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Simcha Groffman

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Kinder Torah
For parents to share with children at the Shabbos Table

Parashas Lech Lecha

Divine Spark

"Avi, the first request that we make in the Amidah is for binah.ii Gemora Megilla 17b"

"What is binah, Abba, and why do we need it?"

"That is an excellent question, Avi. To answer it, we will begin with a passage that we say at the beginning of Kaballas Ole Malchus Shomayim in the introductory prayers of the morning.iii Taken from Tanna DiBey Eliyahu Rabba 21 'A person should always fear heaven in private and publicly Master of all worlds! Not in the merit of our righteousness do we cast our supplications before you What are we? What is our life? Man has no superiority over beast, for all is futile.'iiii Koheles 3:19"

"Is mankind not superior to animals in any way? How can that be, Abba."

"The Shulchan Aruchiiv (Orach Chaim 115) addresses your question, Avi. Our Elders fixed the bracha of Atto chonen as the first bracha in the middle section of the Amidah. Why? Because the superior qualities of man over beast are binah (understanding) and seichel (sense). Furthermore, if there is no understanding, there is no tefillah (prayer). The Mishna Brura adds that without chochma (wisdom) and daas (knowledge) man is no better than lifeless flesh. Therefore, we beseech the Creator to grant us the clarity of seichel and daas to be revolted by evil and choose good. The Gemoravv Brochos 33a proclaims the greatness of deah, as evidenced by its position as the first bracha."

"I now understand the supreme importance of intelligence, Abba. We have four different terms describing human intellect, daas, binah, seichel, and chochma. What is the difference between them?"

"Rashivvi on Shemos 31:1 defines chochma as what a person hears and learns from others (information). Binah is the ability to understand what you have learned. Daas is ruach ha'kodesh - a spark of the Divinevvii Yesod Vi'shoresh Ho'avodah p. 243. The verse (Mishlei 2:6) states that daas and tevunah come straight from Hashem's mouth! The blessing itself beseeches, 'Hashem, grant us "Me'itcha" - from Yourself ' We see how this follows from the previous bracha that proclaims Hashem's holiness. Although Hashem is Kodosh - exalted above and separated from the limitations of material existence - He graciously endows man, a physical being, with daas and ruach ha'kodesh (Divine inspiration).vviii Etz Yosef Seichel, practical wisdom, is the ability to use our knowledge and understanding to guide our lives in the proper direction."iix Rav Hirsch Siddur p. 134

"This is just awesome, Abba. Can you answer another question for me?"

"I will try, Avi."

"Why is the request made in the form of 'chonneinu' - beseeching Hashem to grant us intelligence? The other blessings present their request in a straightforward manner. Why is intellect different?"

"What an astute question, Avi! The Etz Yosef speaks about this very point. How does a creature that is made of the dust of the earth merit receiving Divine wisdom? How is he even remotely relevant to the workings of the heavenly angels, holy hosts, and Hashem's royal throne? The answer is that the question is correct. We are not granted wisdom based upon our merits. It is a wonderful gift from the Almighty. Therefore, we can only beg for it as an undeserving person pleads for a gift.

"Avi, you originally asked why we need binah. Rav Hirsch eloquently explains that deah, binah, vi'haskel are essential to learning, understanding, and applying the wisdom of Hashem's Torah to our lives. We cannot possibly hope to serve Hashem without knowledge, understanding, and practical wisdom of Him and His Torah. Therefore, we look to Him to favor us with the tools that we need to serve Him."

"I want to put special kavannah (intention) into this bracha Abba!"

"May you succeed and receive and abundance of wisdom!"

Kinderlach . . .

What makes us different from the other living creatures on this planet? Intelligence. We are able to understand the workings of the world. How should we use this wonderful gift of intellect? To serve Hashem. We must know and understand the Torah and the world. Then we can discern what our obligations are to our Creator. We then use our seichel to guide us in the right direction to fulfill those obligations. Keeping all of this in mind, we realize that the first thing that we must request from the Almighty in our tefillos is deah, binah, vi'haskel. Without them, we cannot even pray! May Hashem grant this, and all of our requests, and may we merit serving Him in truth and purity.

i Gemora Megilla 17b
ii Taken from Tanna DiBey Eliyahu Rabba 21
iii Koheles 3:19
iv (Orach Chaim 115)
v Brochos 33a
vi on Shemos 31:1
vii Yesod Vi'shoresh Ho'avodah p. 243
viii Etz Yosef
ix Rav Hirsch Siddur p. 134

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