Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Favor of Intelligence

Over the course of the past three posts, we’ve drawn attention to an outwardly asymmetry in the composition of the bakashos of the Amida (Amida = Shemoneh Esrei). Some do close with a ki-clause, while others do not. In the previous post, we ventured an explanation, invoking the notions of rationale-giving and appealing to Divine attributes. We distinguished between two kinds of bakasha: fleeting and perennial. And we advanced the suggestion that featuring a ki-clause or not featuring one bifurcates itself along the lines of whether a bakasha expresses a perennial request or a fleeting one. The reader is referred to that post for fuller elaboration. At present, we are saddled with the task of testing our suggestion. If we are right, then any beracha of bakasha that we encounter in the Shemoneh Esrei that includes a ki-clause will be found, upon examination, to ask for something whose need is ongoing, general, and perennial. And conversely, any bakasha, the tenor of which is fleeting, will be observed to omit the ki-clause. On the surface, the test seems simple to administer. Yet, it may turn out to tax our deliberative faculties more than we might have anticipated.


We have already had occasion to observe that the very first bakasha, ata chonein, does not incorporate a ki-clause. The words of bakasha that read, chaneinu me-itecha de-a bina vehaskeil, extend all the way to the chasima, without the intervention of a clause beginning in ki. This immediately poses a formidable challenge to our thesis. It is, after all, quite clear that what we ask for here is something that is needed on an ongoing basis: it is a perennial need. We are asking that we, all of us, always have the capacity to think and to reason and to know. Our cognitive endowment, our intelligence, is our lifeblood; it is what enables us to function as human beings and to experience humanity. It is therefore essential to our very existence. The need, moreover, persists on and on. Having been granted wisdom in the here-and-now, we remain in need of it going forward. Wisdom having been imparted to people in this part of the globe, it continues to be sorely needed by the denizens of other geographic regions. The point is so obvious that it requires no further elaboration. Consequently, according to the tenor of our discussion, the bakasha for da-as ought to conclude with a ki-clause. Yet, it appears not to.

This conundrum has an answer. We jumped too hastily to the conclusion that ata chonein fails to feature a ki-clause. It actually does feature one – albeit in a somewhat concealed way.

Let us observe that the bakasha of ata chonein stands out from among all the other bakashos in that it is prefaced by a declaration: ata chonein le-adam da-as. None of the other bakashos does anything similar. I submit that this opening declaration is a disguised (if you will) ki-clause. Coming in at the opening of the bakasha rather than at its conclusion, it does not employ the word ki. But this notwithstanding, what the beracha does in this opening stanza is justify – and provide the basis for – the request that immediately follows. It explains why a request for intelligence is in order, pinning this request on the fact that the A-lmighty, Kudesha Berich Hu, possess the attribute of favoring man with da-as – wisdom. And since favoring man with wisdom is within the purview of (kiveyachol) G-d’s attributes, we are justified in appealing to Him for His constant, universal bestowal upon us of this kindness.

As to why this beracha places the rationale/justification – the ki-clause – at the beginning rather than at the end, various explanations may be offered. To illustrate just one: it is done as a way of demarcating this (newly entered) section of the Amida, which is occupied in bakasha, from the section that preceded it, which was occupied in giving praise.

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