As we will see in Mitzvah #433, there is an obligation for us to try to get closer to God through prayer. To help us fulfill this, our Sages established a prayer to be recited thrice-daily, corresponding to the prayers of our Forefathers. This prayer is called the Amidah (because it is recited standing); the weekday version is also called Shemoneh Esrei, the Eighteen Benedictions (although a nineteenth has since been added). Once a week for nineteen weeks, we will review the contents of the 19 blessings of “Shemoneh Esrei.”
In the eleventh bracha, we do not request justice per se so much as we request that God restore our system of justice. Jewish jurisprudence calls for a Sanhedrin of judges carrying the original ordination, empowered to interpret the Torah and to legislate based upon it. Restoring our legal system would be the first step in returning us to a Torah-based society that functions in the service of God.
As with many other blessings of Shemoneh Esrei, this bracha contains ideas paraphrased from Biblical verses. “Restore our judges as originally and our advisors as previously” is based on God’s promise to do exactly that in Isaiah 1:26, after which we will enjoy righteousness and justice while the corrupt will be destroyed. (The Midrash suggests that these judges and advisors include the likes of Moses, Aaron, David and Solomon.)
After asking for the restoration of our judges and advisors, we ask that God remove from us our grief and our sighing. Really, the removal of grief and sighing is a natural consequence of restoring our Torah leadership. How many of our problems are caused by factions among our people? If we solve our leadership crisis by restoring universally-recognized authorities, the cause for many of our sorrows will automatically dissipate. (Again, this is based on a Biblical verse. Isaiah 35:10 promises us that “simchas olam”–everlasting joy–will chase away “yagon va’anacha”–grief and sighing.)
Finally, we ask that God rule over us in His kindness and mercy, treating us charitably in judgment. The word “tzedek” actually refers to both justice and to charity. The concepts of justice and charity are not only not incompatible, they are actually inextricably intertwined. (The Torah tells us to judge one another charitably – see Leviticus 19:15. This is the basis of being dan l’kaf z’chus – giving one another benefit of the doubt.)
We conclude the bracha that God is the King Who loves both tzedaka and mishpat. Tzedaka refers to justice tempered with mercy, while mishpat means a strict judgment. There are times when each of these is called for and God loves each at the appropriate time. During the Ten Days of Repentance, this blessing concludes, “HaMelech HaMishpat,” that God is the King of strict justice. Of course He still engages in justice tempered with mercy, but we focus on the aspect of mishpat as part of our efforts to improve ourselves.