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The Twelfth Blessing: Heretics

“And for slanderers let there be no hope; and may all evil perish in an instant; and may all Your enemies be cut down speedily. May You speedily uproot, smash, cast down and humble the wanton sinners – speedily in our days. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who breaks enemies and humbles wanton sinners.”

The twelfth blessing of Shemoneh Esrei asks Hashem to destroy heretics. It follows the previous blessing, for after a Torah government is restored, the time will come when all heretics, who deny and seek to destroy the Torah, will be put in their place (Megilla 17b). This blessing was not part of the original formulation of the Shemoneh Esrei, but was added by the Sages at a later time.

The Talmud tells us that when Rabbi Meir prayed that the evil people should be destroyed, his wife Bruriah corrected him that it was preferable to ask Hashem to have them return to the right path. The Zohar writes that it is forbidden to ask Hashem to destroy evil people (Medrash Nelam, Vayera). In light of this, why are we permitted to recite this blessing?

In general, one ought to pray that evil people should return to Hashem, and not be killed. However, the Torah makes an exception for heretics, whose goal in life is to trivialize, deny and eradicate the Torah. It is to these individuals whom we refer when we ask, “May all evil perish in an instant.” With regards to other evil people, the halacha upholds Bruriah’s opinion, and one should definitely pray that they return to Hashem. Notwithstanding the general principle that, “Everything is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven,” we may pray that everyone will return to the right path. Our intention should be that the evil should not be tempted to engage in further sin, and that they should meet righteous individuals who may help them find fear of Heaven once more (Rav Moshe Feinstein, as cited in Responsa Rivavos Ephraim 3,591).


Text Copyright © 2010 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org


 

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