Praising our Great, Mighty and Awesome God


Our parasha contains a phrase that is found in the first bracha of the Shemoneh Esrei: “God your Lord is the ultimate Supreme Being and the highest possible Authority. Great, mighty and awesome, who does not give special consideration or take bribes.” In addition, we find that Ezra HaSofer deploys this expression in his prayer before the Jewish people: “And now, our God, HaGadol, HaGibor, v’HaNorah, Who keeps the covenant and loving- kindness.”

Rashi maintains that Ezra’s prayer is the source of our phrase’s inclusion in the Shemoneh Esrei. His assertion, however, is not universally accepted, since the Sha’agat Aryeh, among others, maintains that Ezra’s use of this expression was a momentary event, whereas its permanent placement in our liturgy is based on our pasuk. In either case, the phrase has become an integral part of our tefilot.

We might think that since we declare, “Hagadol HaGibor v’HaNorah,” it should be permissible to add other descriptions of the Almighty during the recitation of the Shmoneh Esrei. In early Talmudic times, an anonymous shaliach tzibbur followed this approach, and quickly found himself under the critical scrutiny of the great Rabbi Chanina bar Chama, asking the same rhetorical question that David HaMelech expresses in Sefer Tehillim, “Who can narrate the mighty deeds of Hashem? [Who] can make heard all His praise?”

Moreover, Rabbi Chanina teaches us that even our phrase, “HaGadol HaGibor v’HaNorah,” would have been prohibited, “had not Moshe Rabbeinu mentioned them in the Torah and had not the Men of the Great Assembly come and inserted them into the order of prayers.”

The Rambam codified these ideas in the following halacha: “A person should not be profuse in his mention of adjectives describing God, and say: ‘The great, mighty, awesome, powerful, courageous, and strong God,’ for it is impossible for man to express the totality of His praises. Instead, one should mention [only] the praises that were mentioned by Moshe, of blessed memory.”

We are now ready to analyze the three descriptions of Hashem’s actions in our pasuk. I believe each may be viewed as corresponding to one of the three Avot: That is, Avraham’s destiny is inextricably interwoven with the word, “gadol,” Yitzchak’s to “gibor,” and Ya’akov’s to “norah.”

With Hashem’s help, and our fervent desire, may we, as heirs of the Avot, come to acknowledge Him as “HaA-le HaGadol HaGibor v’HaNorah.” V’chane yihi ratzon.