Shabbat Parashat Vayishlach| 5771
Ein Ayah: The Limited Ability to Express Hashem’s Greatness(condensed from Ein Ayah, Berachot 5:105)
Gemara: Someone went down to daven in Rabbi Chanina’s presence and said: “… the Lord Who is great, powerful, awe-inspiring, wonderful, full of strength …” Rabbi Chanina waited until he finished, upon which he said to him: “Have you completed all of the praises of your Master? Why did you say so much? For us, even the three adjectives that we use (great, powerful, awe-inspiring), we would not say if it were not written in the Torah and instituted in prayer by Anshei Knesset Hagedola (Men of the Great Assembly), and you praise Him so much!”
Ein Ayah: [This comes from a long piece, written in poetic and philosophical Hebrew. We have done our best to shorten and simplify while preserving the overall meaning and some flavor.]
The foundation of human shleimut (completeness) is knowing Hashem. Therefore, the level of one’s shleimut depends on his ability to conjure up Hashem’s greatness in the most accurate way possible. All mistakes in this regard bring on many shortcomings in one’s shleimut and his ability to succeed on the path of goodness and justice.
Any image of Hashem’s shleimut in our minds is not really accurate. Therefore, contemplating Hashem, on one hand elevates man, but is also somewhat problematic as it must be inaccurate and limiting of Hashem’s actual greatness. However, one can realize that he has not really grasped Hashem and focus on the fact that what he is able to capture, especially internal emotions, is to bring him closer to shleimut. Then, he will not be affected by negatives. In order to do this correctly, one can only imagine Hashem’s greatness in his mind, but it is impossible to give it expression in words. Remaining silent in the context of such contemplation elevates him as much as is possible.
Moshe used three terms in referring to Hashem: “great” refers to Hashem’s shleimut; “powerful” refers to His ability; “awe-inspiring” is about the creation’s ability to improve themselves by making correct choices [regarding the dictates Hashem made], which is the source of fear of Hashem. Moshe was able to learn from Hashem that the images conjured up by those descriptions will not cause any deficit in the person who uses them. The fact that Moshe wrote these descriptions in the Torah still did not mean that we could use them in prayer, without Anshei Knesset Hagedola’s involvement, because Torah and prayer are different.
Torah relates to the intellect, in which realm it is easier to broaden the description of Hashem in a non-limiting manner. However, prayer is more emotional, which in turn is more related to physicality and cannot as easily be expanded, causing one to view Hashem more according to his limitations. This could be morally damaging, as the way one views Hashem has a major impact on the level of his morality. Despite this danger, the Rabbis decided that some level of honor of Hashem has to be imprinted on a man’s soul and thus one must be allowed to use some sort of praise of Hashem in his prayer, even if it is incomplete and potentially problematic. On the other hand, they kept the number of descriptions small and their scope general so that one can succeed somewhat in seeing beyond the limiting description. To continue on and on would be tiring, and it would not help widen the scope. “Even the three adjectives that we use (great, powerful, awesome), we would not say if it were not written in the Torah and instituted in prayer by Anshei Knesset Hagedola (Men of the Great Assembly)” tells us that you need to be authorized by someone great enough. “You praise Him so much” teaches us that it is a problem to use the praises for emotional matters if we have a problem even in the relatively easier intellectual/religious mode.
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