וְלַמַּלְשִׁינִים אַל תְּהִי תִקְוָה. וְכָל הָרִשְׁעָה כְּרֶגַע תּאבֵד. וְכָל אויְבֵי עַמְּךָ מְהֵרָה יִכָּרֵתוּ. וְהַזֵדִים מְהֵרָה תְעַקֵּר וּתְשַׁבֵּר וּתְמַגֵּר וְתַכְנִיעַ בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵינוּ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’, שׁובֵר אויְבִים וּמַכְנִיעַ זֵדִים:
This bracha was not originally part of the Shemona Esrei, the eighteen brachos of the Amida. This was added by Rabban Gamliel who lived just after the destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdash, in response to the difficult conditions of his time. The Jews in Israel were heavily oppressed by the Roman conquerors, heretical sects in the community were eroding from within, among which the Saducees were very vocal, and Christianity had not become an independent religion yet. The opening word, וְלַמַּלְשִׁינִים, varies according to different customs, but revolve around this central theme. The bracha remains to this day, as there are always people seeking to destroy us from within.
The bracha was inserted as the twelfth bracha – this parallels the twelve shevatim of Bnei Yisrael. With twelve tribes, we are a unity. The parallel runs deep – the history of the twelve tribes shows the danger of what takes place when they were fragmented. The split between the brothers is described in Bereishis 37:17 – the pasuk tells us that Yosef was told נָסְעוּ מִזֶּה – “They have traveled away from here” – Rashi remarks that the deeper meaning of the brothers having travelled from there is that they had left where Yosef was – הסיעו עצמן מן האחוה – “they had taken themselves from brotherhood”. (We can further add that they departed from זֶּה – which has the value of 7+5=12. They had left the idea of twelve brothers). Troubles begin when the idea of unity fragments.
On the most basic level, וְלַמַּלְשִׁינִים meaning “informers” in most of its variants, and variants appeared due to censors, or fear for their lives if they were to leave the original word in. Sefardim did not have to fear references to Christianity, due to their living in Islamic countries.
On a deeper level, it is directed to the accusing angels too; who prosecute and ask Hashem to punish is, in keeping with our behavior.
It can even mean that when we become מַּלְשִׁינִים, when we speak Lashon Hara about people, let it not be believed, and therefore ignored. If we do say something wrong, then let it not be damaging or harmful.
We ask that informers be unsuccessful in their attempts to harm.
אַל תְּהִי תִקְוָה
The Satan, and the accusing angels prosecute, they are only able to do so because we open our mouths for evil too. We pray they don’t have the opportunity, or rather, that we don’t give them the opportunity. The Satan should have no hope of accusing us, because we will be so careful with this.
An informer does not do so for altruistic reasons – there is generally a reason why someone will inform, either they want something, or they are promised a reward of some kind. We therefore ask אַל תְּהִי תִקְוָה – let informers not want anything, so that they have no reason to inform.
וְכָל הָרִשְׁעָה כְּרֶגַע תּאבֵד
Various commentaries explain that the wickedness we discuss here is evil that results from a lack of belief in Hashem. This is especially relevant in the world we live in today. We ask Hashem to make the world a place where we can practice and retain our faith and beliefs without being compromised by those around us.
However, this רִשְׁעָה also refers to ourselves, somewhat. Every time a person sins, they are in essence denying, or part-denying, God’s authority to command us. We therefore ask that that the wickedness within ourselves be removed too.
We ask that it be destroyed כְּרֶגַע – in an instant. This is not a unit of time, rather, that in the same way an instant passes and is lost forever, and the רִשְׁעָה in life should just disappear too.
וְכָל אויְבֵי עַמְּךָ מְהֵרָה יִכָּרֵתוּ
On a simple level, אויְבֵי means enemies who seek our destruction, and they should be stopped instantly in their tracks, “cut off”. On a deeper level, it includes the Yetzer Hara that entices us to sin, and the accusing angels who act as a result of our wrongdoings.
The next phrase discusses זֵדִים – this would seem to be the same as אויְבֵי, as both mean “enemies”. At face value, they do, but אויְבֵי doesn’t just mean “enemies”, it really means enemies who are hidden. Such enemies covertly plot our destruction, and act behind the scenes, persuading others to destroy us. These ought to be more alarming, as we do not see these people, or know who they are.
On an individual level, אויְבֵי means ourselves too – sometimes we can become our own worst enemies. When a classmate or colleague achieves better than ourselves (jealousy is only permitted with regard to Torah achievements), we may become upset or angry at this. But whatever the initial reason, this also means that we are angry that the achiever has gotten closer to Hashem – and in so doing, we become an enemy of Hashem, almost.
We can also say that we our own laziness is a manifestation of אויְבֵי – when we are lazy, we do not fulfill our potential. Our own laziness therefore becomes our stumbling block, our enemy.
We ask Hashem to help us by cutting out the things that hold us back.
(We said that אויְבֵי are our own enemies and difficulties, it may seem odd that we follow this with עַמְּךָ – Your nation. There is no difficulty in this – what we ask for ourselves, we request the same for everyone else – that everyone’s personal barriers be lifted.)
וְהַזֵדִים מְהֵרָה תְעַקֵּר וּתְשַׁבֵּר וּתְמַגֵּר וְתַכְנִיעַ בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵינוּ
The זֵדִים are those who openly seek our downfall or destruction. We ask for them to be uprooted, broken, cut down, and subdued. The last one, וְתַכְנִיעַ, that they should be subdued, seems odd. It serves to illustrate how the תְעַקֵּר וּתְשַׁבֵּר וּתְמַגֵּר could not have meant total destruction, (unlike we said previously, with תּאבֵד,) or otherwise we could not ask that they be “subdued”– if we had asked for them to be destroyed, implying that they be removed – “subdued”, meaning that whatever is being subdued still remains in a smaller way, does not fit.
The answer lies in the function and purpose of evil. Evil in all its shapes and forms is there to challenge us. When we rise to the challenge presented, we become better Jews. Avraham became Avraham Avinu by passing tests and obstacles. We cannot ask Hashem to remove the challenges in life, or there can be no growth. We may, however, ask that the challenges we face become smaller, broken up, cut down to size, and subdued. We can use the evil to grow, transforming the evil into good. If we are able to pass the tests and challenges Hashem sends us, we are capable of attaining greater reaches and foster a greater closeness to Hashem. This goes from the Yetzer Hara to Ahmadinejad.
We are asking Hashem that we be able to rise to the challenge of passing the tests in our everyday lives.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’, שׁובֵר אויְבִים וּמַכְנִיעַ זֵדִים
We conclude the bracha with the acknowledgement that Hashem will take care of us, without necessarily making things easy for us. We say that Hashem is שׁובֵר אויְבִים – He will break the hidden, but וּמַכְנִיעַ זֵדִים, He will belittle the overt.
Hashem ensures that we can handle everything we face.