Each week we discuss one familiar halakhic practice and try to show its beauty and meaning. The columns are based on Rabbi Meir's commentary Meaning in Mitzvot on Kitzur Shulchan Arukh.
First Blessing of the Amida
In the beginning of our parsha, HaShem blesses Avram: “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will magnify your name; and be you a blessing” (Bereshit 12:2). Rashi explains that the three blessings refer to the three Avot: “’I will make you into a great nation’, as they say, ‘G-d of Avraham’; ‘and I will bless you’, as they say ‘G-d of Yitzchak’; ‘and I will magnify your name’, as they say ‘G-d of Yaakov’. Could it be that they close with all of them? ‘And be you a blessing’ teaches that they close with you and not with them” (based on Pesachim 117b).
This Midrash comes to explain why only Avraham’s name is mentioned in the close of the blessings of the Amida – the very first blessing which concludes “Shield of Avraham”. We could imagine that the first blessing would close, “Shield of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov”. Alternatively we might think that the second blessing would end describing HaShem’s relationship to Yitzchak (for example, “Awe of Yitzchak”) and the third His relationship with Yaakov (such as “G-d of Yaakov”), since the first three blessings correspond to the three Avot (as explained in the Beit Yosef OC 112).
What is the meaning of this special additional blessing given to Avraham, the privilege given to him but not to his son and grandson, that a blessing is specially called by his name?
The Prisha explains based on the commentary of Rav Eliahu Mizrachi (Re’em) on this verse. The blessing given to Avram begins with the blessing that he will be made into a great nation. All of the following blessings are built on that blessing: “The Holy One, blessed be He, doesn’t designate His name on a single person, but rather on an entire nation.”
In other words, the other two blessings are not merely additions to this blessing, but rather are built upon it. Once Avraham is blessed not merely as an individual righteous person, as Noach was, but rather as the founder of a people, then HaShem will bless and magnify the name of this nation through subsequent patriarchs.
If we were to make an equivalence in our prayers between Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, then it could seem as though each one deserves this special mention because of his own individual level of righteousness. By emphasizing the unique status of Avraham as founder of Am Yisrael, we show that Yitzchak and Yaakov did not merit their special status primarily as individuals, but rather as the continuation of the nation.
This concept can help us explain another, similar Midrash which also relates to the expression “Magen Avraham”. The Midrash states that Avram was concerned, “Perhaps someone else will come along who will be even more outstanding in mitzvot and good deeds, and his covenant will displace mine!” HaShem’s blessing to Avram “I am a shield to you” reassures him that his covenant is specially shielded (Bereshit Rabba on 15:1).
The Sefat Emet asks in the name of the Chidushei HaRim, isn’t it strange that it should have been a source of worry to him that a great tzaddik should arise in future generations? We can answer thisquestion with the insight of the Re’em: Another person might arise who on an individual basis was on a higher level than himself. But it would be disastrous if that led to the displacing of Avram’s covenant, because his covenant was unique in that it applied to an entire nation, for all time. It is a covenant which “you will keep, you and your descendants after you for all generations” (Bereshit 17:9).
Rabbi Meir has recently completed writing a monumental companion to Kitzur Shulchan Aruch which beautifully presents the meanings in our mitzvot and halacha.
Rabbi Meir authors a popular weekly on-line Q&A column, "The Jewish Ethicist", which gives Jewish guidance on everyday ethical dilemmas in the workplace. The column is a joint project of the JCT Center for Business Ethics, Jerusalem College of Technology - Machon Lev; and Aish HaTorah. You can see the Jewish Ethicist, and submit your own questions, at www.jewishethicist.com or at www.aish.com.