Vayechi: Relative Kindness? ~ Yehoshua Steinberg

בראשית מז:כט -וְעָשִׂיתָ עִמָּדִי חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת אַל נָא תִקְבְּרֵנִי בְּמִצְרָיִם.

Act towards me with kindness and truth [חסד ואמת]; do not bury me in Egypt (Gen. 47:29).

Rashi explains that חסד ואמתin this verse refers to חסדdone without any anticipation of reward. Writes Rashi: חסדdone with the deceased is חסד של אמת- the truest form of חסד, as one does not anticipate any payment of reward [תשלום גמול] (from a dead person).

The qualifying term אמתimplies that that there may be other types of חסדas well, perhaps less noblein nature. Furthermore, we find additional modifying terms coupled with חסד, making it unique among words associated with loving-kindness. Words such as גמלandטובare linked at times to חסד, as inחסדים טוביםor גמילת חסד, whereas similar terms such as רחמיםand צדקהnever appear with such additions. Throughout Scripture, liturgy and Rabbinic literature, one never finds expressions such as רחמיםגמילותor צדקהטובה. Why should the word חסדrequire qualifying terms?

Additionally, Rashi’s extended description of compensation as “payment of reward” [תשלוםגמול] requires explanation. As these two words are virtually synonymous, it would have sufficed to write “one does not anticipate any payment” or “any reward.” What does the reiteration add?

The root חסדappears in Scripture with two contrasting denotations. Normally, it is used to describe attributes and actions of a lofty nature, often applying to G-d, as in: Blessed is the Lord, G-d of my master Abraham, whose kindness (חסד) did not desert him(Gen. 24:27).1On the other hand, the word חסדhas a negative meaning, as Radak mentions in his Sefer Hashorashim: The verse, חֶסֶד הוא(Lev. 20:17) refers to an act of a disgraceful nature[of consorting with one’s sister]. The word is also found in verb form in the following verse: פן יְחַסֶדְךָ שֹׁמֵעַ(Prov. 25:10), where it means shamingand embarrassing.

Some commentators explain that the word חסדdenotes addition, for better or worse. Thus, Ibn Ezra, explaining the above verse, writes that the meaning of חסדהואisexcessive(“additional”) promiscuity. Similarly, Radak (entry חסד)writes: These two meanings of the word חסדhave the same feature. Just as the attribute of חסדmeans augmenting goodnessandincreasing benevolence, so too, it can refer to increasing promiscuityand anextra degree of ignobility.2

Ramban (Lev.ibid.) suggests that the word חסדrefers at times to the conferral of kindnessand other times to its cessation(similar to the oft-cited opposite meanings of the roots שרשand דשן, as follows, in Ramban’s own words): “In my opinion, the verse פן יְחַסֶדְךָ שמע(Prov.25:10) means the listener will abstain from bestowing kindness(since the speaker did not show kindness to his friend who confided his secret). This is similar to the double meanings of דשן(Ex.27:3) [which ordinarily refers to adding ashes / fat / oil (e.g. Ps. 23:5), but in this instance means the removal of ashes] andתשרש(Job 31:12) [to root out, but whose common usage is to implantor take root(e.g. Isa. 27:6)]. I find it hard to accept that the word חסדin the Hebrew language should have such disparate connotations, whereas Scripture gives praise and prayer3with the word חסד.”

Haketav Vehakabbala (on Lev. [ibid.]) offers a different solution to the contrasting meanings of the word חסד. While חסדis praiseworthy from the perspective of the giver, it is dishonorable from the standpoint of the receiver. In his words: “Rashi explainsחֶסֶד הואasdisgraceful, per the Targum. Ramban counters that it seems far-fetched that the word חסדshould have such disparate denotations, as we always find Scripture praising the attribute ofחסד. But this is not a valid claim. The praise is due to the giver of kindness, who benefits others without any thought of compensation. However, from the standpoint of the receiver, it is shameful for him to receive such kindness, as a pauper receiving a handout. As the Sages say: One who eats from others is embarrassed to look his benefactor in the face.4This would explain the opposite meanings of חסד.”5

Yet, since G-d is praised as being generous and benevolent, Ramban’s question still stands. Does it make sense that G-d should show kindness, when it will cause recipients feelings of shame?

The answer may be found in the explanation of the author of Lev Eliyahu to the expression גמילות חסדים, as used by the sages (Berachot 60b): Blessed are You, the Lord, Who is גומל חסדים טובים6to His people, Israel.CommentsRav Eliyahu Lopian (Lev Eliyahu vol. 1 p. 199)7: “The word גומל(bestow) is derived from גמול(reward), as G-d acts with man as if He is required to recompense man for his mitzvot,8and so a person feels that he is not being shown the bread of charity. This removes his embarrassment, and is what makes G-d’s חסדso great.” 

Since receiving kindness from G-d is in turn for our deeds, there is no reason for the feeling of “nahama d’kisufa.”9

However, even though the word גמילותhelps highlight the positive meaning of חסד, the root גמלitself, like חסד, seems too to bear paradoxical meanings. While the familiar meaning ofגמולis paymentin a positive sense, as in: II Samuel 19:37 – Why should the king reward me [יִגְמְלֵנִי] with this benefit [הַגְּמוּלָה הַזֹּאת],10there are also examples where גמולmeans a negative form ofpayment: Isa. 59:18 – Just as [his earlier] retributions [גְּמֻלוֹת], so shall He repay wrath to His enemies, retribution [גְּמוּל] to His adversaries.11However, Radak (entry גמל) resolves this: “Meaning, the beginning of [either] good or bad, which incurs a response of [either] good or bad.12

There is yet another meaning to the root גמל13, and this one seems to be the key to resolving our initial question: Why did Rashi write both words, תשלום גמול, when seemingly either of them would have sufficed? In Radak’s comment to Num. 17:23,14he states that גמולis השלמת בשול(completion of theripeningof fruit), as in:וַיִּגְמֹל שְׁקֵדִים – and almonds ripened, and also Isa. 18:5 – grapes approaching ripeness [וּבֹסֶר גֹּמֵל]. The word השלמה(completion) derives from the same root as תשלום,payment. Both words express the completion of a process (coming full circle).

To sharpen this idea before applying it to our question, we’ll add that the passive form of the root גמלmeans to go from dependence to independence, as in: the child grew and was weaned[וַיִּגָּמַל] (Gen. 21:8). גמילה,weaning, certainly does not seem like a reward or payment of any kind. On the contrary, the baby will now no longer nurse from its mother! However, Radak connects this with the ripening of almonds above: “…his nursing was completed… and the same applies for the completionof fruit.15

In light of the above, we can understand that there is no greater gift than the weaning of a child. Completion of his nursing career is precisely parallel to the ripening of a fruit on a tree.16Just as the ripening of the fruit demonstrates that it has completed its period of dependency on the tree and has begun its existence as an independent entity, so too the weaning of a child is a transition point on his way to independence. The process of weaning can be compared to the eight levels of charity listed by Rambam (Laws of the Poor, 10:7-14), the highest of which is assisting a fellow Jew -if only through a loan- in order that he not require further assistance. In other words, helping one to wean himself from dependency 17is the premier level of giving. 

With this, I believe that we can answer Rashi’s seeming redundancy with which we opened this article – תשלום גמול.With these two words, Rashi resolves the contradictions inherent in the root, גמל. By adding the word תשלום, Rashi implies that the basic meaning of גמלis connected to the meaning of the root, שלם,payment andcompletion, or “coming full circle.” The true גומלsees his bestowing of kindness as a complete act in and of itself, requiring no additional completion or recompense (as if to say גמול מושלם– complete, consummate גמול). This meaning fits all appearances of this word in Scripture –completion / end of dependency on benefactors,completionend of growth,completionfinishing with any sort of debt– whether positive or negative.

This resolution can help us understand another aspect of חסד. In addition to the meaning of disgraceinherent in חסד-from the perspective of the recipient of handouts (which the word גמילהcomes to “right”)- there is another potential negative association. Namely, a person who claims to be charitable, but his intentions are not entirely pure, as he at some point expects some form of recompense for his “charity.” Rashi addresses this tendency in explaining that חסד של אמתiskindness done without expecting any payment of reward, as opposed toless-than-gallant performers of “חסד”, who do expect this.

In the appearance of the word חסדin Lev. 20:17 as well, it is clear that consorting with one’s sister is done for the sake of selfish pleasure and not to bestow altruistic kindness. From here we can perhaps arrive at the fundamental difference between חסדand רחמים. As mentioned, the word רחמיםis never accompanied by qualifiers as is חסד. We do not find expressions such as רחמים של אמת,רחמים טוביםorגמילות רחמיםto clarify which type of mercy is being shown. 

The wordרחמיםderives from the word רחם,the womb – the organ in which a fetus develops within the mother’s body. The mother showers רחמיםupon her children without limit. She cares for the fruit of her womb without any thought of compensation. All of her thoughts are on her children’s good alone. In a word – רחמים…no embellishment or additional description is necessary.

May we always be among those who bestow kindness – true and good kindness – and merit the compensation and reward G-d has in store for us, without ever having to accept gifts from others. 

1See also Ex. 34:6 and Deut. 7:9

2See also Rabbi S. R. Hirsch (Gen. 47:29; Ex. 34:6); Shoresh Yesha (entry חסד).

3כלומר המלה חסד היא יסוד לדברי שבח ותפילה בתהלים ועוד מקומות במקרא.

4This quote is found in the Jerusalem Talmud, with a variant reading (quoted in a footnote below).

5

ונראה להוסיף עפ”ז הסבר גם להוראות המנוגדות של שרש’עזב’,המורה על נטישהמחד גיסא, ועלעזרהמאידך:רֹבֵץ תַּחַת מַשָּׂאוֹ וְחָדַלְתָּ מֵעֲזֹב לוֹ עָזֹבתַּעֲזֹב עִמּוֹ(שמות כג:ה)- דברוהיפוכו!אמנם,כדרך שמורה לנו הלשון את ההנהגה הנשגבת של הענקת צדקה ללא בושה דרך ההוראות המנוגדות של שרש ‘גמל'(כמבואר להלן במאמר,שמלת”להיגמל” [בנפעל עתיד]פירושהסוףהתלותבגמילותחסדיםשל אחרים),כך היא מורה לנו על ענין דומה במשמעויות ההפוכות לכאורה של ‘עזב’.כלומר,בהושטת יד לזקוק לעזרה פשוטה,תדאג גם להשאיר אותו עם הרגשה שאינו חייב לך דבר,ובכך תעזבהו במצב חזק ומחוזק יותר מהמצבבומצאת אותו.כמו כן מצינו’עזב’במשמעותחיזוק ועזרהבעוד מספר פסוקים:יחזכז:יב– וְעוֹפֶרֶת נָתְנוּ עִזְבוֹנָיִךְ;רשי– עזבוניך- חוזקיךועוזרךכמו:וַיַּעַזְבוּ יְרוּשָׁלִַם (נחמ’ג:ח);תהי:יד– יַעֲזֹבחֵלֵכָה;רשי– מנחם פ’ יעזובלשוןעזרהכמו: עָזֹבתַּעֲזֹב(שמ’כג:ה).

6ושרשיםאלו-‘חסד’ו’גמל’-מופיעיםסמוכיםזהלזהגם במקרא,כגון:חַסְדֵי ה’אַזְכִּיר…אֲשֶׁר גְּמָלָנוּ ה’ (ישע’סג:ז),וַאֲנִי בְּחַסְדְּךָ בָטַחְתִּי…אָשִׁירָה לַה’ כִּי גָמַל עָלָי (תה’יג:ו).

7מובא ב”חברותא”לברכות(דףס:).

8So too, one can explain the use of גמולas a borrowed term synonymous with “gift,” as in: Mesilat Yesharim 26 – “Holiness is double in nature, meaning its beginning is work and its end is גמול; its beginning is effort and its end is a gift.”גמולhere means the giving of commensurate payment.

9“Nahama d’kisufa” literally means “bread of shame.” This idea is based on the Jerusalem Talmud (Orlah 1:3), which states that “one who eats from his friend’s [portion] is embarrassed to look at him” (as per the commentary of Pnei Moshe). The Maggid, in Maggid Meisharim of Rabbi Yosef Karo (Gen., Ohr Layom Shabbat 14 Tevet), employs this concept to explain the dispute between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel (Eiruvin 13b) over whether it would have been preferable for man to have been created. The basis for the opinion that it would have been preferable for man notto have been created is that deriving pleasure from the radiance of the Shechinah is worthwhile even though such pleasure incurs the shame of receiving benefit without effort. The opposing view is that since man can “pay” for his pleasure by the performance of mitzvot, it is preferable for him to be created. See also Meshech Chachmah (Gen. 50:10).

10וכן בת”י- וּלְמָהיְשַׁלְמִנַנִימַלְכָּא תַּשְׁלוּמָאהָדָא.

11וכןמצינו את”פרי”מעשיו: ישעג:ייא– אִמְרוּ צַדִּיק כִּי טוֹב כִּי פְרִי מַעַלְלֵיהֶם יֹאכֵלוּ,אוֹי לְרָשָׁע רָע כִּי גְמוּל יָדָיו יֵעָשֶׂה לּוֹ.משלי יב:יד-מִפְּרִי פִי אִישׁ יִשְׂבַּע טוֹב וּגְמוּל יְדֵי אָדָם יָשִׁיב לו.

12השוה גם את דברי ראב”ע ליואל ד:ד.

13See our article on P’ Chayei Sara for a suggestion about the etymology of the wordגמל itself.

14נמצא בשרשיו,ערך’גמל’.

15וכן קישר ביניהם רש”י:רשי– ויגמל- כשהוכר הפרי…לשון:ויגדל הילד ויגמל (בר’כא:ח),ול’זה מצוי בפרי האילן,כמו:ובוסר גומל יהיה נצה (ישע’יח:ה).ובתלמוד פרש”י את “גמול”כל’הבדלה:יבמות יב:– תני רב ביבי קמיה דר”נ,שלש נשים משמשות במוך:קטנה,מעוברת,ומניקה…מניקה- שמא תגמול בנה וימות;רשי– שמא תגמול את בנה -אם תתעבר תהא צריכה לגמול את בנה מלהניק כמו ויגמל -לשון הבדלה (בר’כא:ח).והשוה גםתמ”י,שתרגם”ויגמול שקדים” – “גמר”:במיז:כג-וַיָּצֵץ צִיץ וַיִּגְמֹל שְׁקֵדִים;תמי– וְאָנֵיץ נִצִין בֵּיהּ בְּלֵילְיָא גְמַר וַעֲבַד לוּזִין;ובלשון תר’ירושלמי- “חסיל”:תרי– וַאֲנֵיץ נִיצִין וְחָסִיל לוּזִין בַּר לוּזַיָא.וראה גם ת”א לבר’ כא:ח;ת”י לש”א א:כב-כד,ישע’יא:ח.והשוה גם פרשר”ה(בר’מא:ד)להוראות השונות של ‘קוץ’ / ‘יקץ’.

16ואכן,מצינו את “פרי”כמושג מקביל של “גמול”במקרא:ישעג:ייא– אִמְרוּ צַדִּיק כִּי טוֹב כִּי פְרִי מַעַלְלֵיהֶם יֹאכֵלוּ;אוֹי לְרָשָׁע רָע כִּי גְמוּל יָדָיו יֵעָשֶׂה לּוֹ,משלי יב:יד-מִפְּרִי פִי אִישׁ יִשְׂבַּע טוֹב וּגְמוּל יְדֵי אָדָם יָשִׁיב לו.וכן הוצאת הפרי בעצמו מכונה “גמילה”:במיז:כג– וְהִנֵּה פָּרַח מַטֵּה אַהֲרֹן לְבֵית לֵוִי וַיֹּצֵא פֶרַח וַיָּצֵץ צִיץ וַיִּגְמֹל שְׁקֵדִים.

17See also Rabbi S. R. Hirsch (Gen. 21:8) who explains that the root of גמלdenotes maturingor ripening, as a child weaned develops independence and self-sufficiency.




Vayechi: Hashem’s Escort — The Greatest Chesed ~ Tzvi Abrahams

Parshas וַיְחִי

Hashem’s Escort — The Greatest Chesed

לְוָיָה: funeral

לֵוִי: Levi

לִוְיָתָן: Livyasan

לֹוֶה\מַלְוֶה: loan

לְוָיָה: Funeral

וַיִּקְרְבוּ יְמֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לָמוּת וַיִּקְרָא לִבְנוֹ לְיוֹסֵף וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ אִם נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ שִׂים נָא יָדְךָ תַּחַת יְרֵכִי וְעָשִׂיתָ עִמָּדִי חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶתאַל נָא תִקְבְּרֵנִי בְּמִצְרָיִם

And the days of Yisrael (Yaakov) drew close to dying, and he called to his son, to Yosef, and he said to him: “If I have found favor in your eyes, place your hand under my thigh (i.e., swear to me) that you will do with me a true kindness — please do not bury me in Mitzrayim.”1

Rashi explains that חֶסֶד וְאֶמֶת/true kindness is the kindness one does with the dead. Sometimes when we do chesed, we expect the favor to be reciprocated (i.e., you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours). However, true chesedis when one doesn’t expect anything in return. Therefore, to bury the dead is indeed a חֶסֶד שֶׁל אֶמֶת, because the dead cannot pay us back.

The Gemara discusses the mitzvah of לְוָיָה. Levayah is not just a funeral, but a procession where one accompanies the meis/dead body to its final resting place. The Gemara stresses the importance of this mitzvah, to the point that anyone who sees a meisand does not escort him is like someone who scorns the poor and blasphemes Hashem.2Someone who only gives to others in order to get back is disdainful in the eyes of Hashem; he does not give to the poor because they can’t pay him back, and there is no one poorer then a meis. In addition, he blasphemes Hashem in that he does not recognize the real reason why Hashem created poverty: in order that one would have the opportunity to do a true act of kindness, חֶסֶד שֶׁל אֶמֶת, without expecting anything in return. It is a mitzvah לְשֵׁם שָׁמַים/for the sake of Heaven, the most sought after mitzvah, because it is giving in the purest of forms and in a way is the closest we can come to being like Hashem, Whose giving is the purest of them all. 

The Gemara continues with the reward to one who escorts the meis, quoting the pasukin Mishleithat says: מַלְוֵה ה’חוֹנֵן דָּל/Hashem lends to the one who is gracious to the poor.3In other words, Hashem will pay him back for all of his kindness, and not only that, but he is considered to be Hashem’s escort in the world, כְּאִלוּ מְלַוֶה את הַמָּקוֹם.So when we escort the dead, it’s as if we are escorting Hashem.

לֵוִי: Levi

Levi got his name from when Leah gave birth to him, her third child. She said: עַתָּה הַפַּעַם יִלָּוֶה אִישִׁי אֵלַי/now my husband with attach himself to me. This is because when she had two children she could juggle one in each hand, but once she had three, her husband would now have to help her.5

Targum Onkelostranslates levias חִיבּוּר/to connect to, to attach to.

אָמַר רֶבִּי יְהוּדָה לָמָה נִקְרָאוּ הַשָׂרִים שֶׁל מַטָה לְוִיִם,עַל שֶׁנְלַוִים וּמִתְחַבְּרִים לְמַעַלָה כְּאֶחָד,שֶׁהַשׁוֹמֵעַ אֶת הַשִׁירָה וּנִדְבַּק נַפְשׁוֹ לְמַעַלָה בְּה’.
Rabi Yehudah says, “Why were the ministers below called Levi’im? Through their accompaniment, they were able to connect the upper world and make it one, because the one who heard their song would attach his soul to Hashem above.”6

The aspect of musical accompaniment in giving shir/song to Hashem through songs of praise and thanksgiving has the potential to raise us up to a level where we can connect to Hashem by disconnecting from everything else and just being in Hashem’s company. There is a special shul in Ramat Beit Shemesh called Kehilas Bnei HaYeshivos, where during the Shabbos morning kedushahI have felt this amazing connection to Hashem, like being raised to the Heavenly realm singing along with the angels. Such was the power of being connected together as one through the aspect of musical accompaniment.

By being in the company of another, two become connected. This is what Leah meant when she said: עַתָּה הַפַּעַם יִלָּוֶה אִישִׁי אֵלַי/now my husband will attach himself to me. In order to be connected, one has to be in another’s company.

Levi was also called so because of his future role within the Jewish People. When it came to the crunch, when Moshe said מִי לַה‘אֵלָי/who is for Hashem,7Levi was the only tribe to come forward and stand by Hashem. They were the ones who accompanied Hashem when it mattered the most. As a reward, they became Hashem’s escort; they were given the special task of carrying the Mishkan from place to place and were also given a דּוּכָן/platform in the Beis HaMikdash to accompany Hashem with musical accompaniment.One could say, therefore, that the לְוִיִםwere the ones to מְלַוֶה את הַמָּקוֹם/escort Hashem.

לִוְיָתָן: Livyasan

Hashem created a male and female Livyasan. Due to their prolific strength, and due to the threat that if they were to procreate they would take over the world, Hashem killed off the female and salted her meat to be preserved for the tzaddikimin the World to Come. The Gemara says that Hashem plays with the Livyasan every day.8Since Hashem took away his companion, Hashem keeps him company. Hence the name לִוְיָתָןin that Hashem accompanies him.

לֹוֶה\מַלְוֶה: Loan

Levi was the only tribe that had no nachalah, no inheritance in the land; Hashem was their chelek/their portion. In ParshasRe’eh, Hashem warns us to be extremely careful not to neglect our duties of helping the poor, the orphan, the widow, the convert, and the Levi. We are commanded to open our hands to them and מַלְוֶהthem, meaning not only to lend them money but to escort them through life, to be there for them. As we see above, Rashi’s definition ofחֶסֶד וְאֶמֶת/true kindness is the kindness one does with the dead, where true chesedis when one doesn’t expect anything in return. Therefore, everyone has the opportunity to do חֶסֶד שֶׁל אֶמֶת, like burying the dead and being part of the levayah.More than we do for the poor man, the poor man does for us, because through our giving to him we merit Hashem’s reward.9

By lending and doing acts of chesed, we are connecting to Hashem; we are creating a circuit for Hashem’schesedto flow through. Taking, on the other hand, breaks the connection. By lending to the needy we are in effect lending to Hashem, because it is Hashem who promises to pay us back, middah k’neged middah. What goes around comes around; there is a circuit, a connection, where Hashem gives us back so that we can continue to give.

On the other hand, it is said וְעֶבֶד לוֶֹה לְאִישׁ מַלְוֶה/the borrower is a slave to the lender,10meaning that one who borrows from someone becomes indebted to him. So too we, whose lives are on loan from Hashem,11are born to be Hashem’s servants. This means that wherever Hashem goes, we go — that we are constantly making ourselves available to serve Hashem, putting ourselves out for Hashem, and attaching ourselves to Hashem. We do this through the aspect of לְוָיָה/accompaniment. By standing by Hashem, we become Hashem’s Levi, Hashem’s escort, Hashem’s helper, and we accomplish this by extending our hands to the needy, escorting the meis, and doing חֶסֶד שֶׁל אֶמֶת. In this way, we can be said to be walking arm-in-arm with Hashem, where in a true sense we are מְלַוֶה את הַמָּקוֹם/escorting Hashem.

1Bereishis 47:29.

2Brachos18a.

3Mishlei 19:17.

4See Rashi to Brachos 18a.

5Toldos Yitzchakto Bereishis 47:29. 

6ZoharShemos 333.

7Shemos 32:26.

8Bava Basra74b.

9Kli YakartoShemos22:24.

10Mishlei 22:7.

11See below, שאלה,Parshas Korach.

 




Vayechi: Say Your Prayers ~ Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein

images.png

Upon his deathbed, Yaakov bequeaths to his favorite son Joseph the city of Shechem “which I took from the Amorites with my sword and my bow” (Gen. 48:22). As we know, Yaakov was not a swordsman nor was he an archer, his power was in his voice (see Gen. 27:22). As a result, tradition (Bava Batra 123a) offers a non-literal rendering of this passage by explaining that “my sword” refers to tefillah (prayer) and “my bow” refers to bakashah (request). Similarly, Targum Onkelos translates Yaakov’s words into Aramaic as “…with my prayer (tzaloti) and my request (bauti).” The juxtaposition of these two words suggests that they do not mean the exact same thing, so what then is the difference between tefillah and bakashah? Moreover, what do these two words for prayer have to do with swords and arrows?

Rabbi Simcha Maimon (a prominent Rosh Yeshiva in Jerusalem) offers two approaches to explaining the difference between tefillah and bakashah. Firstly, he explains that tefillah refers specifically to the “flattering” aspect of prayer in which one praises G-d, while bakashah refers to the “wishful” aspect of prayer in which one asks for his needs from G-d. Secondly, he explains that tefillah denotes formal, institutionalized prayer with set formulae and halachot, while bakashah refers to an ad hoc expression of prayer and request from G-d.

Following his second approach, Rabbi Maimon explains the analogy drawn between these two types of prayer and the two weapons mentioned in the Bible. The link between requests (bakashot) and bows (kashot) may simply be homiletical as the two words are spelled and pronounced very similarly. Nonetheless, Rabbi Maimon explains how the two are related on a conceptual level. A bakashah is not inherently a powerful form of prayer because it lacks the formality of tefillah, just as an archer’s projectile need not be as sharp as a sword. Nonetheless, the efficacy of an arrow is not in the arrow itself, but in the kinetic energy from its release, just as the efficacy of a bakashah is not inherent in the words of the prayer, but in the supplicant’s feeling of urgency. By contrast, a tefillah is akin to a sword in that the words of tefillah have inherent power just as a sword itself is very sharp, making it inherently dangerous.

Rabbi Shmuel Laniado (a 16th century Syrian scholar) offers a similar observation in connecting bakashot to bows and arrows. The advantage of using a bow and arrow in battle is that the archer does not need to approach his enemy in order to hit him, he can keep a distance from his enemy, yet still manage to wound him. Similarly, bakashot reflect the idea that one standing in This World can experience a dire situation, yet without leaving his physical location, his prayer can penetrate the upper realms and reach the Heavens.

Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg offers another insight into the meaning of the word tefillah and contrasts it with a third term for prayer, techina/tachanun, commonly translated as supplication. He argues that the word tefillah is derived from the word plilah (arbitration/judgement, although in Modern Hebrew it means “criminal”), as the petitioner’s plea demands from G-d that He address a perceived injustice. On the other hand, techina/tachanun denotes a form of prayer whereby the supplicant appeals to G-d as one who admits that he is not worthy of that which he requests, but nonetheless beseeches G-d to graciously grant him his needs. This word is derived from the Hebrew word chen (favor) as the supplicant hopes to find “favor” in G-d’s eyes, even as he is undeserving of having his request filled.