Broadened blessings

When Hashem does you a favor and you feel His presence and providence, you need to immediately let that praise and blessing burst forth spontaneously.

Rabbanit Shira Smiles

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When Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, arrives at the camp of Bnei Yisroel with the rest of Moshe’s family, Moshe goes out to greet him and tells him all the wondrous Hashem did for Bnei Yisroel and the terrible things to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. In gratitude, joy, awe, and even grief at the death of the Egyptians, Yitro’s skin was covered in goose bumps. But the words that came out of Yitro’s mouth, “Boruch Hashem,” were so extraordinary that they have become part of the Jewish vernacular and speech pattern. As the Gemarrah notes, no one had ever used that precise phrase before. Could it possibly mean that no one had ever thanked Hashem before for all the chessed He did for us?

Obviously, Bnei Yisroel had thanked Hashem. Wasn’t Az Yashir, the song Bnei Yisroel sang after crossing the sea and seeing their pursuing Egyptians drown their expression of gratitude and a blessing even without using that particular phrase? However, Oznayim LaTorah considers it detrimental that Bnei Yisroel didn’t use the particular term of blessing as part of their song of gratitude.

The question that the Ohr Doniel then asks is obvious: What is so unique about the expression Boruch Hashem – May the name of Hashem be blessed? In fact, if you experience a miracle (or childbirth) and you respond with Amen at someone else’s Boruch Hashem, notes Shnayim Mikra, you have fulfilled the obligation of thanking Hashem. While the Song of the Sea was Hallel, an expression of praise of Hashem, gratitude was not expressed, and that obligation was therefore not fulfilled until Bnei Yisroel answered Amen to Yitro’s exclamation.

Rabbi Igbui in Chochmat Hamatzpun quoting the Ohr Yahel, offers that there is a difference between shira, song, and beracha, blessing. While each has the power to elevate an individual, by saying Boruch Hashem one can reach a higher level than with song alone. The difference is clarified by Rabbi Yaakov Hillel who interprets Ramchal’s Mesillat Yeshorim in Ascending the Path. He presents the analogy of two people doing the same favor. Both have accomplished something good, but one does it with a smile while the other does not. That extra smile, that “boruch”, earns the doer extra rewards in the hereafter. It is precisely these extra expressions that create the more beautiful “canopies” under which the righteous will sit in the hereafter, and it is the lack of these expressions that will create the searing pain and future regrets of “could’ve, would’ve, should’ve” that comprise our personal gehinnom.

There are three aspects to beracha, explains Rabbi Dovid Hofstedter in Drash Dovid. Obviously, there is praise, but there is also recognition that Hashem is the source of all good. Finally, it is the ability to thank Hashem for every situation, including the challenges. So what did Yitro add? Rabbi Yisroel Druck quotes his father in Aish Tamid and says that Bnei Yisroel sang praises to Hashem for the good He had done for them. When Yitro said boruch Hashem, he was acknowledging the good Hashem did for others, when he himself was not a recipient of that benevolence. What Yitro added was the ability to move beyond self and bless Hashem for the good He shows others.

It is this ability to appreciate the joy of others that explains why it is a mitzvah to bring joy to a bride and groom and it merits one to be the recipient of five blessings, writes Lachazot Benoam Hashem, citing the Gemarrah.  This is ahavat chinom, cost free love that counteracts the sinat chinom, the baseless animosity that was the catalyst for the destruction of the Beit Hamikdosh. Rabbi Frand offers a similar idea from the opposite perspective in It’s Never too Little, It’s Never too Late, It’s Never Enough. He writes that one celebrating a personal simcha has the ability to take the blessing Hashem is now bestowing upon him, whether at his/her wedding, or at the birth of a new child or grandchild, and broaden that blessing by extending it to others and blessing others. There is tremendous power in blessings that come from a full heart.

Rabbi Druck expands on the power we have to bring Hashem’s blessings down to earth and to others. Why does the Torah command us to bless Hashem after eating (recite Grace after Meals)? The Gemarrah explains that anyone who neglects to bless Hashem after eating it is as if he has committed theft. While the simple understanding may be that everything belongs to Hashem and when we refuse to acknowledge that fact we are stealing from Him, Rabbi Druck offers a more profound explanation. Berachah, the Hebrew word for blessing, is derived from beraycha, a pool full of bounty. When we are satiated and happy, we have the ability to draw from that pool belonging to Hashem and bestow it on others.

Hashem commanded us to “bless” after eating so that the plugs on the pool of plenty would open and blessings could flow out to others. If we fail to bless at this point, we are robbing others of the ability to receive the outflow of blessings Hashem wishes to give. What Yitro taught Moshe was that he had the ability to add the energy of expansion, to create a ripple effect in the flow of blessings. Shira, song and praise, goes up, but beracha, blessing, goes up and comes back down.

After the splitting of the sea, all of Bnei Yisroel sang a song of praise to Hakodosh Boruch Hu for the great miracles He had performed for them as a nation. What they failed to do, writes Rabbi Yosef Salant, the Be’er Yosef, was to thank Hashem as individuals for all the good He did for them on an individual, personal level. If we forget to say thank you to someone or to an individual who has done us some service or from whom we have derived some benefit, we are indeed worthy of criticism. Further, if we can give benefit to someone else, especially if it costs us nothing, we must do so. Just as a tree gives its shade to everyone near it, so should we offer a smile to everyone near us and train ourselves to say thank you to Hashem as well as to others writes Rabbi Wallerstein. Acknowledging the good we receive from every benefactor and saying thank you not just to God but to human beings is the will of Hashem, writes Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz.

There is an additional aspect of praise and blessings one must recognize. There are times when we may face challenges, when things appear difficult, but during these times one must strive to find the silver lining, writes Letitcha Elyon, and bless Hashem for those bright spots in the darkness. Further, we tend to thank Hashem for a general good when the truth is we must thank Hashem for each aspect, for every drop of the rain that falls, not just for the rainfall.

When Hashem does you a favor and you feel His presence and providence, you need to immediately let that praise and blessing burst forth spontaneously, writes Rabbi Ezrachi in Birkat Mordechai. However, it is not enough to mouth the words and then forget about it. That feeling of gratitude must be internalized so that it becomes part of our essence. Why do we hear nothing of Yitro after this parsha in the Torah? Perhaps because although he taught us so many concepts with that spontaneous “Boruch Hashem”, he never internalized the emotion and let it dissipate. This is the challenge facing each of us writes Rabbi Yehudah Casbah.

The Ksav Sofer notes that it pained Yitro to hear about the death of the Egyptians. After all, according to the Medrash, Yitro had lived in Egypt and been an advisor to Pharaoh himself for many years. Nevertheless, from within that pain he was still able to praise Hashem and recognize the good that came from it. So must we also search for the good in every circumstance, writes Rabbi Rosenblatt in Finding Light in the Darkness, and learn to say gam zu letova - this too is for the good.

Boruch Hashem, thank You Hashem, for the roses and the thorns, for my personal blessings and those You give to our people as a whole. Thank You for giving me the opportunity and the power to bless others, and thank You for the ability to rejoice in the blessings of others and for allowing me to be a conduit of blessings to others.

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