Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Blessing Over Bad

Based on my YU Honors Essay

The Blessing Over Bad

Monotheism, Providence and the End of Days

When the people of the bronze age looked at their world, they saw a great variety of natural phenomena. There was fire and water, wind and clouds. The sun was dominant by day and the moon at night. The world appeared to be under the control of many different forces, so mankind worshiped many different deities. But one man delved deeper. He searched beyond all of nature's apparent discordance and realized there was an underlying unity. The sun and the moon, the wind and the clouds, were all part of a greater whole, there was one Source to it all. The man was Abraham, the father of Judaism, and he had discovered God.1

The primary teaching of Judaism is that everything, whether sunshine or rain, whether good or bad, comes from one God. When we hear good news, we make sure to bless Him in gratitude and recognition for the good He has shown us. It is equally important to acknowledge God when we hear bad news. The polytheist or heretic may attribute his misfortune to another god or to randomness, but we believe everything that happens comes from one Source. When we bless God over bad news, we affirm this fundamental belief.

The blessing also has a deeper meaning. The way we react to events helps determine their effects. When misfortune happens, it may seem like it can only cause harm. However, if we consider it as a Divine wakeup call, it helps cause repentance. If we realize the bad has come because of our sins, it can serve as atonement for those sins.2 Even if we cannot understand why the bad is happening to us, by recognizing that God is the source, we come closer to Him. By blessing God on our misfortunes, we express the faith that transforms bad into good.

If instead, we considers the bad that befalls us as chance, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. "If you go with me randomly I will go with you with the wrath of randomness" When the Jews do not recognize the message, God withdraws His protection and shows them what happens when they are actually left to random forces.

The polytheists of ancient times thought the world was the product of many powers, but modern science has proven them wrong. The many apparent forces of nature, from sunshine to wind, all follow the same physical laws, hinting to one Creator. Similarly, we have faith that the many events of history, from exile to redemption, all follow the same plan, guided by one God. We may not understand our misfortunes now, but the days will come when we will.

Abraham recognized the unity in nature thousands of years ago. By having faith and blessing God for everything that befalls us, we are are following in our forefather's footsteps. We are traveling on the path that will lead to the ultimate recognition of God by all of humanity, when all will understand the great unity of both nature and history. In the words of our sages3:

"...On that day will the Lord be One and His Name One" - Is the Lord not One now? ...This world is not like the Next World. In this world we say the blessing, "The Good and Beneficent" on good news and "The True Judge" on bad news. But in the Next World, we will say "The Good and Beneficent" on everything.

1See Bereishis Rabah 35, 39

2Its a basic Jewish idea that suffering atones for sins, but how does that work? I think it is more than just some sort of point system! The onesh one suffers in the next world is the intense shame he will feel for having sinned. But if he considers his suffering here as serving that purpose, then it does. It also helps him repent and come closer to God.

3Talmud Bavli Pesachim 50a

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