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First Blessing 25: The Chart of The Vilna Gaon (Essay & Workbook)

Rabbeinu Avraham, the son of the Vilna Gaon, quoting his father explains the entire Shemoneh Esreh in the following novel manner. But after the third blessing, he divides up each blessing, rather than each word, according to the four headings.

The more you praise God, the more you are putting your foot in you mouth, because you’re saying “I’m describing so much of You, because I’m saying so much.” Yet, the more you say, the more you are limiting God, because God is unlimited. So how do you praise God? The only reason we can praise God is because Moses used four words, and those words were ha’el, ha’gadol, ha’gibor, v’ha’norah.

Every word of the Shemoneh Esreh, except the names of God, must parallel one of these. Ha’el means ‘the Power.’ Ha’gadol means ‘that which grows, and helps others grow.’ Now this is how it works…imagine each of the words as a color. So you have four colors. In the case of a blessing, baruch, meaning blessed, goes under the heading of ‘the Power.’ God is the source of all power. According to the Vilna Gaon, that is how he understands Baruch ata Hashem.

The second word, ata, meaning You, Hashem directly: Look up the Artscroll Siddur (Ashkenaz) page 606, bottom paragraph, you will find that you always associate the gidulah, the greatness of God, with God’s humility. Therefore, ata is associated with ha’gdol. That’s the bottom paragraph. Therefore, when we say the word ata Hashem, we are addressing God directly. We don’t even say ata to our teachers. We don’t even address our Rebbeim in the second person. Yet here, we address God in the second person. That is because of God’s great humility.

The third word is Hashem. By definition, this cannot be defined by any of the four. The fourth word is Elokeinu. Elokeinu always refers to the Divine attribute of Divine Providence. Meaning, hashgachat pratit, individual Providence. God is intimately involved in your life. For God to be intimately involved in your life, it means that God has unlimited powers.

The words elokei avoteinu are associated with v’hanorah, awesomeness. Elokei avoteinu is hashgachat kellalit, which is broad Providence. You cannot have individual providence without having broad providence. Individual providence means that God looks at you in the context of your family, your environment, your home, your parents, your grandparents, who your children will be, who your grandchildren will be, and even who you were in your previous lives. All to determine what your challenges have to be in this Creation. So the only way to have the specific, individual providence, is to first have the much more infinite providence which is the understanding every single detail of existance, and how that has to be expressed through individual providence. Which is awesome! That’s Elokei avoteinu. It’s that broad perspective from which avoteinu, the individual providence develops. That’s why ‘Lord of our Fathers,’ fathers meaning the perspective of history…how I, as an individual, have to be treated in the perspective of history. The only purpose of the general is for the individual.

Now the next few words are elokei Avraham, elokei Yitzchak, vei’lokei Ya’akov. Lord of Abraham, Lord of Isaac, etc. All the elokei’s go under the heading of ha’el, or power. Lord means that you have power. That’s why elokei Avraham does not mean ‘God of Abraham.’ It means the power. Abraham’s attribute is chesed. Let me show you in your siddur…chesed is associated with gedulah. We already discussed this, I believe. Chesed and greatness are synonymous, because the only real chesed is that which fosters growth. Look at the top line on page 76. This is the blessing that David gives the Jews before he is about to die. Here he lists the sefirot. First greatness, then strength, then glory, then victory, etc. Doesn’t chesed come before strength. Here we see that greatness is synonymous with chesed. This Abraham.

Who is gevurah, strength? – Isaac. Jacob is called ha’norah.

We were saying that Jacob is called ha’norah. And norah is synonymous with tiferet v’emet. Now, of all the avot, who is the one who is the least emet? Who is the one who lies the most? – Jacob.

Now you know that Abraham is the right hand, Isaac is the left hand. Jacob is the torso. That’s why when we daven, we go like this {How?} – we hold our hands together. Unless we are holding a siddur.

Jacob is considered nora, awesome. Jacob is the combination of Abraham and Isaac. Why is he considered nora? The awesomeness of Ya’acov was his ability to withstand all the different cultures of people and mores and moralities that he was exposed to, and still maintain what he was. He had the combination of the Gevurah of Yitzchak and the Gedulah of Avraham.

What’s the next word? – Ha’el. So that definitely goes under the heading of ha’el. As do ha’gadol, ha’gibor, v’ha’nora, each respectively. Next words – el elyon, which goes under ha’el. And the next words are go’mel chasadim tovim – “Who grants good kindnesses.” These go under ha’gadol. Even though it is not “to grant.” Remember when we spoke about the root of gamal? The work gomel means ‘to nurse, to wean.’ Remember the word gamal means to wean someone from needing chesed? That’s why it’s called gadol. Gimilut chasadim tovim means that you wean someone from needing more kindness.

Koneh ha’kol is like this: We translate it to mean “Who owns everything,” or “Master of everything.” Rabbeinu Avram, the son of the Vilna Gaon, says that it means m’takein – from the word tikkun – ‘to fix.’ How does God fix everything? Through Hashgachat P’ratit. How does God become the Master of Everything, or make it His own? – By being involved constantly, and wishing them to be rectified. How does God become Master, or owning it? – By being Elokeinu, being m’ta’kein through Individual Providence.

Zocheir chasdei avot u’meivi go’el livnei b’neichem l’ma’an sh’mo b’ahava. Actually all these words refer to ha’norah. We live to a certain degree because of the merit of the Avot, in that God allowed something that the Avot did to live far beyond their own lifetimes. He gave their deeds far more importance than you would have imagined. Greeting a bunch of Bedouins into your house is wonderful. And waiting out in the heat is tremendous. But if that changes the whole makeup of the Jewish People forever, that is a little incredible. So that’s where you get to the idea of ha’norah. In other words, ha’norah is that God can make the deeds of people as awesome as His own. This is even more frightening. Our attachment to Hashem which is awesome can make our deeds more awesome. And that gives you an awesome responsibility. It’s scary! That’s why we say zocheir chasdei avot.

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