Expressing Our Relationships with Hashem Through Birkas HaMazon
PART 6 (AND CONCLUSION)
The Name Yaakov and the Name Yisraeln
This blessing contains the phrase “k’dosheinu k’dosh Yaakov, ro’einu ro’ei Yisrael.” This phrase seems duplicative, as Yaakov is Yisrael. We also need to understand the meanings of the words k’dosh and ro’ei, and the difference between them. Finally, we again need to understand why this language appears specifically here, and not in one of the earlier blessings.
We may understand this in the following way: Although Yaakov is Yisrael, the names connote different relationships to Hashem. Yaakov is a name of din (judgment and distance), as it connotes restraint and holding back, while Yisrael connotes rachamim (lovingkindness) and closeness. Similarly, k’dosh (“the Holy One of”) connotes transcendence and therefore distance, while ro’ei (“the Shepherd of”) connotes the closeness of a shepherd to his flock. Combining the two, we are expressing the magnificent idea that although at a given moment our relationship with Hashem is experienced as k’dosh Yaakov, reflecting distance and judgment, nevertheless Hashem is still ro’ei Yisrael, the close shepherd who cares to his sheep with lovingkindness. As we explained earlier, as long as we are alive, we are receiving goodness and blessing from Hashem; and we must always feel that this is an experience of ro’ei Yisrael, even if the general context is one of k’dosh Yaakov.
Furthermore, there is the perspective caused by living within time. We as humans live in one moment at a time. Both the past and the future seem not real to us, and exist only in our thoughts. But Hashem is hayah, hoveh, v’yihyeh, and in the words of the Leshem (Rav Shlomo Elyashiv, 1841-1925), all times are the present for Hashem.
Looking back at Yaakov’s life, we find that initially he was a yosheiv ohalim (occupied only with Torah study), and after receiving the blessings from Yitzchak, his life seemed perfect. But then he needed to flee to the house of Lavan, losing all of his possessions along the way to Elifaz. At that moment, Hashem seemed very distant.
At that point, Yaakov has a dream with two parts. In the first, he sees a ladder ascending from the earth to the heavens, and angels ascending and descending. There is a great distance between heaven and earth, and seemingly only the angels are able to journey across the chasm. But in the second part of the dream, Hashem Himself is hovering right above Yaakov. He is as close as can be.
The first part reflected Yaakov’s state at that particular moment: Shamayim was a great distance away, and Hashem cannot even be directly perceived, only inferred from the angels ascending and descending. But the second part of the dream was an entirely different experience: Hashem Himself was stationed, as it were, right above Yaakov. This part of the dream represented Yaakov’s future state, where Hashem would indeed be with him, protect him, and see to it that the Twelve Sh’vatim would result – not to mention the wealth that he would subsequently accumulate. Most important, he returned to Eretz Canaan, to the land of his fathers.
All of this is alluded to in the phrase “k’dosheinu k’dosh Yaakov, ro’einu ro’ei Yisrael.” And we see the same destiny for ourselves, and for all of klal Yisrael. Even if the present moment is dark, we know that Hashem is still with us, bestowing His good on us. In addition, we know that our future destiny is a return to the greatness that once was.
This is why we say, “Hu heitiv, hu meitiv, hu yeitiv lanu.” We are able to transcend the present moment, and see in the good we are receiving even in the midst of darkness, the great blessings and goodness we received in the past, as well as the great goodness we know that we as a people are destined to receive in the future.
Why Do We Recite All of the Blessings Today?
We have covered quite a bit of ground. We have re-experienced the mahn, the entry and conquest of Eretz Canaan, the Beis HaMikdash, as well as destruction and exile. As we ponder our collective state at this moment (this is being written during The Three Weeks), we might question why we still recite all four blessings today. The mahn is a distant historical memory; Eretz Yisrael is not the way it should be, the Beis HaMikdash is in ruins. The only blessing that would seem to be truly relevant to the current moment is the fourth one. Why then do we recite all four?
The answer is simply that the Jewish people do not live only in the current moment. Rather, our history is a living reality, and our promised destiny shapes how we experience today. The Beis HaMikdash lives on in our hearts and is seared in our memory. Shechinah lo zazah mi’Kosel HaMaaravi (the Holy Presence has not left the Western Wall). And the relationship to Hashem of Father, of closeness, of intimacy, that characterizes the Beis HaMikdash is one that still lives on within us, even without the edifice of the Temple.
And, we believe, we trust, we know, that an even greater glory, an even greater closeness to Hashem, awaits us yet. And so we may continue to thank Hashem for His eternal miraculous sustenance, for the Land, and for entrusting us to be His agents in this world, for allowing us to come closer to Him, and finally, for assuring our collective survival in the darkest times, continuing to shower us with goodness even in the midst of suffering and strife, as we await the Mashiach and the return of the glory of Hashem in Yerushalayim and in the Beis HaMikdash, and the return of the Jewish people to their eternal destiny.
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By Rabbi Shlomo Goldfinger
You can direct any questions or comments to Eliezer Szrolovits at 917-551-0150.