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Parshat Chayei Sara – True Grattitude


Genesis 23:1-25:18

The expression, “baruch Hashem!” (meaning, “thank G-d”, or “praised be G-d”), is probably the most commonly-used phrase in the cultural sphere of Orthodox Jewry. It is a catch-all expression that is used to answer questions like, “how are you?”, or to indicate gratitude when things have gone well, or joy upon hearing good news, or even acceptance of a difficult situation whose meaning escapes comprehension. Of course, many human beings around the world also say, “thank G-d”, “praise G-d” in their respective languages. However, “baruch Hashem”, for the most part, is in-house lingo amongst Torah-observant Jews.

It may seem ironic, therefore, that the phrase, “Baruch Hashem”, which occurs only twice in all of Scripture, was articulated in both instances by non-Jews–the first time, by Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, and the second time, by Jethro, prior to his conversion. We must remember, though, that, given the chronology, there didn’t yet exist a distinction between Jews and non-Jews; both utterances of, “baruch Hashem” were made by the only type of human beings in the world at that time: Bnei Noah.

In this week’s Torah portion, Eliezer is entrusted by Abraham with the mission of finding a wife for Isaac—but only from a member of his family in the land of Aram Naharayim. He makes the journey from Canaan, with an entourage, ten camels, a writ of inheritance and jewelry for the prospective bride. Upon his arrival at a well, who should appear but Rebecca, whose kindness and generosity epitomizes the type of woman worthy of entering the family of Abraham? Eliezer, who had stipulated with G-d exactly how he needed the interaction to go in order to determine if the girl was the right one, saw everything play out according to his specifications. Because he was so sure that Rebecca was indeed Isaac’s intended, he gave this beautiful and virtuous young lady the jewelry. When he discovered that not only did Rebecca possess these wonderful qualities, but was also the granddaughter of Nachor, Abraham’s brother, he prostrated himself before G-d and exclaimed joyously,

וַיֹּ֗אמֶר בָּר֤וּךְ יְהֹוָה֙ אֱלֹהֵי֙ אֲדֹנִ֣י אַבְרָהָ֔ם אֲ֠שֶׁ֠ר לֹֽא־עָזַ֥ב חַסְדּ֛וֹ וַאֲמִתּ֖וֹ מֵעִ֣ם אֲדֹנִ֑י אָנֹכִ֗י בַּדֶּ֙רֶךְ֙ נָחַ֣נִי יְהֹוָ֔ה בֵּ֖ית אֲחֵ֥י אֲדֹנִֽי׃

[and he said,] Blessed is the Lord, G-d of my master Abraham, Who has not withdrawn His Kindness and His Truth from my master. I was on the path and the Lord has placed me in the house of my master’s brother (Genesis 24:27).

Mission accomplished!

There are so many things to learn from the actions of Eliezer. The first is his pure faith in G-d. The second is that to show gratitude towards G-d is an intuitive outcome of faith, as is stated in the Midrash regarding his prostration, “from [Eliezer’s example], we learn that one must express thanks to G-d upon receiving good news” (Bereshit Rabba 60:6). The third is his deeply felt joy at the realization of God’s kindness towards Abraham.

This final point is most unique. To be happy for one’s own good fortune is expected; to feel and express thanks to G-d demonstrates a significant level of spiritual development. But to be delighted and grateful for the success, prosperity and blessings experienced by another person is an unbelievable level of selflessness. When we can do that, we are truly facing G-d, Who is the source of all good, for both you and me.

The first of the Seven Mitzvot expounded in the Talmud is the prohibition of blasphemy; it is forbidden to utter a curse intended for G-d. In fact, the Sages go as far as to refer to this prohibition as birkat Hashem, “blessing G-d”, i.e., as a euphemism, to prevent the word “curse” and the Name of G-d from even occurring together in the same phrase. On a deeper level, perhaps we see not only a euphemism in the Sages’ reference to blasphemy as birkat Hashem, but a hint at what we are supposed to do instead.

Like five other mitzvot B’nei Noach, blasphemy, or birkat Hashem, is a prohibition, stated in negative terms, a “don’t”. But “don’ts” create a challenge. We may know what not to do, what to refrain from, but we still need direction as to how a full, spiritual life with G-d and His mitzvot is supposed to be lived. The lived experience of a Ben Noach cannot simply be, “set up a court, and don’t do these six things—now go have a sandwich”.

How are we to proceed?

In order to answer this question, let’s consider a verse from Psalms:

נֶאֱלַ֣מְתִּי ד֭וּמִיָּה הֶחֱשֵׁ֣יתִי מִטּ֑וֹב וּכְאֵבִ֥י נֶעְכָּֽר׃

I was mute, silent; I was very still, while my pain was intense.

(Psalms 39:3)

In the Torah portion of Metzora, we are introduced to the affliction of tza’arat, a singular type of condition which manifests as skin blemishes, but which is a spiritual result of speaking negatively about others. From the Torah text, we simply learn that what we should not speak lashon hara. But the Zohar adds another layer. Not only is there a price to pay for saying what we should not, there are also consequences for not using our faculty of speech for good, and the Zohar cites our verse from Psalms as a prooftext. Pain, because of silence. Refraining from saying good things, where our speech adds value to the world, to the relationships between people, to the spiritual quality of human experience, creates pain. (Zohar, Vayikra 46b).

It’s like peace. It has to be created proactively; the absence of conflict is not sufficient.

So, let’s talk it up!

We understand that blasphemy is forbidden; but through Eliezer’s example, we discover that we have incredible opportunities to bless G-d, to speak about His Kindnesses, to enumerate the good that we encounter each and every day. It’s hard to imagine how bitter, hurt or angry a person must be to be able to curse his Creator, to be completely unable to see the good, and to be empty of gratitude. However, when a person can thank G-d for the good, he not only feels happy for his own life, he can even celebrate other peoples’ blessings, their achievements, and their good fortune. Their joy becomes his joy.

G-d’s compassionate kindness surrounds us. It might be the beauty of the natural world, a breathtaking sunset or a glance around the dinner table at the people we love; it’s right in front of us. May we be graced with the ability to recognize the blessings in our lives and in the world, to feel the sweetness of gratitude, and to articulate our thanks to G-d.

By Rabbi Tani Burton<br>

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