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Eikev 5771-2011

“Finding the Greatness of G-d in His Humility”

Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, Moses continues his valedictory address to the Jewish people.

In one of the most powerful passages in all of Scripture, Moses passionately asks the Jewish people (Deuteronomy 10:12): “V’atah Yisrael, mah Hashem Eh’lo’keh’cha sho’el may’ee’mach, kee eem l’yirah et Hashem Eh’lo’keh’cha, la’lechet b’chol d’rachav, oo’l’ahavah oh’toh, v’la’ah’vohd et Hashem Eh’lo’keh’cha b’chol l’vav’cha oo’v’chol naf’sheh’cha,” And now, O Israel, what does the L-rd your G-d, ask of you? Only to fear the L-rd, your G-d, to go in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the L-rd, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul, to observe the commandments of the L-rd and His decrees, which I command you today for your benefit.

In the midst of this rhetorical flourish, Moses utters the famous four words that are part of the introductory blessing of every daily and festival Amidah (silent devotion). Describing G-d’s omnipotence, Moses declares (Deuteronomy 10:17): “Kee Hashem Eh’lo’kay’chem, hoo Eh’lo’kay ha’Eh’lo’kim va’Ah’doh’nay ha’ah’doh’neem, ha’Kayl ha’gadol ha’geebor v’ha’noh’rah ah’sher loh yee’sah fa’neem, v’lo yee’kach shoh’chahd,” For the L-rd, your G-d, He is the G-d of the powers and the L-rd of the L-rds, the great, mighty and awesome G-d, Who does not show favor, and Who does not accept a bribe (see Eikev 5770-2010 regarding the words, “The great, mighty and awesome G-d” ).

One of the most beautiful, but unfortunately greatly neglected, prayers in all of Hebrew liturgy is the prayer of “V’yeeten L’chah,” the verses of blessing that are recited on Saturday night at the conclusion of the evening service. This prayer, which is an assemblage of verses of blessing and abundance from all parts of the Bible, opens with the blessing (and hence the name “V’yeeten L’chah“) that Isaac bequeathed his son, Jacob (Genesis 27:28): May G-d give you of the dew of the heavens and of the fatness of the earth, abundant grain and wine. As they stand on the threshold of a new week, in this series of exalted blessings, Jews beseech G-d to bless the labor of their hands during the coming six days.

Toward the very end of this beautiful collection of verses is found the following dramatic citation from the Talmud, Megillah 31a:

Rabbi Yochanan said: Wherever you find mention of the greatness of the Holy One, Blessed is He, there you find mention of His humility. This is written in the Torah, repeated in the Prophets, and stated a third time in the Writings. It is written in the Torah (Deuteronomy 10:17): “For the L-rd your G-d, He is the G-d of heavenly forces and the Master of masters, the great, mighty and awesome G-d, Who shows no favoritism and accepts no bribe.” Afterwards, it is written (Deuteronomy 10:18): “He performs justice, for orphan and widow, and loves the stranger, to give him food and clothing.” It is repeated in the Prophets, as it is written (Isaiah 57:15): “For so says the exalted and uplifted One, Who abides forever, and Whose Name is holy, ‘I abide in exaltedness and holiness, but am with the contrite and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.’” And it is stated a third time in the Writings, as it is written (Psalms 68:5): “Sing to G-d, make music for His name, extol Him Who rides in the highest heaven, with His Name, G-d, and exult before Him.” Afterwards it is written (Psalms 68:6): “Father of the orphans and Judge of widows, G-d in the habitation of His holiness.”

The ArtScroll Siddur commentary explains that even though the above prayers contain no direct reference to the coming week, the selection of verses is most appropriate for the conclusion of Shabbat. Indeed, according to Rabbi Yochanan, it is this passage that actually accords worshipers the authority and confidence to pray. We learn from this passage that although the prayers are addressed to a transcendent and remote G-d, distant and all powerful, He is at the same time an immanent G-d, Who is close and caring.

The challenge of praying to an omnipotent G-d is cogently addressed by worshiping Jews in their daily preliminary prayers, and on the High Holidays as well. How does a lowly inadequate mortal have the temerity to pray? The prayer reads:

Master of all worlds! Not in the merit of our righteousness do we cast our supplications before You, but in the merit of Your abundant mercy. What are we? What is our life? What is our kindness? What is our righteousness? What is our salvation? What is our strength? What is our might? What can we say before You, L-rd our G-d, and the G-d of our forefathers? Are not all the heroes like nothing before You, the famous, as if they had never existed, the wise, as if void of wisdom and the perceptive, as if void of intelligence? For most of their deeds are desolate and the days of their lives are empty before You. The preeminence of man over beast is non existent, for all is vain.

How inadequate is mortal man when approaching the Al-mighty G-d in prayer. Yet Rabbi Yochanan’s words provide the supplicant with confidence. G-d is not only mighty, says Rabbi Yochanan, but in His grandeur, He reveals His humility. This great and remote G-d is concerned with the most immediate needs and fears of even the humblest beings. The G-d who is “The great, mighty and awesome G-d,” is the same G-d who “performs justice for the orphan and widow, and loves the stranger, to give him food and clothing.” The G-d who is “The exalted and uplifted One, Who abides forever and Whose Name is Holy,” is the same G-d who is always “With the contrite and lowly of spirit.” The G-d whom we extol as the one Who “rides the highest heaven with His name,” is also “the Father of orphans and the Judge of widows.”

How do mere mortals deign to pray to an All-Powerful G-d? Because there is incontrovertible evidence that our G-d cares about the weak and the downtrodden. This serves as our licence to pray, to ask that the coming week be a week of blessing and beneficence.

***

Now that the dreaded “Three Weeks” of foreboding and disaster commemorating the Temples’ destruction have concluded, Jews are able to enter confidently into a period of joy, introduced by the wonderfully festive day, Tu B’Av, the 15th day of Av. Once one of the most joyous days of the year, this festival serves as the precursor to the month of Elul, when we find G-d “out in the field,” ready to welcome His children, to embrace them, and prepared to forgive them for their transgressions and misdeeds.

It is from this dramatic perspective and our knowledge of G-d’s forgiving Divine nature that Jews throughout history ventured forth each week with full confidence. This confidence comes from knowing unequivocally that our G-d is always there to lift His children who stumble, to wipe away their tears, and to once again embrace them with love. It is because of this knowledge that Jews march forth with confidence toward the coming weeks, the coming months, and the coming years. No matter how challenging or daunting the future may appear, we are certain that the destiny of the Jewish people will be bright, and that, as the Prophet Samuel declared (I Samuel 15:29): “Netzach Yisrael lo yee’shah’ker,” the Eternal One of Israel will never fail us.

May you be blessed.

Please note: This year, the joyous festival of Tu B’Av, the fifteenth of Av, is celebrated on Sunday night and Monday, August 14th and 15th. Happy Tu B’Av. (For more information, please click here)