We now begin the first of the brachos referred to as “Birchos K’rias Shema.” We have previously completed the second and third of the Birchos Shema: Ahavah Rabah and Ga’al Yisrael (Ezras Avoseinu).
HaRav Shimon Schwab (Rav Schwab on Prayer) explains how, when we begin these brachos, we are now figuratively standing inside the Heichal, the place in the Beis HaMikdash that was closest to and led into the Kodesh HaKodashim, the most sanctified area of the Beis HaMikdash.
He explains that the Heichal contained the Shulchan (Table), the Menorah, and the Mizbach HaK’tores (Incense Altar). The first brachah (Yotzeir Or) corresponds to the Shulchan, which represents the revelation of HaKadosh Baruch Hu through the material and physical in the world. Ahavah Rabah corresponds to the Menorah, representing the revelation of HaKadosh Baruch Hu through the spiritual (Torah).
Each of these two paths brings us to love and awe (awareness of) Hashem. The material, physical world brings us to love and awareness in two ways. One, described by the Rambam, is through contemplation of Hashem’s awesome creations. It is written that the Chazon Ish would contemplate the astounding beauty of a flower to such an extent that he became overwhelmed and had to turn away after a while.
The first brachah speaks of the light and the luminaries. The Chovos HaL’vavos writes that if one studies the luminaries (the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars), one will see signs of Hashem’s power and wisdom that are so extensive that they are beyond the capacity of the human mind.
Here is but a brief quote from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) about the Sun:
“Nothing is more important to us on Earth than the Sun. Without the Sun’s heat and light, the Earth would be a lifeless ball of ice-coated rock. The Sun warms our seas, stirs our atmosphere, generates our weather patterns, and gives energy to the growing green plants that provide the food and oxygen for life on Earth.” [NASA.gov]
Another path to love Hashem through contemplation of the physical and material world is described by other Rishonim (the Smag, Smak, Sefer Chasidim, and Chovos HaL’vavos). They speak about contemplation of Hashem’s great chesed in the world (and in our own lives). Hashem “built” the world to bestow His chesed. Immediately prior to reciting Shema in the morning, we say, “And You have brought us close, our King, to Your Name that is great forever, in truth, in love, TO OFFER THANKS TO YOU.” When we recognize and contemplate Hashem’s constant and abundant chesed along with His love for us, which stands behind each chesed, and we proceed to thank Him for His chesed and love, we are bringing ourselves close to Him.
It is interesting to note that Rabbeinu Yonah considers both of these paths amongst his list of 11 mitzvos asei, of which he writes:
“For the sake of these virtues man was created... What hope is there for G-d’s creation if he does not devote his soul’s labors and the essence of his activities to those things for whose sake he was created?” [Shaarei T’shuvah 3:17]
Love and awareness of Hashem, to which these two paths lead, are also on the list. Love and awareness of Hashem are labeled as “the purpose of creation” by a number of Rishonim.
The third path to love and awareness of Hashem, also on the list of 11 and the primary and most powerful path to love and awareness of Hashem, is learning Torah. Torah corresponds to the Menorah and is represented in the brachah of Ahavah Rabah, previously covered by Tefilah Focus. Without Torah, the world would cease to exist.
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You can direct any questions or comments to Eliezer Szrolovits at 917-551-0150.