Last class we reviewed the tenth blessing of the Shemoneh Esrai, turning our focus from the initial individual requests to the communal blessings, and focusing on the blessing’s request that we be gathered together from our current exile. Today, we will review the eleventh blessing overall and continue examining the new set of communal requests. As always, let’s first review the actual text of the blessing:
“Restore our judges as in earliest times and our counselors as at first; remove from us sorrow and groan; and reign over us – You, Ha-Shem, alone – with kindness and compassion, and justify us through judgment. Blessed are You, Ha-Shem, the King Who loves righteousness and judgment.”
The placement of this blessing – following the tenth bracha’s request that we be gathered from exile – makes sense, as the Talmud tells us (Megillah 17b) that, following the gathering of exiles, a justice system must immediately be established. As Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer notes, the Torah requires judges to not only be wise and honest but fearless of anyone but G-d. Therefore, after Mashiach comes and we are able to rebuild Jewish society as it once was, we must quickly move to rebuild a justice system that will not be undermined by corrupt judges.
Indeed, this may be why the blessing goes on to use the unique phrase “remove from us sorrow and groan.” We don’t find such phrasing connected to our other requests, even those asking G-d to physically heal us. As Rabbi Feuer notes, this is because nothing crushes the human spirit quite like injustice. Nothing can be more frustrating to a victim than to know that there’s no real hope for a just outcome. We therefore ask G-d to immediately restore our judges and counselors so that, once we have been gathered from exile, we can be assured of a justice system free from corruption.
Rabbi Zev Leff points out that the judge and counselors we are asking for may be the Torah itself, which is the true source of all judgment and advice. However, in order to truly internalize the advice inherent in the Torah, we need to be free from our worries, concerns, and biases. Perhaps that is why we also ask for G-d to remove our groans and sorrows.
Even if we are truly asking for judges and counselors in the traditional sense, we want to make clear that those judges should have a particular mission in mind. This is why, as Talalei Oros notes, we make sure to state that G-d alone reigns over us. We are asking for judges and counselors, yes, but we are asking for qualified leaders who will help instruct us on how to enhance our service to G-d.
Finally, although this blessing continues our theme of communal prayers, we can still find a way to personalize it. Indeed, one not need not wear a robe to judge – each of us act as judges every day. If we are able to work on trying to judge others favorably – regardless of the situation – we can rest assured that should we stumble with the same sin, Ha-Shem will justify us through judgment.