Let’s discuss prayer in general, the foundation to how we know to do prayer, why we do prayer, how we pray. There's a contingent of people who chose how we do prayer. Obviously there's a command to be emotionally involved with G-d, but how do we know that means prayer? Maybe it just means you have you have your mind attuned to G-d?
In the Talmud they built a rationale for how we do prayer, and they constructed an order of the prayer based on different sources. For example, Abraham waking up in the morning and Issac going out in the fields (to pray) afternoon, and Jacob who lay down at night, and his dream of the ladder, and his prayer at that time. So the Rabbis used our forefathers in the modeling of prayer based on this: morning, afternoon, and night. They used psalms as a major foundation of prayer. And they also used King David’s language to establish how to pray. Ultimately this resulted in the greatest minds that created the prayerbook , the "Anshei Kneset H'Gadola," 120 scholars who constructed and assembled the 18 blessings of the Amida (the silent prayer). Another author the Talmud credits with the creation of prayer, contributed only three words to the prayerbook; Moses (Moshe). At the end of the his life Moshe said "H'kal hagadol, higibor, v'hanorah" and that's in the prayerbook. And in the first prayer of the Amida, “Blessed are you, G-d, and G-d of our forefathers, G-G-d Abraham, G-d of Issac, and G-d of Jacob, H’kayl Hagdaol, v’hagibor, v’hnorah” The fathers are mentioned first, then Moshe's line is incorporated. "G-d who is great, mighty, and awesome."
The Talmud asks the question, who are we to analyze G-d? And they recommend that we should use Moshe's words as the analysis because who would know better than Moses? So these words play a significant role in our understanding of G-d. Gadol, Gibor, and Norah. Great, Mighty, and Awesome.
The Vilna Gaon has a brilliant interpretation involving the first two ideas: Gadol and Gibor. He felt that Norah, was something of a reflection of those two attributes. Because He is great and mighty, therefore He's (inevitably) awesome.
Now the Haggadah was created along a certain, very specific path. The creator of the Haggadah followed a path and that path follows how G-d wants us to celebrate Passover; you'll gather your children, You'll tell the story, you'll praise Me, you'll eat the sacrifice, etc. Did G-d ask for prayer as a form of how to celebrate Passover?
So we do these things, we tell the story, and then we eat, then suddenly here, at the end of the Haggadah, suddenly we deviate from the storytelling and the eating, and we pray. And what do we pray? This same prayer that we pray on Sabbath the Nishmat. So how do we suddenly introduce this element of prayer into how we do the Haggadah on Passover night? The commandments center around storytelling, and educating the children. So the construction of the Haggadah already reflects what the Torah asked us to do. So why then does prayer come into it? What's the labour of the night? The mitzvahs. And what's the mitzvah, the sacrifice, eating matza, and marror. So why introduce Nishmat?
Nishmat has a special quality about it. It echoes the order of the Passover Seder.
In the Talmud, in Tractable Pescahim, Nishmat is mentioned in the Talmud as being recited at the Seder. They don't even explain why it has the right to be there. It's just there. Totally expected. It’s always been there.
The Zohar, the book of mysticism, also speaks about the Nishmat prayer. The Zohar is speaking about the different ways of how a person connects to G-d and speaks and it asks about a contradiction, and it quotes a line, "It's written" just as it if were something you referred to like a piece of Bible. We knew it was written by someone before the Talmud area, but the Zohar treats it like an established piece of official writing, even though it's not Biblical in origins. It’s clearly a well established text. It didn’t just appear one morning, and get thrown into the Hagaddah.
The Talmud says that we say Nishmat on Shabbos morning because we have an additional soul and to reflect that additional soul, we say the prayer "Nishmat Kol Chai" for that soul.
So the Nishmat prayer breaks up into five components:
1. We need to thank G-d who helps us, and it lists the reasons why we need to thank G-d: He redeems us, gives us livehood, helps us in all times of need. He neither slumbers nor sleeps and revives us, releases those who are bound, etc.
2. The second part explains that we don't have enough language to say thank you, or paper to write thank you. We’re simply not equal to the task of expressing enough gratitude.
3. How much more so, even though we dont have the language to thank you, are we bound to thank you for the things you've done: You redeemed us from Egypt, and fed us, and sustained us, and kept the sword from us, and rescued us from evil and lasting diseases.
4. And if we were unequal to task of thanking you before, how much more now is there not enough of me to say thank you enough.
5. And finally we conclude with the thoughts: Who can compare to you, who is equal to you, and we bring in Moshe's statement, "You are the G-d of greatness, mightness, and You're awesome." And we will praise you.
Thank you for creating us and giving us our needs.
We can't thank you enough
And furthermore, you made us a nation,
And, wow, we really dont have the words to thank you.
And then we praise G-d with the words of Moshe.
So that’s sort of of a stranger order. Maybe a more normal order would have been: list all the blessings, rather than splitting them up, then say we can't thank you enough, then finally praise G-d.
In Psalm 106, King David has a different perspective on prayer and on G-d in general. The Talmud struggles to incorporate his version into the way we learn, but it's not that simple, as David himself says: Who can express the mighty (gevurah) acts of G-d? Who can dare proclaim his praise?
When you think about it, he's sort of disqualifying his whole book which is Psalms of praise. But in the language he uses, why did he pick the one word "gevurah" to describe G-d?
Then in the rest of the Psalm, he attacks Israel who is ungrateful, and they don't understand what G-d did for us, as it says: Our fathers in Egypt didn't understand Your wonders. They rebelled by the sea, at the Sea of Reeds.
You can read this as either as a double language, “they rebelled by the seas, (what sea?) the sea of reeds.” Or you can read it as: they rebelled when they approached the sea and even after the sea split they were still in a state of rebellion.
And the Psalm continues: And wherefore G-d saved us for His name's sake to make us aware of his might (gevurah). Gevurah again!
The Ibn Yach(a)ya defines "to make known his might" as to show that he was the master of creation, and to impress the world in general with his might which was established at creation. This act, splitting the sea, mirrored the act of creation which was a demonstration of G-d's might.
In the 20 blessings, that we say when we get up in the morning, we say thank you to G-d for the basic kindnesses that allow us to go through our day. Specifically amoung them:
who gives strength (coh’ach) to the weary"
"girds Israel with might (gevurah)"
Could we have made that a single blessing? Who girds us with strength and might? What’s wrong with that? Are they that different that they require different blessings? They are different: Coh’ach is human strength, and the other gevurah is G-d’s own strength.
There's a difference between strength and might. The "strength to the weary" blessing is a universal blessing that applies to everyone. It has a quality in nature. Everyone goes to sleep weary and wakes up feeling strengthened. The next blessing is uniquely Jewish, "girds Israel with might"
Coh’ach is the idea of a person having qualities, it's part of who are you. Strengths that G-d has created into your identify, it's part of who you are! You get weak, so you sleep a bit, and then you get up and you're a bit more energized. "Where do you take a little strength from?" like the Yiddish song. This is nothing out of the ordinary. The human being is a reflection of the world and it contains energy and we all have it, and all creations in the universe have their own strength.
Then the next blessing comes along, and it's not about us as individuals, it's beyond us, something that is bestowed upon is, which is not innate in our person, not natural with who we are, but something that burdens us with the responsibility, and the history, and the work of realizing G-d's work in this world. It's something beyond you that has permeated you, and conveys an obligation, a responsibility, and therefore it's beyond natural strength, and is (and must be) divinely fueled.
G-d asked a nation of people to represent Him, and this is an act of might. It's asking something that has a natural bent and function, to go and do beyond it.
So lets look at a piece of The Talmud discussing what the Mishnah has to say about the prayer for rain. The language of the Mishnah is "When do we pray for the might (might) of rain" And the Talmud asks the question, why do call rain "mighty" Why does rain need the title: "might of the skies," It's rain, (geshem) call it rain! Finally they come up with this idea to explain it:
In Job, the rain is described as being beyond comprehension. It's unfathomable to understand the nature of rain. Then Jeremiah uses a similar language about the nature of creation. And when it comes to creation, King David says in Psalms "Who sets mountains with his strength, who's girded with power."
Now we’ve set up a duality, that within creation there are two acts, an act of G-d's strength, and then another aspect, beyond that, it's girded with power. Therefore rain, like creation, is girded with power.
Creation has a dual nature of both strength which is natural and power which is G-dly. How did the mountain start? It started through an underlying act of might behind the scenes. Once it's created, however, then it has strength of it's own. It came into existence, though, because it was girded with might.
If we want to talk about something beyond our understanding, that's the aspect of "creation": creation ex nihilo. There’s how G-d defines himself in the finite and then there's beyond that, how he defines himself in the infinite.
The end of Parshat B'rashit is reads- "Noah found charm in G-d's eyes." This is the closing of the parsha, and at the end, there’s a tiny line very small print that tells you the sum of the letters in this portion. 146 psukim, and it provides a mnemonic for how you can remember it by its Gematria which is equal to, (King) Amaziah and (King) Hezekial. These Kings are the only one about whom it says in the Bible, "He did what was proper in G-d's eyes." These kings had similar lives (succeded their fathers at 25, was attacked in 14th year of reign, ruled for 29 years) and names are synonymous with their words, "Ohmatz" (which has the same Hebrew root, even though the English looks different) power and "Chazak" strength.
This again brings out the duality of G-d's role in the creating the world was might or power, gevuah/Ohmatz. And his involvement with each individual, Chazaka or Co’ach - His strength.
To reiterate: The word Gevurah is the word with which G-d is identified. There's a different idea to might, not strength. Might reflects something which is beyond the nature of what we are and strength reflects our natural tendencies.
There's an interesting storyline in the going out of Egypt story - from G-d to Moses. Everything Moses did involved his hand. For instance, when G-d wanted to prove to Moses that he was the one, He took Moses’s hand, made it leprous and then turned it back. Then later, He tells Moses: When you want the plague of blood to start, hit the water. And all the plagues involved Moses’ hand, Then after the crossing the sea, when G-d wanted Moses to be victorious in battle, he had Moses raise his hand. And we describe the actions of G-d when he took the Jews out, "with a mighty arm" and an "outstretched hand" What's up with the hands thing?
In the story of King David, King David blesses the L-rd in front of the the assembled people, and how does he open up his prayer? "You're great and you're mighty" and then adds more words of praise...and in your hand is coh’ach and gevurah. In your hands you have strength and might. So here is G-d's hand is being defined as an act of strength and might.
In the Song of the sea, the song reads: “Your right hand is magestic in strength; Your right hand crushes the enemy." So Rashi asks, Why does it specify right hand twice? You could easily say, with your right hand you have strength and it crushes the enemy. Why the double language?
So Rashi says, "When Israel performs the will of G-d. The left hand becomes the right."
In the spiritual realm of Judaism, in Kabbalah, in the spheres that compose the spiritual energy of the world: The closest attributes to us, that are revealed in the world, are strength and kindness. On the left side is strength, and on the right side is kindness.
In Chassidic garb, for example the right side is buttoned over the left (contrary to normal men's garments) because we don't want the apect of strength to override G-d's kindness, we want G-d's kindness and mercy to be paramount.
The Egyptians at this point, at the Sea, were beyond the capacity of the Jews to deal with. They were tired from walking, they had unleavened bread, not even proper food, and they were going up against a nation of warriors with chariots. It was beyond comprehension that the Egyptians would be defeated. G-d had to change nature to make it happen.
With your right hand, you've done an act of kindness to the Jews, allowed them to go out. And with your left hand, (although the text says right) what you did was an unbelievable act of might, but it was a might that did a kindness for the Jews and saved us. Because at the sea we were rebellious, as King David said, and the left hand could easily have excecuted judgement, but instead it held back and executed judgement only on our enemies, and did kindness to us. Or as Rashi says, because we did the will of G-d and went into the sea, we were saved.
To understand what G-d did, we’ll use an example from the today’s natural word. It was like a form of chemotherapy. The bad was irradicated by something outside the body, because the body was overwhelmed. There was no way for the body to save itself It was an unbelievable act of might that could easily have destroyed the body, but it doesn’t. It heals the body by killing off the bad. So we thank G-d because the good wasn't destroyed with the bad. In reality, it's the left hand, the hand of might, even though this time, it did kindness, the traditional function of the right hand.
And that left hand destroyed, did something beyond nature. We only call it a right hand because it didn't hurt us.
So earlier in the Exodus, Moses comes to G-d because Moses is getting frustrated because Pharoah isn't listening to him. Moshe says to G-d, what do you want from me? This was over a year's duration of the plagues. Finally G-d says to Moshe, "Now you will see what I do to Pharoah, for through a strong hand he will send them out, and through a strong hand he will drive them his land"
So Rashi comments on this verse: "Because of MY strong hand (against a reference to the hand of G-d), which will exercise its might against Pharoah. And he will send them out against their will (and they will have no time to make provisions for themselves.).
The first verse talks about what happens naturally, they will leave, it’s a voluntary act. Pharoah will send them and they will go. The second verse hints at something deeper, it’s not just that he will send them out, Pharoah will actually drive them, now they don’t want to go. So this driving out is where you take people and do something beyond them, drive them out. They're not interested in going, it's not a consensus, they'll be driven out. They resisted being evicted.
So we’ve again got these two hands, One hand with strength, leads the righteous people, the ones who understood the greatness of going out of Egypt, they get the one hand. Then there's the other people, the ones who don’t want anything to do with this. They're content. They would have stayed in Egypt. For this, G-d needed his other hand. He couldn't do it with one. The first one is his right hand, the Chesed hand, the coh’ach hand and this how G-d defines them. They're within the system. They’re following the natural order. They don’t need anything beyond that. Then G-d had to do something beyond the natural order to force out the people who don’t want to go. They must move beyond who they are and what they want to fulfill the will of G-d.
We can take the story of Egypt and talk about how it developed over time. There were plagues, and over time, the Egyptians realized they were wrong, and the Jews realized they were meant to be a people and therefore, G-d worked like through Purim, within the natural order, things happened, natural events albeit with divine guidance, but there’s a Jewish queen and so ultimately the Jews win.
You can speak about the system and how the tides worked and how things could have transpired naturally with the Exodus. Or you can talk about the story differently, and say that yes, although things were changing in a natural way, the underpinning of the story is the divine might of G-d. Behind the entire Exodus story are G-d’s acts of might.
That's there's strength in the Exodus, and because we can see things that are taking place within the natural order, and we have perception, yes, that’s all true, but underlying the storyline is the act of might, something beyond comprehension, just like creation. Within creation we see, that of course, there's evolution, things change over time, but there's always an initial act of creation, of might that establishes the creation.
Nishmat talks about how we were created and all our needs are fulfilled, and even for that we can't say thank you, because we abuse it, but still, G-d does it.
But we can't about simply the natural gifts of G-d, the things all people get, lets also talk about the things that are beyond that, He made us a nation, it's something beyond out individual selves. It's creating us into a people, and although we may be smart, intelligent, well-balanced individuals, we're more than that as a nation, and that's an act of might.
How can we talk about that? How can we express this idea? Through the story of going out of Egypt which is a story of G-d's might. Why do I do this thing, this redemption of the people from Egypt? To tell the world My might (gevurah) . It's an act of might. It's beyond mere strength. And after that, after we understand this concept, we can define and begin to understand G-d as the G-d of greatness and the G-d of might.
And therefore on Passover night, we say this prayer which echoes the lesson of the Jews going out of Egypt through the power of might.