carefully counted every word and letter of texts to assure its accuracy.

Rav Soloveitchik waxed poetic about this group. For me, of course, he bore witness to the greatness of the of the Jewish world which existed before the deluge. He explained: Jewish scholarship must be linked to previous generations to be authentic, to be part of the MESORA. The MESORA isn’t only abstract concepts; it’s also feelings, reflecting an experiential continuity…This bridge to the past can tip the balance in favor of holiness over the profane.

Full disclosure: There is another explanation for the identity of PLEITAT SOFREIHEM. There are commentaries who believe that these are those patient and saintly individuals who dedicate their lives to teaching the youngest children. We never again experience the same simple honesty as we receive from these dedicated pedagogues.

The fifth, and last, category of this handful of components for a successful Jewish community is GEIRE ZEDEK, righteous proselytes who remind us of how inspiring Torah observance can be to a sincere, outside observer. The Torah warns us to never denigrate the convert. Rav Steinzaltz OB”M points out that we include righteous penitents in this grouping. He notes the continuity of the verses, ‘a nation that didn’t know you, will come running back to you (Yeshayahu 55:5)’ with ‘let the wicked abandon his ways and evil thoughts, and turn back to God, Who will be compassionate and his Lord, Who is abundant in forgiveness (verse 7).’

We now beseech God to grant SACHAR TOV, ‘a good reward’, to these individuals, and to us. Are there bad rewards? Well, it could mean an appropriate reward, because people often ask for things which aren’t really good for them. As Aesop warned: Be careful what you wish for! But I like the Ramban’s definition for TOV, in the first chapter of Breishit. The things which are TOV are long lasting.

The other request is V’LO NEIVOSH, ‘let us not be ashamed’. Another curious request. But is it? Maybe, because I wasn’t always observant, I remember going through a stage when public Mitzva performance concerned me. What would people think if I wear a KIPPA or DAVEN in public? But when we have strong faith in God and in the Torah’s demands, then we should be confident, and never concerned of embarrassment. Do what’s right, and never fear the consequences.

Then we conclude this blessing: MISHAN U’MIVTACH L’TZADIKIM, (ArtScroll: Mainstay and Assurance of the righteous). MISHAN, for me, is an Ulpan word. It’s the back of a chair, which gives us support. What’s the difference between the support of MISHAN and the security of MIVTACH? I believe strongly that MISHAN is a physical support, as in the first time it appears in the Torah, ‘If one strikes another with stone or fist…if he then gets up and walks outdoors upon his staff (MISHANTO, Shmot 21:18-19).

On the other hand, MIVTACH is spiritual or emotional support. In our prayers, we beg God for both. We exchange our faith and trust in God (BITACHON) for the hope and expectation that God will reciprocate by supporting us both physically and psychologically. We invest of our soul’s power to do Mitzvot, and pray for God’s protection.

Everyone wants and needs BITACHON, a sense of security and safety. The blessing puts that desire into inspiring words.

About the Author
Born in Malden, MA, 1950. Graduate of YU, taught for Rabbi Riskin in Riverdale, NY, and then for 18 years in Efrat with R. Riskin and R. Brovender at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Spent 16 years as Educational Director, Cong. Agudath Sholom, Stamford, CT. Now teach at OU Center and Yeshivat Orayta.
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