The second berachah of the Shemoneh Esreh, the one that praises G‑d for His attribute of gevurah [strictness, judgment, self-restraint, etc.], opens with these words: אַתָּה גִבּוֹר לְעוֹלָם אֲדֹנָ‑י מְחַיֶּה מֵתִים אַתָּה רַב לְהוֹשִׁיעַ…מְכַלְכֵּל חַיִּים בְּחֶסֶד מְחַיֵּה מֵתִים בְּרַחֲמִים רַבִּים (You are always mighty, Adon-ai, You resurrect the dead, abundant to effect salvation, You sustain the living with chesed, resurrect the dead with a lot of mercy). Although there are many other places in the Shemoneh Esreh where we ask Hashem for רַחֲמִים [mercy, compassion], nowhere else do we specifically mention רַחֲמִים רַבִּים [rachamim rabbim, a lot of mercy]. What is unique about the resurrection of the dead, that we praise Hashem for acting with rachamim rabbim? Wouldn’t a normal amount of rachamim be good enough?
Let’s ask another question based on the words of the prophet (Yeshayah 54:7): בְּרֶגַע קָטֹן עֲזַבְתִּיךְ וּבְרַחֲמִים גְּדֹלִים אֲקַבְּצֵךְ (I forsook you for just a moment, but with great mercy [rachamim gedolim], I will gather you). Why does Hashem promise that at the time of the complete redemption and the revelation of Mashiach, He will gather His nation back together again with rachamim gedolim? Wouldn’t ordinary rachamim be good enough?
To begin to answer these questions, let’s ask a third question. Does G‑d pray? It is taught (Berachot 7a): אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן מִשּׁוּם רַבִּי יוֹסֵי מִנַּיִן שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מִתְפַּלֵּל שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וַהֲבִיאוֹתִים אֶל הַר קָדְשִׁי וְשִׂמַּחְתִּים בְּבֵית תְּפִלָּתִי תְּפִלָּתָם לֹא נֶאֱמַר אֶלָּא תְּפִלָּתִי מִכָּאן שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מִתְפַּלֵּל (R’ Yochanan said in the name of R’ Yose, from where is it derived that the Holy One, blessed be He, prays? From that which is stated [Yeshayah 56:7], ‘And I will bring them to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in the house of My prayer’. It doesn’t say ‘their prayer’, but ‘My prayer’. From here, it is derived that the Holy One, blessed be He, prays). What does Hashem pray? The Gemara continues its teaching: יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנַי שֶׁיִּכְבְּשׁוּ רַחֲמַי אֶת כַּעֲסִי וְיִגּוֹלּוּ רַחֲמַי עַל מִדּוֹתַי וְאֶתְנַהֵג עִם בָּנַי בְּמִדַּת רַחֲמִים וְאֶכָּנֵס לָהֶם לִפְנִים מִשּׁוּרַת הַדִּין (May it be My will that My rachamim vanquishes My anger, that My rachamim excel above My [other] attributes, that I behave toward My children with the attribute of rachamim, and that I go beyond the strict letter of the law for their sake). This seems very strange. Why does Hashem need to pray about this? Can’t His will just be that way in the first place?
The answer is given in the Idra Raba on the verse quoted above from Yeshayah 54:7, i.e. that only through rachamim gedolim will Hashem bring about the complete redemption (Zohar ha-Kadosh, Naso 137b): כֵּיוָן דְּאָמַר רַחֲמִים מַהוּ גְּדוֹלִים אֶלָּא אִית רַחֲמֵי וְאִית רַחֲמֵי רַחֲמֵי דְּעַתִּיק דְּעַתִּיקִין אִינּוּן אִקְרוּן רַחֲמִים גְּדוֹלִים רַחֲמֵי דִּזְעֵיר אַנְפִּין אִקְרוּן רַחֲמִים סְתָם וּבְגִין כָּךְ וּבְרַחֲמִים גְּדוֹלִים אֲקַבְּצֵךְ דְּעַתִּיק יוֹמִין (Since it is said ‘rachamim’, what is the meaning of ‘gedolim’, i.e. what does the word gedolim come to add? Rather, there is rachamim and there is rachamim: rachamim of Arich Anpin is called rachamim gedolim, rachamim of Ze’ir Anpin is called ordinary rachamim, and therefore, the verse says ‘with rachamim gedolim I will gather you’, i.e. with the rachamim of Arich Anpin).
The Zohar is teaching that there are two fundamental levels of rachamim. The lower level comes from Ze’ir Anpin, i.e. literally ‘Little Face’. Ze’ir Anpin can be thought of as a spiritual building composed of the six main attributes of chesed, gevurah, tiferet, netzach, hod and yesod working together in harmony. The higher level of rachamim comes from Arich Anpin, literally ‘Long Face’, which is in keter, i.e. Hashem’s will. Clearly, the rachamim gedolim that comes directly from Hashem’s will is much greater than ordinary rachamim. Perhaps we can think of it as undiluted, pure rachamim. This is the rachamim gedolim needed to bring about the redemption.
Without a doubt, we, collectively and individually, need a lot of rachamim, physically and spiritually. Wouldn’t it be great if we could access the higher rachamim when needed? But how can it be accessed? It is taught in Likutei Moharan 105: אַךְ בַּעֲווֹנֵינוּ הָרַבִּים בַּדּוֹר הַזֶּה אֵין מִי שֶׁיִּתְפַּלֵּל כָּךְ שֶׁיּוּכַל לְהַמְשִׁיךְ הָרַחֲמִים (However, due to our many transgressions in this generation, no one can pray in the manner needed to bring down this rachamim). If this was true 200 years ago, how much more is it true today? Moreover, his words seem to echo what the prophet wrote ages ago (Yeshayah 59:16): וַיַּרְא כִּי־אֵין אִישׁ וַיִּשְׁתּוֹמֵם כִּי אֵין מַפְגִּיעַ וַתּוֹשַׁע לוֹ זְרֹעוֹ וְצִדְקָתוֹ הִיא סְמָכָתְהוּ (And He saw that there wasn’t anyone; He was astounded that there was no intercessor; therefore, His arm saved for Him, and His righteousness, that supported Him). In other words, since no man has the ability to pray in such a way to elicit the rachamim gedolim required to bring about the complete redemption, Hashem promises to do it Himself. And this is the meaning of the teaching from Berachot 7a that we quoted above, i.e. that Hashem prays, “May it be My will…” Hashem will bring about the complete redemption through His own prayers! In the words of the Zohar, Hashem, i.e. the name associated with Ze’ir Anpin, from which ordinary, simple rachamim emerges, prays to His own will, i.e. to Arich Anpin, in order to draw down the extraordinary rachamim, i.e. rachamim gedolim in the words of Yeshayahu ha-Navi, to bring about the final redemption.
Nevertheless, can we do anything to assist Hashem, so to speak, in order that He might pray? Yes, we need to remove the impediment that is holding back His prayers and His rachamim. And what is that impediment? It is the lack of da’at. It is taught (Berachot 33a): וְכׇל מִי שֶׁאֵין בּוֹ דֵּעָה אָסוּר לְרַחֵם עָלָיו שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר כִּי לֹא עַם בִּינוֹת הוּא עַל כֵּן לֹא יְרַחֲמֶנּוּ עוֹשֵׂהוּ (It is forbidden to be merciful to anyone who has no da’at, as it is stated [Yeshayah 27:11], ‘For they are a people without understanding; therefore, their Maker will show them no rachamim’). Why is it forbidden to withhold rachamim from someone who has no da’at? It is because rachamim comes from da’at. Therefore, we see that this is another incidence of middah k’neged middah. If such a person does not show rachamim to anyone (because he has no da’at, the very wellspring of rachamim itself), then why should anyone show it to him? And generally speaking, Hashem binds Himself to this same principle. To the extent that we lack da’at, to that extent, Hashem, so to speak, will need to withhold His own rachamim from us. Therefore, above all, we need da’at.
So how is da’at developed? In short, as explained by R’ Nachman in Likutei Moharan 105, it comes from the study of Torah (coupled with concentrated, focused prayer). A person needs to concentrate on his learning not only to understand the Torah he is learning, but to derive one thing from another and to create novel Torah insights from what he is learning, i.e. chidushim. When he learns in this way and prays with tremendous concentration over every letter, word and phrase in the fourth berachah of the Shemoneh Esreh that Hashem grant him da’at, he will be granted his request. And the more da’at he is given, the more rachamim he can show others and then, the more rachamim Hashem can show him.
Here’s another way to put it. The more we apply ourselves to learn Torah with this kind of focus, depth and purpose, the more sincere our ongoing teshuvah will be. And when we do teshuvah sincerely and deeply, Hashem will show us His rachamim, as it is written (Devarim 30:3): וְשָׁב יְיָ אֱלֶֹקיךָ אֶת־שְׁבוּתְךָ וְרִחֲמֶךָ (And Hashem your G‑d will return with your return, and He will show rachamim). In other words, when we do sincere, heartfelt teshuvah and return to Hashem, then Hashem will also do teshuvah, so to speak, and return to us. Then, he will show us rachamim.
Let’s elucidate two short examples, one from the Torah and one from the Ketuvim, which reveal this amazing truth. The first is the prayer that Moshe Rabbeinu prayed when he pleaded with G‑d to heal his sister, Miriam after she became afflicted with tzara’at. His prayer was only five short words (Bamidbar 12:13): קֵל נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ (G‑d, pray, heal her, pray). Why the double expression of נָא [na], meaning ‘please, pray now’? As R’ Nachman explains (L.M. 105): דְּלִכְאוֹרָה תָּמוּהַּ מְאֹד כֶּפֶל תֵּבַת נָא אַךְ עַתָּה מְבֹאָר הֵיטֵב שֶׁמֹּשֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ עָלָיו הַשָּׁלוֹם בִּקֵּשׁ זֹאת מֵהַשֵּׁם יִתְבָּרַךְ שֶׁהַשֵּׁם יִתְבָּרַךְ בְּעַצְמוֹ כִּבְיָכוֹל יִתְפַּלֵּל וִיבַקֵּשׁ מֵעַצְמוֹ שֶׁיְּרַפֵּא אוֹתָהּ (Seemingly, the doubling of the word na is very surprising; however, now the explanation is clear. Moshe Rabbeinu, peace be upon him, requested this of Hashem, may He be blessed, that Hashem, may He be blessed, Himself, so to speak, would pray and request of Himself that He would heal her). Moshe’s words could be understood along these lines: ‘G‑d, I pray that You would pray to heal her.’ Apparently, Moshe thought that the level of rachamim elicited by his own prayer would have been insufficient to heal his sister. Therefore, he pleaded to G‑d that He Himself would pray to elicit the supreme rachamim.
Another example is found at the end of Hallel in Tehillim 118:25: אָנָּא יְיָ הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא אָנָּא יְיָ הַצְלִיחָה נָּא (Pray, Hashem, save us, pray; Pray, Hashem, bring success, pray). Once again, we see the double expression of na (or anna) in each half of the verse, for a total of four. Not only that, but we repeat this verse when we recite Hallel—for a total of eight! What does that teach us regarding the nature of the redemption that we seek? It’s not such a simple request. Even when we pray that Hashem would pray to send everlasting salvation and success to the Jewish People, i.e. to bring about the complete revelation of Mashiach ben David and the final redemption, we still need to repeat our request multiple times.
Now we can appreciate why rachamim rabbim is mentioned in connection with the resurrection of the dead. We may have grown accustomed to thinking of it as a ‘done deal’, an inevitable future reality—no big deal. But that’s not the case. The resurrection of the dead is not such a simple matter. It requires an extraordinary amount of rachamim that can only be drawn down as a result of Hashem’s own prayers or through the prayers of one greater than Moshe Rabbeinu who can pray in such a way as to evoke this supreme rachamim. May he be fully revealed in our days, speedily, Amen.