Last class we reviewed the eighth blessing of the Shemoneh Esrai, focusing on our request for health and healing and further exploring the deeper meanings of what appears to be a very straightforward request. Today, we will continue in that theme and review the ninth blessing overall – the request for sustenance. As always, let’s first review the actual text of the blessing:
“Bless on our behalf – O Hashem, our G-d – this year and all its kind of crops for the best, and give (dew and rain for) a blessing on the face of the earth, and satisfy us from Your bounty, and bless our year like the best years.”
Like the last blessing, this request seems to be a very straightforward request for sustenance from G-d. And, like the last blessing, it’s placement in the grander context of the Shemoneh Esrai prayer also seems to make sense. Our last request was for good health and any necessary healing. Once we’ve established a baseline of health, we can then move on to our next concern – sustenance and wealth. Let’s take a closer look, though, and see if we can pull any lessons from the text.
However, just like our last class, there’s more to be gleaned from this blessing than meets the eye. Many commentators point out the seemingly unnecessary use of the word “L’Tovah”, meaning “for the best.” If we’re asking for sustenance and wealth, do we need to qualify it by asking that it be for the best? What is that word coming to add?
Often in life, we ask for what we think will be best for us. We think obtaining the new promotion will be best but we don’t see how the added responsibility at work will take away from our family time. We think winning the lottery will allow us to be free of monetary concerns but we don’t see how the sudden influx of money might stunt our spiritual growth. There is so much we ask for, thinking (or perhaps even knowing) it will be for the best but we don’t have the benefit of seeing the bigger picture.
G-d, on the other hand, can see the whole picture and He truly knows what is best for each person. When we ask for wealth and sustenance in this prayer, we ask that it be “L’Tovah”, that we receive it if it’s what we need. As we pray, we should try to focus on internalizing the idea that sometimes not receiving what we’re asking for is also for the best.
Of course, the request that our sustenance be given to us “for the best” can also be used as an internal check. Perhaps what we are saying is that the onus should be on us to use any sustenance we receive for the best. All too often, success in any given area brings with it additional challenges and distractions. As we ask G-d for sustenance in life, we should also have in mind that we should strive to use any success we have for the best, to be used to enhance our spirituality and devotion to G-d.
Finally, I want to add one last point. In the first sentence, we seem to immediately interrupt our request, noting that we’re directing the prayer to “O Hashem Our G-d.” The placement of this seems odd – isn’t the entire Shemoneh Esrai directed toward G-d? Why do we need to note this, and why now?
Last class, we learned that when it comes to our health, it’s easy to forget G-d’s role in the midst of the care we receive from our medical professionals. Similarly, we often tend to attribute success in business or in life to our own hard work and talents. We should never forget, however, that everything in life comes from G-d. This is perhaps why we interrupt our blessing – at the beginning – to ensure that we’re directing our prayer, and attributing our ultimate success, to Hashem.