Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • Rain in Israel
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Rabbi Uzi Kalcheim

Heavenly Bounty, Earthly Justice

The number nine represents detail, the finest level of detail possible. It represents an understanding of the most personal of human worries. In her prayer, Hannah mentions God's name nine times, an expression of God's concern for all human requests.


Rabbi Uzi Kalchaim zt"l

Nissan 5768
"It [the cloud] has five names . . . [one of them is] 'ed,' as it is written, 'There went up a cloud (ed) from the earth': [it is so called] because it ruins the festival (eid) of the speculators [who seek to force up the prices]." (Bereshit Rabba 13:14).

Grain hoarders plan to raise prices; but rain falls, the earth is saturated, prices drop, and the power of the speculators is broken. They had intended to celebrate, they thought they would have an "eid" (festival), but the rains washed away their hopes and left them with nothing but a cloud of mist.

The heavenly blessing of rain brings an earthly blessing of justice, for it showers down upon all inhabitants in as fair and equal a manner as possible. All merit the goodness of He who "nourishes and maintains all":

"Truth springs from the earth; and righteousness has looked down from heaven. Yea, the Lord will give that which is good; and our land shall yield her produce" (Psalms 85:13).

Our sages set the Blessing of the Years as the ninth blessing in the Amidah prayer. "What was their reason for placing the [prayer for the] Blessing of the Years ninth? R' Alexandri said: This was directed against those who raise the market price [of foodstuffs], as it is written, 'Break the arm of the wicked'; and when David said this, he said it in the ninth Psalm" (Megilla 17b).

What idea does this ninth hymn (tenth in our version of Psalms) embody? Why should the Blessing of the Years have been placed in precise correspondence to it?

This hymn is unique in that it has no opening; it burst forth with a complaint and demands an answer. It does not start with any of the ten expressions of praise that open so many other Psalms - "Lamnatzeyach" ("For the Conductor"), "Mizmor Shir"("A psalm, a song"), etc.

Instead, we are thrown straight into the thicket of the painful problems: "Why do you stand far off, O Lord? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble? Through the pride of the wicked the poor is hotly pursued" (Psalms 10:1, 2).

The psalm opens with the allegation that God is far away, that He turns away in times of trouble, that there appears to be neither providence nor order in the world. Tyrants oppress the poor and nobody comes to their aid. The wicked grow arrogant. They think that they can do as they please: "He crouches, he bows down, and the helpless fall into his mighty claws" (ibid. 10).

What is David's request? "Break the arm of the wicked; and as for the evil man, search out his wickedness, till none be found!" (ibid. 15). Our sages explain that this hymn deals with speculators who seek to force up the prices. Why speculators? Why not murderers or thieves? What advice, what methods are suggested for "breaking the arms" of these speculators?

Rashi offers an unconventional explanation of our psalm based upon the words of the sages:
"Where do we find mention of speculators [in this psalm]? We find it in the verse, 'He lies in wait in a secret place as a lion in his lair; he lies in wait to catch the poor' (ibid. 9). Does a bandit lie in wait for the poor? Surely he lies in wait for the rich! Rather, the verse is referring to speculators who wish to force up prices, for it is primarily the poor they target. In this regard David requests, 'Break the arm of the wicked,' by bringing satiation to the world, for by doing this his arm is broken! 'And as for the evil man, let him search out his wickedness but find none.' When the one who wishes to be evil seeks his evil, he will not find it, for he will be unable to do it." (Rashi, Megillah 17b).

The purpose of earthly bounty, then, is not only to protect the poor from exploitation; it is also meant to save evil people from their own wickedness! It prevents them from carrying out their devious schemes.

Why the ninth? The number nine is especially conspicuous on Rosh Hashannah. Regarding the shofar blasts we find that "the order of the blasts consists of three sets of three each" (Rosh Hashannah 33b).

Regarding prayer on Rosh Hashannah the Mishnah says, "There should be recited not less than ten kingship verses, ten remembrance verses, and ten shofar verses. R' Yochanan ben Nuri said: If the reader says three from each set he has fulfilled his obligation" (ibid. 32a).

The sages inquired, "To what do the nine [blessings] said on New Year [Musaf prayer] correspond? Yitzchak from Kartignin said: To the nine times that Hannah mentioned the Divine Name in her prayer."

Rabbi A.I. Kook explains that while the collective whole is represented by the number ten, which is the beginning of the collective, the individual within the collective is represented by the number nine. Hannah therefore mentions the Divine Name in her prayer nine times, in correspondence with personal providence. And on Rosh Hashannah, when the whole of humankind is judged by God on an individual level, we must deepen our recognition of personal providence. Therefore, Rabbi Kook explains, the sages instituted nine prayers on this day. (Olat Raayah, vol. 2. pg. 330; and see also Maharal's Netivot Olam 50:3).

The presence of the number nine on Rosh Hashannah comes to teach us that the King of the Universe, as lofty and transcendent as He is, is aware of and provides for all of His creatures, even the most minuscule among them. How is it possible to demonstrate this idea?

The number nine represents detail, the finest level of detail possible. It represents an understanding of the most personal of human worries. In her prayer, Hannah mentions God's name nine times, an expression of God's understanding and concern for all human requests, for the personal needs of each and every one of His creatures.

In the same sense, all creatures are judged on Rosh Hashannah. Each person is judged on a personal level, and all requests are taken into consideration, from the weightiest and most significant to the smallest and most personal. And we give voice to all this via the shofar blasts and prayers of Rosh Hashannah.

Now we can understand the special care taken to ground the Blessing of the Years in the Rosh Hashannah blessings, where God's concern for each of His creatures on the most personal level receives expression.

We have likewise noted the special care of the sages to make the Blessing of the Years correspond with the Psalms 9. This psalm is also underpinned by the principle of personal providence expressed on Rosh Hashannah, but it carries the additional message of God's just division of heavenly bounty.

The Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot 2:4) explains that the Blessing of the Years was placed ninth so that it correspond with "The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars" (Psalms 29:5), which bears the ninth mention of God's name in that psalm, and God will "break" all of the speculators.

Amos the Prophet described the speculators and the hoarders in the following manner: "When will the New Moon be gone, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may set forth corn? Making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances of deceit" (8:5).
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