May 26, 2024
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Appreciating the Good and the ‘Bad’

In our last pieces, we learned that the occurrences that affect our lives are “min haShamayim (from heaven).” This week, we will explain how this realization should impact both our view of reality as well as our reaction to it.

 

Thanking for the Good

Recognizing that the good in our lives comes from Hashem should make us more appreciative of and thankful to Him. We are alive, we have our health, and we have food, clothing and so much more. We often take all this for granted or attribute our success to our efforts. We are taught in sefer Devarim (8:10) to thank Hashem after we eat—not just for the food, but for the land that produced it as well.

The appreciation of these gifts is also behind the mitzvah of bikkurim. Centuries after being brought into the land of Israel, Jews are still commanded to bring their first fruits to the Beit Hamikdash. In addition to offering the fruits, we are required to verbalize our appreciation to Hashem for bringing us to the land and for providing us with the fruit (Devarim 26). Only one who verbalizes appreciation truly appreciates (see Alei Shur (2:279), who derives this from Rashi to Devarim 26:3).

Following the lead of these mitzvot, Chazal instituted brachot that recognize and thank Hashem for each good experience. We recite these brachot before and after eating, before smelling spices, when it rains, when we experience a timely happy event, for happy occasions and even when merely hearing good news.

Hoda’ah (thanks) is also a fundamental part of the cycle of our day. The first words we speak upon awakening—Modeh Ani—express our appreciation to Hashem for returning our souls to us. After praising and petitioning Hashem throughout our tefillot, we conclude Shemoneh Esrei with three brachot of thanks.

The Chafetz Chaim explained that it took him a long time to complete his Shemoneh Esrei because of the time he spent reciting the Modim bracha. (He was shocked that others could say the bracha so quickly.) This is because Modim thanks Hashem not just for sustaining our lives, but also for “the miracles, wonders, and favors He does for us every day, all the time, evening, morning and afternoon (!).” We should realize just how much Hashem does to assist us behind the scenes.

Of course, all this thanks hinges upon our recognition that blessings emanate from Hashem. Reciting these brachot reinforces this recognition. In addition to thanking Hashem, our brachot also remind us of His role in our lives.

The Akeidat Yitzchak (to Devarim, Shaar 74) sees this as the goal of Birkat Kohanim. Hashem’s blessings do not depend upon the Kohanim’s brachot; they hinge on our identification with these brachot and their attribution of our success to Hashem’s assistance. This—explains the Akeidat Yitzchak—is why each of the Kohanim’s three brachot repeat Hashem’s name—to emphasize that all brachot emanate from Him.

This is also how the Akeidas Yitzchak explains the meaning of the words we use to begin each bracha—“Baruch ata Hashem … ” What do these three words mean? Older English translations use the expression, “Blessed art Thou;” more contemporary ones use “Blessed are You.”

However, these translations do not reflect the true meaning of “Baruch ata Hashem.” Rabbeinu Bachya and the Akeidas Yitzchak (and many other early commentaries) write that the expression, “baruch” comes from the Hebrew word, “bereicha” (meaning a pool or reservoir of water). “Baruch ata Hashem” means “Ribbono shel Olam—You are the source of all blessing.” (“The Blessings Are Not for Free,” Rav Yissocher Frand)

It is important for us to appreciate Hashem in our lives. Doing so is not just a mitzvah; it is also good and healthy for us—“tov lehodot laHashem,” (Tehillim 92:2).

 

… And the ‘Bad’

The “bad” things in our lives—like pain and suffering—also come from Hashem. Many have a hard time attributing things they see as bad to Hashem, who is good. To solve this problem, ancient religions and philosophies believed in shtei reshuyot (two powers) and Christians believe in Satan (Brachot 33b). Judaism has always strongly rejected this notion. We believe in “Hashem Echad.” Everything—both the good and the “bad”—emanates from Hashem (see Megillat Eicha 3:38).

Realizing that the bad comes from Hashem should impact our response to it. Those who attribute their suffering to bad luck or natural causes respond by cursing their luck or looking for natural solutions. Our identification of Hashem as the source should focus us on determining His intentions.

Parshat Bechukotai (Vayikra 26:18) lists the curses that Hashem brings upon the Jewish people in response to their sins. The parsha tells how Hashem hopes that this suffering should inspire the Jewish people to soul-search and change their ways. If they do not, Hashem increases the suffering.

We should consider the message behind even small inconveniences. The Gemara (Arachin 16b) includes (even) pulling the wrong coins out of one’s pocket as an example of heavenly-decreed yisurin (suffering). This Gemara teaches to look for the message behind any and all of our suffering. By “getting the message,” we avoid the need for Hashem to “raise the volume.”

The Rambam (Hilchot Taanit, 1:3) connects the pasuk which Bechukotai uses to describe the Jewish people’s lack of meaningful response to their suffering—“v’halachtem imi b’keri” (Vayikra 26:27)—to the word “mikreh (chance).” If people avoid the call to reflect by attributing their suffering to chance, Hashem is forced to intensify the suffering until people get the message.

Understandably, sefer Devarim presents teshuvah as the proper response to suffering (Devarim 4:30, 30:1-2). Chazal (Brachot 5a) encouraged a similar response—one experiencing suffering should be mefashfesh b’maasav. He should search through his actions to identify what he is doing wrong and needs to correct.

 

Success and Suffering

Rabbeinu Bachya (to Vayikra 26:21) summarizes the two ideas we have seen by explaining that, “when we are successful, we should show appreciation to Hashem; when we suffer, we should recognize that it is not by chance, it is linked to our sin and we should reflect and aim to improve.”

May we always remember that our experiences emanate from Hashem. May this recognition inspire us to thank Him for His blessings and reflect in response to suffering.

*Written by Rafi Davis


Rav Reuven Taragin is the dean of overseas students at Yeshivat Hakotel and the educational director of World Mizrachi.

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