Judaism: Past and Future, Blessings
Rabbi Dr Raymond AppleRabbi Dr Raymond Apple AO RFD is Emeritus Rabbi of the Great Synagogue, Sydney. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem, where he publishes OzTorah, a weekly email list and website with Torah insights from an Australian perspective.
A recurrent theme of the fifth Book of the Torah is the duty to remember. The events and encounters of the past made us what we are; to erase them is to wipe out part of our being.
If the past reminds us of good things, let’s be happy and say, “How can I make sure that good things take place in the future too?” If the past is full of woe, let’s be canny and say, “How can I make sure that tomorrow is better than yesterday?”
In seeking the balance between past and future, let’s recall an old Jewish story about a man from a village who came to the big city and found that everyone was staring at him. He was certain it was because he was wearing a shabby old suit, so he went to the tailor and bought a smart new set of clothes. But people still stared, so he went back to the tailor and complained.
The tailor said, “There’s nothing wrong with your new suit, but the problem is that you’re wearing it on top of the old one. No wonder people think you look strange!”
The tailor was right. The old suit had its uses, but the new one would define the future.
According to Rabbi Meir, what does God require of us? To say a hundred b’rachot every day. Calculate the number of times we say Baruch Attah HaShem every day and you find that you get to a respectable total, close to if not actually one hundred though it is more likely that we will end up exceeding the hundred.
Shabbat is harder because on that day the Amidah – recited three times on weekdays and four times on Shabbat – has only seven blessings and not the regular 19, so we need to build up the total when we eat. To make this possible some communities have a custom of eating a succession of small entrees before making Motzi and eating the main course, in order to allow the opportunity of adding to our tally of b’rachot.
In a spiritual sense, however, Rabbi Meir is telling us something more: that every moment of every day – even those that seem unpleasant and trying – adds to our faith experiences. In every achievement we see the hand of God; in every trial and failure we see a challenge to overcome, a goal to re-affirm, an aspiration to reinforce.
We can add an additional thought – that every day a person should say, “Today I am going to try and make myself into more of a blessing to other people than I was yesterday”.