Last class we reviewed the twelfth (and additional) blessing of the Shemoneh Esrai, continuing to review the communal blessings and focusing on our plea that wickedness be removed from the world. Today we review the thirteenth blessing overall and continue examining the new set of communal requests, now with a focus on a plea for the righteous. As always, let’s first review the actual text of the blessing:
“On the righteous, on the devout, on the elders of Your people the Family of Israel, on the remnant of their scholars, on the righteous converts and on our ourselves – may Your compassion be aroused, HaShem, our G-d, and give goodly reward to all who sincerely believe in Your Name. Put our lot with them forever, and we will not feel ashamed, for we trust in You. Blessed are You, HaShem, Mainstay and Assurance of the righteous.”
This blessing, the thirteenth bracha of the Shemoneh Esrai, is a request for G-d’s compassion to be aroused. It’s numerical order is likely no accident, as it corresponds perfectly to the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.
The text of the blessing itself also offers some important life lessons. The bracha starts out by stating, “On the righteous, on the devout, on the elders of Your people the Family of Israel, on the remnant of their scholars, on the righteous converts and on our ourselves….” As Rabbi Avraham Chaim Feuer notes, most commentaries say that this list is in ascending order of prominence, starting with the righteous individual and moving upward down the list. If so, why do we list the elders after the righteous or the devout? I can understand why the scholars would be placed higher in prominence or the righteous converts but are elders more prominent than the righteous and devout?
Quoting Rabbi Yehuda ben Yakar, Rabbi Feuer explains that the elders do indeed deserve to be viewed prominently, as they are often the leaders of the Jewish community. How important a lesson this is for us all in terms of serving the community. It is exemplary to be considered a tzaddik, a righteous and devout individual. But do you want to go even further? Start serving the community, so you can be viewed as an elder. Volunteer to daven from the Amud, to serve as the Gabbai or on the shul board, and you will be serving the community as a leader.
Of course, it’s hard not to notice that the list of prominent individuals ends with ourselves. This is no accident. As we daven this bracha, we need to remind ourselves that our goal is to work on our growth so that we too can become a tzaddik, a community leader, and a scholar. As noted above, by taking action we can work on ensuring we’re included in this list.
The placement of ourselves at the end is also a lesson in the important of self-confidence and self-worth. It can be easy to see this criteria – righteousness, scholarship – and despair that we don’t belong. But don’t forget the placement of ourselves, at the end and in the most prominent position! We too have the potential and ability to reach those levels and we should keep that in mind as we daven the Shemoneh Esrai.