Shiur #12: Geula
The third and final blessing connected to kriat shma is the berakhah of Geula – “Ga'al Yisrael.” Unlike the previous two, this blessing does not precede the shema, but rather follows it. This in itself is not unusual; there are many units in prayer that appear with a "blessing before them and a blessing after them." (Examples include Pesukei De-Zimra, Hallel, kriat ha-Torah, the haftara, and the Megilla). Our question is why this particular blessing is the one to appear after the shema.
The theme of this blessing is fairly straightforward – redemption. This is apparent from the simplest test – examining the conclusion: "Blessed are You, Hashem, who redeemed Israel." The content of the blessing is closely related, as it elaborates on the theme of the redemption from Egypt. This is similar to what we discovered in our examinations of the previous two blessings, but in fact is less remarkable here. The blessing is about redemption and it concentrates on a particular exemplar of redemption, the original act of redemption – the one in which God took us out of Egypt.
The connection of this theme to the shema is also not hard to fathom. The shema proclaims God as King, and the blessing relates to a prime fulfillment of God's political role as King – the redeemer of His people. The previous blessing related to God as legislator, giver of law; this one relates to Him as the leader of the people. If you will, the role of king is divided between the legislature and the executive, and God fulfills the roles of both.
This also essentially explains the order. We respond to the fact of God's kingship in the realm of nature and the realm of law by reciting the shema, by accepting upon ourselves the yoke of heaven. Geula is not the phenomenon to which we respond; on the contrary, it is a response to our recognizing God as King. Because He is King over Israel, therefore He is committed to redeeming Israel, to guiding His people to redemption. Geula is, so to speak, God's job because He is the King.
Of course, in saying this I am assuming that the blessing is about God's redemption in the present, and not about ancient history.
And this leads us to another question. My description of the blessing as being about redemption is, upon reexamination, simply not accurate. The blessing opens with a long section that bears no apparent connection to geula, but rather speaks about one specific and different theme – truth. The opening word of the blessing is "truth," followed by fifteen closely related terms, and then further elaboration on that theme: "His words are living and persistent, faithful and pleasant, forever and for everlasting, on our children and our generations, and on all the generations of the seed of Israel Your servants, on the early ones and on the later ones – a good and lasting thing forever."
In fact, the theme of emet continues to accompany the blessing even when it turns to geula with the words "ezrat avoteinu." The blessing includes between five (Nusach Ashkenaz) and seven (Nusach Sefard)sentences preceded with the word "emet," and either two or four of them occur after the blessing explicitly turns to describing the redemption from Egypt.The transition between the two sections is itself a combination of the two themes: "Emet that You are Hashem our God and the God of our fathers, our redeemer, the redeemer of our fathers, our creator, the creator of our salvation; Your name is eternally our savior and redeemer, there is no God other than You."
But what does the attribute of emet, as important as it is in Jewish theology, have to do with the blessing of redemption? Why is it here, and at such length and emphasis? The word of God is truth! Indeed – but why is that part of a blessing of geula? The opening of a blessing should reflect its conclusion, yet here it appears to be about a totally different theme.
There is a well-known explanation of the difference between the conclusion of the blessing of geula after kriat shema (“ga’al Yisrael” – “who redeemed Israel”) and the conclusion of the blessing of geula in the Shemoneh Esrei (“go’el Yisrael” – “who redeems Israel”). In the Shemoneh Esrei, we are making a request, so we refer to God who can fulfill that request because He is the redeemer, in the present (and the future) of Israel. In our blessing, we are engaged in praise, and the subject of that praise is by definition in the past (to which we respond by praising Him) – specifically, the redemption from Egypt. We therefore refer to He who redeemed, in the past.
And yet, as I claimed for all three of the blessings of kriat shema, the phenomenon we are responding to must be an experiential one and not a historical one. Even if we are referring to the ancient redemption from Egypt, we are experiencing that power in our lives, the power of the King who is our king now, in the present. Just as God created the world of Bereishit,but we experience that creativity every day, always; just as God gave us the Torah at Sinai, but we experience the Torah daily, as we learn and fulfill; so too, this blessing is meant to be understood to be about God who took us out of Egypt and redeemed us four thousand years ago – but we experience that power in our lives every minute.
There is, however, one small problem. I can experience the presence of God in creation through the dynamic flux of ever-changing nature. I can experience the love of the giving of the Torah through my own daily Torah learning. But how do I experience the power of the redemption of Egypt in these times, a period of exile and hester panim? In fact, is it at all true to say that God redeems us now in the present as He did four thousand years ago? The formulation of the blessing therefore carefully restricts itself to the past, where redemption was evident and manifest. Still, how does one experience that aspect of God the King and redeemer if it is practically speaking absent in our daily experience?
One answer is to realize that the exodus and redemption from Egypt is not merely a distant historical experience. It is not just that there are present-day ramifications to the exodus (as we say in the Haggada: "If God had not taken us out of Egypt, we and our children and children's children would yet be slaves in Egypt'). We consider the exodus to be a present-day fact. God's power redeems us and keeps us from falling into present-day slavery. Being a servant of God is what keeps us from being a slave to man, to nature, or to other forces in the world around us. This is a major theme in the Haggada: "In every generation, one is obligated to see himself as though he had (now) exited from Egypt." The seder is itself a recreation of the exodus, of the experience of redemption, because it is a continual process, even if that experience needs to discovered beneath the surface of our daily dealings.
But there is a deeper answer. That answer is the Divine attribute of Truth, emet.
In the beginning of Parashat Va'eira, God says to Moshe, "I did not reveal Myself to them [the forefathers] with My name Hashem." Rashi explains: "I did not make Myself known to them with my attribute of truth (מדת אמתות שלי), which is the basis for the Tetragrammaton(Hashem), [meaning] trustworthy to validate My word (נאמן לאמת דברי), for I promised them and I did not fulfill." We see that the Divine attribute of Truth is the faithfulness of reality to the Divine promise. Sometimes, that attribute is unrevealed (although it is of course existent), for it appears that God's promise remains unfulfilled. But emet guarantees that there is no true gap between God's word and reality, between the promise and the fulfillment.
Geula, unlike creation and Torah, cannot serve as a precursor to the acceptance of the yoke of heaven. Our normal experience of geula in this world of exile is not clear enough nor strong enough to lead one to accept upon himself the kingdom of God. On the contrary, it is the acceptance and recognition of the kingdom of heaven that leads to the experience of geula. Once we recognize that God is King and true – "true and enduring and established and existent and just and faithful and beloved and dear and pleasant and desired and awesome and mighty and correct and accepted and good and beautiful" – then "this thing is on us forever." The bridge between the historical occurrence of redemption from Egypt and our present experience of that aspect of kingship, which allows us to perceive it even in a world in which it appears absent, is the attribute of emet. There is no true gap between God's word and reality, between promise and fulfillment.
This is the explanation of the mysterious halakhic stipulation that one must combine the last sentence of the shema – "I am Hashem your God" – with the first word of the blessing of geula, “emet,” resulting in the sentence: "I am Hashem your God, truth." The acceptance of God as King includes the realization and acceptance of His word as being truth, which means enduring and established. Hence, the redemption from Egypt which we are about to describe is itself true and enduring, a permanent part of our lives and our relationship with the King. "In truth, You are our God and the God of our fathers, our redeemer and the redeemer of our fathers." What was true for our fathers is true for us. Why? Because we have accepted You as King, as God, and as truth, and hence it must be true even though it is indeed hard to see it with our natural eyes. Looking through the spectacles of faith (emuna), through the prism of fealty to the King, we indeed experience the redeeming power of God, because the past is also the present. Our direct experience is of the past, recalling Egypt – but because we precede that memory with the acceptance of the yoke of heaven and with the declaration of emet ve-yatziv, we experience the past as present. The language of the blessing refers to the past alone, but our inner experience is present. I place myself in the redeeming power of God through kabbalat ol malkhut shamayim, and it really works because of the attribute of emet.
Why is it forbidden to interrupt between the kingdom and the truth, between “ani Hashem Elokeichem” and “emet”? It is forbidden to allow the mundane world, the world we see with our natural eyes, to intrude, for then we would lose sight of geula and only see the exile and the subjugation. Daily existence must not intrude and prevent us from experiencing today the redemption of Egypt, for otherwise we will not be able to bless God for His geula. Only one who is immersed in kabbalat ol malkhut shamayim can experience in the present the redemption from Egypt.
This explains, I think, an enigmatic sentence in the middle of the blessing. "Blessed is the man who listens to Your commandments, and who places Your Torah and Your word on his heart." (In Nusach Sefard, this is one of the seven sentences preceded with the word emet, so it is clear that this is not an aside). Why this praise for loyalty to God's word and command? What does this have to do with geula? I suspect that the answer is that the loyalty here is to the words of the prophet, to the eternal relevance of the Torah. Since the presence of geula is not a revealed natural fact, but is only true when it comes after acceptance of God's kingship and truth, we praise loyalty and fealty to the word of God, for that is what makes this blessing possible – or rather, it makes this blessing true. If the word of God is imbedded in your heart, if you have connected shema with emet without interruption, then your experience of geula will be real. Then it will be "true, that You are master of Your people, and a powerful king who fights their battles." Then it will be eternally true that "You are first and You are last and other than You we have no king, redeemer, and savior." Then we can say that it is true “that You redeemed us from Egypt…. For this the beloved praised and exalted God… to a King, God living and permanent."
From this it is a short step to begin to look to future:
Rock of Israel, arise in aid of Israel
And redeem as you said Yehuda and Israel
Our redeemer is named Hashem of Hosts, the Holy One of Israel.