The following is based on a shiur given by Rebbetzin Esther Baila Schwartz. The shiur in its entirety can be found on TorahAnytime.com
This week we read Parshas Vayeitzei, the parsha in which Yaakov Avinu meets Rachel and Leah, marries and begins a family. What an appropriate time to take a look at our own lives and focus on all the good we have been blessed with.
We begin the last bracha of Shemoneh Esrei, Sim Shalom, by asking Hashem to sim shalom, tova u’vracha, chein, v’chesed v’rachamim – to establish peace, goodness, blessing, graciousness, kindness and compassion (Artscroll translation). However, the word shalom, peace comes from the word shalem, which means complete. The first thing we ask for is completeness, and if we are complete, wouldn’t that mean we have goodness, blessing, etc. So, if we have already asked Him to grant us completeness, why do we have to ask for anything else? Why wouldn’t it be enough to just say Sim shalom aleinu? And if we feel a need to delineate what we want, why stop at six, why not ask for sixty things?
Rav Avigdor Miller, z”tl has a very interesting explanation. He says that honestly if we were to categorize every nuance of every aspect of the brachos we were asking for, we would never stop davening, our tefillos would be never ending. And while that would be wonderful, it would be impossible. Most of us have a hard enough time fitting in a standard Shacharis, can you imagine if we had to spend hours upon hours davening each day?
Hakadosh Baruch Hu did not want to be matriach us, to make things difficult for us, to make us focus on every nuance. At the same time, the purpose of tefillah is to enable us to develop a relationship with our Creator. To develop adequate bitachon, the knowledge that everything, absolutely everything comes from the Borei Olam and also to develop adequate hakaras hatov, which is gratitude.
The Anshei Knesses HaGedolah, who put together the siddur with ruach hakodesh, chose these six things because they, shalom, tova u’vracha, chein, v’chesed v’rachamim, were enough to focus on. These six things enable us to zero in on how much we have to be grateful for. Yes, they overlap with each other – tova overlaps with shalom and with bracha – they are all nuances of the same thing. However, if you say each one separately and focus on each word as you say it, you will learn to develop a greater level of appreciation of Hakadosh Baruch Hu and a greater level of trust that everything you need comes from Him.
Again, Hashem did not want to be matriach us, He wants us to look forward to davening, to want to daven, so He made it just right – six words to focus on, but six words with tremendous meaning.
Sim shalom, tova u’vracha – we ask for peace, we ask for goodness and we ask for bracha. What is the unique dimension of bracha? Bracha is related to the Hebrew word b’raicha, a pool from where water just bubbles forth – a geyser. Anything in the vicinity of a geyser gets drenched with water. That is bracha – it overflows covering and watering everything in its path. We ask not just for shalom and tova, but we want bracha in the peace and bracha in the goodness – we want these things to overflow for us, to spill forth and encompass everything around. We want abundance; we want Hashem to give to us with incredible generosity.
What is important to remember is that bracha does not always come with ease. For example, its wonderful, a bracha, to have your children and grandchildren come for yom tov; it’s a bracha to have elderly parents and to be able to spend time with them. However, it is not always easy to do these things. Having bracha, being blessed, does not mean that things are going to be easy – and remembering this can be very liberating. Even though this is what I want, and I don’t want it to change, its still very challenging, it can still be overwhelming. And saying that it’s not easy, saying that it is difficult does not mean that you are complaining, that you don’t appreciate what you have been given. It means that you are being human. As someone once said, “I am not complaining, I am just explaining.”
Explaining means saying, “There are so many children here and the noise level is driving me crazy” but never saying, “There are too many children here.” We must always be careful in how we phrase things. We want the bracha, in abundance, but as normal human beings we can acknowledge that it is not always easy. And when it’s not easy, part of developing our relationship with Hashem is saying, “Things are a little hard today. Thank you for what You have given me, but can You give me a little bit more strength so I can function better?”