Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Baruch Hashem for Yisro!
"Hey Mendel - how's it going?"
"Baruch Hashem (blessed is G-d)."
"That's good to hear."
"What do you mean, 'that's good to hear?' My back's killing
me, my sciatica's acting up, my roof is leaking, and my
mechanic just told me my car's kaput! And you tell me
that's good to hear?"
"Gosh, I'm sorry. It's just that... well, when I asked you how
you were, you said, 'Baruch Hashem,' so I thought
everything was ok, that's all."
"Oh - I see. I'm sorry for getting upset. Baruch Hashem we
worked that out."
"Yeah - baruch Hashem."
Baruch Hashem, one is hard pressed to be around a ben Torah (an
observant Jew) for more than a few moments without hearing the
words baruch Hashem leave his lips. Yisro too uses this expression
after hearing from his son-in-law, Moshe, "About everything Hashem
had done to Pharaoh and to Egypt... And Yisro said, 'Baruch
Hashem! Who has saved you from Egypt and from Pharaoh.' (18:8-
10)" It is noteworthy that our Sages are outspokenly critical of both
Moshe and the rest of our nation for not having said baruch Hashem!
It was taught in the name of R' Papayus: It was a
disgrace for Moshe and the 600,000 [Jews that left
Egypt] that they did not say "baruch Hashem," until Yisro
came and said "baruch Hashem."
"Va-yichad Yisro (18:9)." [What is the meaning of the
unusual word "va-yichad?"] Rav says: It means he
circumcised himself. Shmuel says: It means that his flesh
became full of goosebumps (he got the shivers after
hearing what Hashem had done to Egypt). As people
say: For ten generations [after his conversion], one
should never disdain a gentile in front of a convert.
There are a couple difficulties with this Gemara. Firstly: Although it
is true in a technical sense that the Moshe and the Jews never
actually said "baruch Hashem" after leaving Egypt, they did sing the
most beautiful shira at the Red Sea, thanking Hashem for the
miracles and salvation they had experienced. What was it, then, that
Also: What is the connection between Yisro's saying "baruch Hashem"
and the ensuing discussion of Rav and Shmuel as to the meaning of
One is obligated to bless Hashem regarding the bad just
as one does regarding the good. [Mishna, Berachos 9:5]
It is significant that Chazal do not obligate us to thank Hashem for
bad just as one thanks for good. To thank in Hebrew is le-hodos. To
bless is le-vareich. To thank Hashem for something one is not really
thankful for would be both dishonest and facetious.
It is a common misconception that to bless Hashem is just another
form of thanks. In fact, when we say, "baruch Hashem," as we do at
the beginning of every beracha we make, we are not thanking
Hashem, but rather recognizing and acknowledging that Hashem is
the origin of all sustenance: Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King
of the Universe... - You are the source from which all sustenance
By blessing Hashem for the good and for the bad, we acknowledge
that Hashem is the source of everything. Ultimately, we realize that
even what we perceive as bad also comes from Hashem, and thus
must, in the grander scheme of things, be for our good, even if it's
sometimes difficult to see how. As the famous expression goes, "Gam
zu le-tova/Even this is for the better." Still, because it feels bad for us,
it is not possible to obligate one to thank Hashem for it. By blessing
Hashem "even when it hurts," we affirm that our belief in Hashem is
stronger than our feelings, emotions and perceptions.
Yisro, according to Shmuel in the above Gemara, found listening to
Moshe's description of the destruction of Egypt painful and
distressing. This country had once been his home. Although he had
by all means distanced himself from their evil and corrupt ways, in his
heart he had hoped that they would succumb to Moshe's request for
freedom, thereby recognizing Hashem and saving themselves. That
things hadn't worked out that way, and that thousands upon
thousands of people who had once been his friends had perished as
a result, was a bitter pill to swallow. "Baruch Hashem - Blessed is
Hashem," were the only words he could find that could both allow
room for his pain, yet at the same time recognize that this too was
While the Jewish nation did express their gratitude and thanks to
Hashem in their Song of the Sea, says R' Papayus, they never said
"Baruch Hashem." Their song focused strictly on the salvation and
miracles of Hashem. But, to their disgrace (R' Papayus' words, not
mine), we never find them blessing Hashem for everything they went
through - not only for the salvation, but for the slavery and
subjugation as well. They failed to recognize, at least verbally, that
Hashem is not simply the "Superhero" who swoops down at the last
minute to save the oppressed from the hands of their oppressors;
Hashem is also the One who put them there in the first place.
Perhaps this is why the ensuing Gemara goes on to discuss the
opinion of Shmuel, that "va-yichad Yisro" refers to the goosebumps
on Yisro's skin as he painfully listened to Moshe's description of the
demolition of his former homeland. It is to explain to us in what way
the "Baruch Hashem" of Yisro was so different and original.
So the next time you ask someone who's got a bad case of the
sniffles how things are going, and he gives you a hearty "Baruch
Hashem," understand that he's not being coy. Sometimes things just
don't go the way we'd like - baruch Hashem for that!
Have a good Shabbos.
This week's publication was sponsored by R' and
Mrs. Pesach Kessler, in honour of the wedding of their son,
Refael Shimon, to Chaya Esti Heimfeld, daughter of R' and
Mrs. Yosef Heimfeld. May they see much nachas from all
of their children!
Text Copyright © 2002 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.