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1.  AVOS


We refer you to Praying with Fire (first volume), by Rabbi Heshy Kleinman (Artscroll) or Rav Schwab on Prayer (Artscroll) for an excellent review of the first Bracha of Shemone Esrei. Of course, many other works on Tefillah that you may have at home or handy will assist you with additional thoughts and insights on this Bracha.


We provide the following reminder as to the distinction between "Ozer" (Helper), "U’Moshia" (Savior), "U’Magen" (Shield):


·         Ozer--a Helper, who thwarts an existing immediate danger from overpowering a person (example:  you have already been attacked and the attacker is defeated);


·         Moshia--a Savior, who cancels danger threatening to overpower a person (example:  prior to his attacking, the attacker runs away);


·         Mogen--a Shield, who prevents trouble from reaching you in the first place (example:  the attacker never leaves home).


See Michtav M’Eliyahu 4:65 as brought in Praying with Fire (page 117).  By recognizing and realizing that Hashem helps, saves and shields--we, very much unlike contemporary world leaders, will recognize and feel Hashem’s protection over us in all situations and circumstances!


The Sefer Ali Shur (Vol. 1 , p. 123) by HaRav Shlomo Volbe, Z’tl brings the teachings of the Sefer Yaaros D’vash (HaRav Yonasan Eibeshutz, Z’tl) on the brachos of Shemone Esrei. HaRav Eibeshutz teaches that the first bracha should arouse us to emulate Avrohom Avinu (after whom the bracha is named--Magen Avrohom), who recognized that Hashem is the one and only HaKail HaGadol HaGibor VehaNora--and spread this awareness by his actions and words to others. The Kuntres Avodas HaTefillah by Rabbi Meyer Birnbaum, Shlita explains further that HaKail refers to Hashem’s All-Powerful Mercy, HaGadol refers to His Greatness in Acts of Chesed, HaGibor refers to the incomparable power of His Judgment (we need only quiver or tremble for a moment at the recent volcano or tornado events and their aftermath), and HaNora teaches that Only Hashem is to be feared for his Awesome Power, for no other creature or creation has any power to act without Hashem’s express permission. Then, when we conclude the bracha with the words Magen Avrohom--to indicate that Hashem shielded Avrohom from so many dangers--and will shield us, his descendants as well--let us have the proper Kavannah--oh how we need it now!


The following is excerpted from the monumental Artscroll work Rav Schwab on Prayer, and was related by Rav Schwab at a Shiur he gave on Tefillah: "I heard a story from Rav Yosef Breuer, Shlita, which he told about his father, my Rebbe, Rav Shlomo Zalman (Solomon) Breuer. The elder Rav Breuer was a very good friend of Rav Shimon Sofer, the Rav of Cracow, a brother of the Ksav Sofer, and a son of the Chasam Sofer. Once when the two friends met, Rav Shimon Sofer asked Rav Breuer to tell him a short ‘vort’ from his father-in-law, Rav Shamshon R. Hirsch. Upon which, Rav Breuer told him that Rav Hirsch would point out that while Adon Olam described the unfathomable eternity and omnipotence of Hashem, it nevertheless makes a reference to Him in a very personal way--"VeHu Kaili, He is my G-d." Each person in his Tefillah says: ‘I have a personal relationship with HaKadosh Baruch HU, He is my personal G-d.’ Therefore, whenever a person says the word "Ado--i, my Master", no matter how small he thinks he is, he is averring that he is in direct contact with Hashem. This thought is in the introduction to any individual’s Iyun Tefillah, concentration on Prayer. There is nothing mystical or supernatural about it. It should be the most natural thing in the world."


Hakhel Note A: When reciting the name of Hashem, which is so often repeated in the first Bracha of Shemone Esrei, it is very important to have this warm and moving thought and feeling in mind--and hopefully remember it even as you proceed and recite Hashem’s name through the rest of Shemone Esrei!


Hakhel Note B: Shlomo HaMelech teaches in Mishlei (28:20) ‘Ish Emunos Rav Brachos--a trustworthy man will have many blessings. We may also interpret this to mean that one who makes many Brachos is constantly demonstrating and re-demonstrating his Emunah in Hashem, and becomes not only an Ish Emunah but an Ish Emunos. Chazal teach that a Bracha without ‘Shem U’Malchus’--‘Hashem Elokeinu Melech HaOlam’ is not truly a Bracha. Thus, each time we recite Hashem Elokeinu--My L-rd, Our G-d in a bracha, we should be careful to recognize the personal relationship that goes to the essence of our Emunah--each and every time we recite a bracha!


Just as the way we enter Shul is an important portal to how we will conduct ourselves there, so too, will Kavanna in the first Bracha of Shemone Esrei put us on the appropriate track for the remainder of our Meeting with Hashem in Shemone Esrei. The Tur writes in the name of his brother (Rebbi Yechiel, Z’tl) that the first Bracha has 42 words, which corresponds to Hashem’s Name of 42 letters (see Kiddushin 71A). With this, we should appreciate every words of the first Bracha for each word is an inherent part in the formation of the Sheim Hashem. An astonishing allusion to this, is that the Bracha begins with a ‘bais’ (the numerical equivalent of two), and ends with a ‘mem’ (the numerical equivalent of 40)--adding up to 42 as well--every word and indeed every letter is permeated with Kedusha!


----------------------------------------------  SECOND SET  -------------------------- -------------------------------------


We begin with the first of the Brachos--known as Avos, obviously alluding to our forefathers--each of whom, as we know, are specifically only in this bracha, and each of whom Chazal teach instituted one of the daily Tefillos (Avrohom Avinu-Shacharis, Yitzchak Avinu--Mincha, and Yaakov Avinu--Ma'ariv). However, there is a second suggested meaning to the reference of this bracha as Avos. One reason given that Mesechta Avos (the only Mesechta of 63 Mesechtos that is studied in such a formal way in preparation for Kabbalas HaTorah), is called by this name is because it contains the Avos--the cardinal principles for us to live by.  This bracha as well puts the Avos--the fundamentals of our faith--in perspective for us, as it describes Hashem's relationship to K'lal Yisroel, His Greatness, His Kindness, His Awesomeness, how we have survived through His beneficence--and how we will make it through the end of days. The bracha of Avos is so essential that the Mishna Berurah (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 101:seif katan 4) uniquely rules that if one realizes before he concluded the bracha with the words Baruch Atta Hashem that he did not have Kavannah for the meaning of the words--then he can go back to the words "Elokei Avrohom, Elokei Yitzchok near the beginning of the bracha, and recite the bracha again from there even though he will be repeating Hashem's name several times (although he cannot go back to Baruch Atta Hashem at the beginning of the bracha). The Dirshu Mishna Berurah (ibid.) brings the opinion of the Chazon Ish who rules that if one had recited the words Baruch Atta Hashem at the end of the bracha, or had completed the bracha but had not begun the next bracha of Gevuros, he can think the words of the bracha in between the two brachos, and it would be considered as if he had kavannah in the bracha. [The Dirshu note adds that HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita writes that he does not believe the Mishne Berurah would agree with this ruling of the Chazon Ish.] In all events, we see the special emphasis and tremendous need to have kavannah in the first bracha--as evidenced by the proposed lengths we must go if c'v we have not done so. Accordingly, it behooves us to place special concentration on the meaning of the words we are reciting in this bracha--as we begin our privileged meeting with Our Maker known as "Shemone Esrei"--with the fundamental principles of Avos!




HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita, points out that the reason each one of our Avos is mentioned in the bracha is because the Nusach of the bracha incredibly refers back to the Pasuk (Shemos 3:6,7) in which Hashem advises Moshe at the Sneh that he has heard the cries of Bnei Yisroel in Egypt:  Anochi Elokei Avicha Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchok, VEilokei Yaakov…V’es Tza’akasam Sha’amati MiPenei Nogsav…I am the G-d of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov… and I heard their cries…. In fact, the name Yisroel is not used here--for ‘Yaakov’ is specifically used in the Pasuk [perhaps further indicating the pain of Galus].  We thus connect our Tefillos to the Tefillos of our forefathers in Egypt--with the similar hope that Hashem will listen to our cries as well!




Why is it that some people can daven so quickly, are not be particularly concerned with Kavannah or how they pronounce the words, and even come late and leave early?  Why do they not truly appreciate the outstanding privilege of what is truly happening--an audience with the King at each Shemone Esrei?!  Why the lack of concern, why the lack of care?  Some have suggested that a real reason for this is that they simply do not believe that anyone is listening.  Yes, Hashem is real, and they believe in Him--but they do not believe that they prayer about to be uttered is at all meaningful to themselves, let alone K’lal Yisroel or the world.  It is perhaps for this reason that at the outset of Birkas Avos as soon as we begin the bracha with Baruch Atta Hashem--even before we mention that Hashem is the G-d of our fathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov--we first impress upon ourselves the word ‘Elokeinu’--that Hashem truly is watching over us, loves us and takes care of us.  Everything that follows in the next Nineteen Brachos is based upon this fact.  When reciting the word Elokeinu, we should stop for a moment, so that we properly appreciate that everything that we are about to say really does have meaning for ourselves, for K’lal Yisroel, for the world--and even makes a mark on all worlds.  Our tefillah should come alive!  We should share this thought with others--helping to negate the ignorance, apathy, and feeling of unimportance of our individual Tefillos--by steering ourselves and others to a proper awareness of just how meaningful, relevant, practical, important and effective each of the individual Tefillos we recite truly are! 




Chazal teach that we cannot mention all of the praises of Hashem in our Tefillah, because we could never stop.  We are, however, permitted to mention the phrase HaKel HaGadol HaGibbor VeHanorah because Moshe Rabbeinu himself utilized this exact phrase in the Torah itself--so that we are essentially recounting the Torah’s phrase.  We must realize that each one of these four extremely potent words has its important own meaning. Based upon the Kuntres Avodas HaTefillah, the following is each word’s succinct meaning


HaKail refers to Hashem’s All-Powerful Mercy.  Note:  this word is so important that it is repeated again in the next phrase Kel Elyon!


HaGadol refers to His Greatness in Acts of Chesed.  Hakhel Note:  To appreciate the concept of HaGadol in a practical way, think of the fact that one reason Shabbos HaGadol is referred to by that name is because it demonstrates our recognition that Hashem, in His Great Kindness, empowered and enabled us to tie the Egyptian god to our bed posts in preparation of, and as a zechus to ensure, our departure from Mitzrayim forever--to Cheirus Olam!


HaGibor refers to the incomparable power of His Judgment (we need only quiver or tremble for a moment at volcano, tornado, tsunami and other ‘natural’ events and disasters and their aftermath).  Chazal also teach that this term also demonstrates Hashem’s incredible power over the world, as He, throughout the course of history has allowed the lamb of K’lal Yisroel to live and thrive among the 70 wolves of nations which desire to devour it in each and every generation.  In the words of Chazal:  Hein, Hein Gevurosav--this is a true demonstration of Hashem’s Gevurah”.


HaNora teaches that Only Hashem is to be feared for his Awesome Power, for no other creature or creation has any power to act without Hashem’s express permission.  Hashem’s fearsomeness is also demonstrated by His restraint at the Babylonian and Roman armies, who as His mere tiny creations, destroyed each Bais Hamikdash and blasphemed Hashem in gross and horrible ways in the process.  Chazal teach that:  Hein, Hein Nora’osav--His restraint during it all is a true demonstration of Hashem’s literally incredible Nora’us”.  



We conclude this week’s focus on the First Bracha of Shemone Esrei with the final words of the bracha.  Hashem is the Melech Ozer, U’Moshia U’Magen--and ultimately, as the bracha concludes, He is the Magen Avraham.  It would appear that although Ozer and Moshia are great gifts to us, the quality of Magen is the most important because it is not only the climax after Ozer U’Moshia but also concludes the bracha--Magen Avraham.  We can readily understand why this is so.  After all--with Ozer, Hashem helps us when we are already in the predicament, with Moshia, Hashem saves us as the predicament is about to unfold--but with Magen, Hashem shields us, i.e., does not allow the situation, event or circumstance to even occur at all.  We aspire to Magen!  The concept of Magen is based on Hashem’s assurance to Avrohom Avinu (Bereishis 15A)--‘Anochi Magen Lach--I will shield you.’  HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita, brings Shir HaShirim Rabba (4:4) to explain the meaning of Magen to us in the bracha:  Hakadosh Baruch Hu said to Avraham:  To you I was one shield, but to your children I will be many shields!”  This means that Hashem protected Avraham from harm and in his zechus Hashem will protect us as well!  As the situation in the world around us appears precarious, and we have no clue of the plans or future plans of the politicians, the world leaders, the terrorists and those in a position to ‘push buttons’ may be, we must strive to instill special Kavannah in our closing words of the bracha: Melech--All Powerful King Who is concerned with our welfare--be our Ozer, our Moshia, and our Magen--just as You were to--and in the Zechus of--Avraham Avinu!



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