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Thought for the Day: Talking to HaShem/Talking About HaShem

When I was first told I needed to call R' Fuerst, my first question was, "What?  Just call this rabbi out of the blue?  Isn't he going to find that strange?!"  I know, I know... how many ways can you say "naive"?  Besides not knowing that people called R' Fuerst all the time, I also had no clue about protocol.  In fact, I had been talking to R' Fuerst (as well as many other rabai'im) for years before I learned that one is really supposed to use third person when addressing a rav.  It is still very strange for me to refer to R' Fuerst in third person (eg, "May I ask the rav a question?", "How is the rav today?", etc) and I am only partially successful.

The objective, of course, is to remember that one is not just asking a knowledgeable person his opinion.  Rather, one is asking a representative of HaShem Yisbarach about how to understand some issue that affects one's eternal soul.  That makes the formula for blessings double quizzical.  First, we address HaShem directly in second person, "Baruch atah"/"Blessed are You".  But we immediately transition to third person. "asher kidishanu"/"who has sanctified us"; not, as you might expect, "kidashtanu"/"You have sanctified us".  So we have an interesting couple of stiros (contradictions).  First, halachah dictates that we address the representative of HaShem in third person, but HaShem Himself we go for the direct approach.  Second, once we started addressing HaShem in second person, why do we jump back to third person?

On the first question, the problem is that we might put a talmid chocham in the same category as a college professor/doctor/other professional.  That is, I might think, "he knows halacha and I know halacha, he just happens to know more than me, so I'll ask his advise."  Halacha therefore dictates an enforced distance so that we will keep in the forefront of our mind that we are actually addressing  a representative of the Author of Reality.  We don't need such a reminder when addressing the Creator Himself, of course.... but then why switch to third person?

The Mabit (building on the Rashba) says we begin with second person to remind ourselves that there are no intermediaries between us and HaShem; this is a very personal and intimate relationship.  We switch to third person for two reasons.  First, we are finite beings addresses the Infinite.  We have to know that our understanding of HaShem is very limited and, in fact, we only know HaShem by how He chooses to reveal Himself; we have no actual direct knowledge.  Second, we really are not worthy/capable of addressing HaShem; it is only through the mitzos (asher kidishanu) that we transform ourselves into a being capable of having a relationship with the Infinite.

That second aspect points to the love HaShem has for us.  Even though we are not capable of having a relationship in our current state, HaShem gave us -- His am s'gula/treasured nation -- Torah and Mitzvos to transform us.  Even though we are not there yet, He still asks us to address Him directly.

And you thought you were just saying a bracha.


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