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My question refers to the twelfth blessing of the Amida, which seems to contravene the Biblical mitzva of ahavas yisroel*:

"And for the slanderers let there be no hope; and may all wickedness perish in an instant; and may Your enemies be cut down speedily. The wanton sinners -- may You speedily uproot, smash, cast down, and humble speedily in our days. Blessed are You, HaShem, Who breaks enemies and humbles wanton sinners."

According to my siddur (Artscroll), this originally referred to "heretical Jewish sects" such as the Sadducees, and also refers to heretical influences today. I may not know my history, but to me, the Sadducees seem no "worse" than karaites; and in any case, does it really matter? We are supposed to love our fellow Jews regardless of their faults, perceived bad influences, and differences with our opinion, then and now, no?

So how does praying directly to G-d to have them "broken," "smashed," "cast down," "cut down," etc., fit together with this essential concept?

(*Relevant mitzvot and sources: #26, and possibly #34, on the list here.)

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...And I know this ventures into CYLOR territory, but can anyone comment on whether I could potentially skip this part of the Amida, since it was not part of the original Shemona Esrei? I confess it currently makes me avoid the Amida entirely... –  SAH Oct 3 '13 at 21:12
Of course you should not take this as psak, but I can't imagine that skipping that particular bracha is any worse than skipping the entire Shmoneh Esrei. –  Daniel Oct 3 '13 at 21:28
The Mishpat Tzedek (Vol. 2, §9) explains that "wanton sinners" in this context only refers to an extreme subset - apikorsim. This group comprises those few people who, with a thorough knowledge of Torah, depart from the Torah lifestyle that they had previously lived and "violate fundamentals of the Torah for the purpose of angering the Almighty, disdainfully and brazenly" (Rambam, Hil. A"Z 2:5). The commandment of ahavas Yisrael does not apply to such people (Rambam ibid.). They would harass and prey on other Jews, which prompted creation of this blessing (ibid., Hil. Tefila 2:1). –  Fred Oct 4 '13 at 4:56
ואהבת לרעך כמוך only applies to 'רעך'. –  Ariel K Oct 4 '13 at 15:22
SAH, As an additional point, if it helps, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, in Hayom Yom quotes a kavanah that interprets "uproot, break, and crush" as referring to three evils (as opposed to people) that must be destroyed, and the fourth evil can be "subdued." (It's therefore the Chabad custom to pause between saying the last two.) –  HodofHod Jan 17 '14 at 19:44

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

A medrash Tehillim on perek 118 cites the explanation of Beruria that the verse says "yitamu chataim min ha'aretz" - not that the sinners should be destroyed, but sin should be destroyed - we do not pray for the destruction of the evildoers. The wording of this blessing echoes that sentiment - kol harisha means the evil, not the evildoers. We never pray for them to be destroyed - that is only for "oyvecha" - Your enemies. Nonetheless, we want the evildoers to cease being evildoers. If that requires them to be cast down and broken, the result is that they be humbled, which is the point of misfortune and tragedy (See R' Dessler in Michtav Me'eliyahu about 5 levels of belief). In the end of the day, it is out of love for them that we want them to fail in order that they reconsider their actions and their path.

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+1 @SAH this is what I daven for in this blessing. –  Baby Seal Jan 16 '14 at 19:37
This can also be found, perhaps more easily, in the Talmud, Brachos 10a. –  Baby Seal Jan 16 '14 at 21:00

The commandment of Ahavas Yisroel has its limits:

  • Deuteronomy 13:7-12 discusses a 'enticer' who tries to lead you away from belief in Gd and Judaism. Rashi explains the many different phrases as circumventing the generally applicable altruistic mannerisms that are decreed in the Torah. The first phrase, thou shalt not consent unto him, circumvents loving a fellow as you love yourself... This one, do not love. Maimonides even codifies entrapment of this enticer, and exception to general legal practice, which requires clear warning for punishment. Even when being set up though, the person is challenged once more in the name of Gd and Judaism. If they remain silent or repent, they are not killed.
  • Psalms 97:10 encourages hatred: O ye that love the LORD, hate evil...
  • The Righteous King Jehoshaphat was punished repeatedly throughout his reign for his friendliness towards Ahab and his Ahaziah, Kings of Israel, who were Jews, but were wicked1. His son, Jehoram, strays from the path of his father, due to a marriage alliance with Ahab2.

Troubled by the verses from Psalms and Jehoshaphat, I consulted Rabbi Ahron Lopiansky on two separate occasions for an understanding of these concepts.

He explained to me that first off, hatred and frenzy are two different things. The Torah does not encourage frothing at the mouth or angry mobs. Hatred here is defined by controlled actions. So in this case you would disassociate from the hated party and refuse aid.

He also said the the Instance between Jehoshaphat and Ahab is an exceptional one, due to Ahab's level of wickedness. [I took that to mean that Ahab wasn't just ignorant or mistaken. He was actively leading Israel astray, despite warning after warning from Elijah and others. This would seemingly qualify him as an 'enticer', which as we explained above, places him in a category outside of the love and brotherhood of Israel as a whole.]

So when we pray for the doom of the wicked, we are specifically referring to those who persistently reject the Torah, and who seek to lead others away from our precious lifeblood and connection with our Creator.

I would also stress the wording in the blessing: "and may all wickedness perish in an instant", which occurs before we use any language of smashing enemies. See YEZ's excellent answer, which I believe strikes the truth of the matter with a lesson from Bruriah3.

1. See Chron II 18, 19:2, 20:35-end. 2. Chron II 21:6. 3. ?אשת חיל, מי ימצא‏

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Anecdotally, I have unfortunately met quite a few skeptic Jews, and even some who reject Gd and Torah. None of them have attempted to shake me from my beliefs. Some have even expressed displeasure at the thought of such an act. I think it takes an exceptional amount of gaul and obstinance to try to change someone else's belief. –  Baby Seal Jan 16 '14 at 21:17
And when such attributes are channeled against Gd and His followers, it is objectionable to the extreme. –  Baby Seal Jan 17 '14 at 6:32

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