We recall this week’s portion in the opening benediction of the Amidah with the words: “Blessed are You Adonai shield of Abraham and helper of Sarah.”
God is a protecting shield. The Torah recounts: “Some time later, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision. God said, ‘Fear not, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.’” (Genesis 15:1) A shield is a military image. It blocks the path of enemies. It leads the charge. It affords added protection. And yet Abram responds: “O Lord God what can You give me, seeing that I shall die childless?”
Our hero Abraham addresses only the promise yet unfulfilled and not the reassurance of divine protection. If it were possible to say it appears as if Abraham loses faith. He lacks confidence in the journey he has only recently set out upon. God commands, “Lech lech—Go!” and Abraham goes. And then he begins to doubt the promise, saying in effect, “You told me I am going to be a great nation but how can this be true if I don’t even have a child?” Isaac, and Ishmael, will soon be born, but at this moment there appear questions and doubt. How curious it is that we then begin our central prayer recalling this dialogue of questioning and doubt.
Perhaps this is how we enter prayer as well. Do we as well doubt the reward? Do we wonder if our promises will be fulfilled, our prayers answered? The journey of prayer begins with praise: God, You are the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah. It then moves to petition. We beg for health. We conclude with thanks. “Modim anachnu lach—we give thanks to You.” Do our prayers assuage all questions? Of course not. We offer the words of our tradition as reassurance, as a shield against our doubts.
The image of a shield suggests strength and confidence. We can persevere. With this added protection we can set out on any journey. It buttresses our faith. We open our prayers recalling Abraham’s journey. We shield our hearts.
Our words and prayers rebuild our confidence. We sing. We pray.
“We set our hope on the Lord,
He is our help and shield;
in Him our hearts rejoice,
for in His holy name we trust.” (Psalm 33:20)