These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Hebron: Blessing the Bad

Posted on October 23, 2013 by Ben Schneider

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645084a0b4b360e6846e2ae3e255b907It was difficult to go to pray this morning after visiting Hebron yesterday. I’ll write more later about our meeting with the spokesman of the Hebron Jewish community, but suffice to say that I questioned him enough to wonder how we are part of the same people and praying to the same God for assistance.

The Mishna teaches:

.חיב אדם לברך על הרעה כשם שהוא מברך על הטובה

One is obligated to bless the bad just as one blesses the good. (Berakhot 9:5)

This idea is derived from the verse we say each morning:

וְאָהַבְתָּ, אֵת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁךָ, וּבְכָל-מְאֹדֶךָ

(Deuteronomy 6:5)

What else does it mean to love God with all your heart and soul, than to bless both the good and the bad?

If we had any doubts about this theology, Isaiah makes it clear:

יוֹצֵר אוֹר וּבוֹרֵא חֹשֶׁךְ, עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם וּבוֹרֵא רָע; אֲנִי יְהוָה, עֹשֶׂה כָל-אֵלֶּה

I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I am the LORD, who does all these things. (Isaiah 45:7)

God is the creator of everything, not just the good and not just the bad, and true faith requires relying on God in times of sorrow as well as times of joy. This verse also appears in Shacharit, albeit in a modified form. The rabbis recognized that people would find it impossible to make the statement “thank you for the bad” every day with proper intention, and so changed the wording. It now appears in the siddur:

“Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the Universe, who forms light and creates darkness, makes peace and creates all.”

The Gemara still takes issue with the instruction in the Mishna to bless the bad, and comes to the conclusion that we’re expected, perhaps even required, to acknowledge the unpleasant feelings that come from experiencing the רע as we bless it.

On a “people-hood” level, we can’t agree on what’s רע and what’s טוב in Hebron. But we all have this instruction to bless them both, and I guess that’s how we can all pray to the same God.