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Blessings and Ethics: The Spiritual Life of Justice, a dvar tefillah on berakhot by Rabbi Dr. Joshua Gutoff (1997)

https://opensiddur.org/?p=49203 Blessings and Ethics: The Spiritual Life of Justice, a dvar tefillah on berakhot by Rabbi Dr. Joshua Gutoff (1997) 2023-03-16 18:13:12 An article looking at the questions of why there aren't brakhot for ethical mitsvot, in which an approach to the function brakhot as part of a spiritual and imaginative discipline is proposed. At the same time, it is argued that all ethical practices are first exercises in listening. Text the Open Siddur Project Joshua Gutoff Joshua Gutoff https://opensiddur.org/copyright-policy/ Joshua Gutoff Pedagogical Essays on Jewish Prayer Essays on Prayer as Praxis צדקה tsedaqah liturgical theory liturgy and ethics 20th century C.E. ברכות brakhot 58th century A.M.
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In the eighteenth chapter of the book of Genesis, Abraham receives three visitors:

The Lord appeared to him by the terebinths of Mamre; he was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot. Looking up, he saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them and, bowing to the ground, he said, “My lords, if it please you, do not go on past your servant. Let a little water be brought; bathe your feet and recline under the tree, And let me fetch a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves, then go on—seeing that you have come your servant’s way.” They replied, “Do as you have said.”[1] Genesis 18:1-5. All scripture translations from Tanakh: The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1988), except where rabbinic exigetical passages demand otherwise. 

How are we to understand that immediately after the Torah announces “the Lord appeared,” the focus shifts to “three men”? The Talmud, playing on the double meaning of the word “adonai” as both “my lords” and “my Lord,” suggests that Abraham at first was addressing not the passers by, but God, of Whom Abraham was begging leave to attend to the immediate human needs before him. Yet even as it proposes this reading, the Talmud seems to recognize the audacity of so doing:

R. Elazar said, Come and see how the nature of the Blessed Holy One is not like that of flesh and blood. For it is in the nature of flesh and blood that a person of lesser rank could not say to his superior, ‘Wait until I come to you.” But with the Blessed Holy One it is written, ‘And [Abraham] said, “My Lord, if it please you, do not go on past your servant.” [And then to the men he said,] “Let a little water be brought…”[2] Shabbat 127a. 

Audacious as it may be, the concern is not merely the problem of an idiosyncratic parsing of biblical Hebrew. Even today we continue to be exercised over the relationship between religion and ethics. Now, it should be obvious to the most casual observer that Jewish ethical attitudes and behaviors are deeply informed—directed—by explicitly religious teaching. It is true, though, that many of our most important interpersonal acts appear to be “secular”—that is, there is nothing about them which would visibly mark them or their performers as connected to an experience of the sacred. Like Abraham, we appear to turn away from God when we attend to the human needs before us.
Why is there this disjuncture between the sensibility informing the act and the act itself? What does this disjuncture do to our own attempts to lead integrated lives, to know at all times before Whom we stand, to set God perpetually before us even as we carry out the work of caring for God’s creatures? Indeed, some modern thinkers have recognized a void which they believe ought to be filled. They have suggested adding blessings to bring to the fore what has become the forgotten background to these events.[3] See especially Allen Kensky, “Is There a Blessing on Feeding the Homeless” Conservative Judaism XLIII:4 (Summer 1991) pp. 66-72, and the discussion in Arthur Waskow, Down-to-Earth Judaism (New York: William Morrow, 1995), pp. 231-239. 
It is worth our while to spend a few words on the subject of blessings, for berakhot are our primary vehicle for ritualizing or concretizing our encounter with God. Our enjoyment, for example, of the bounties of Creation is transformed from being a purely creaturely experience by the discipline of berakhot. Anyone can delight in a flower, and even an animal can appreciate food, but only homo religiosus can link the creation to the Creator. And so we say “Barukh atah, Blessed are You . . . who creates the fruit of the tree” before eating the apple. But having said that, what have we said? Or rather, what have we done?
Unlike Christian forms of Grace (e.g., “Bless this food to our use”), Jewish berakhot almost always ignore the specific occasion in favor of the general (“Blessed are You . . . who brings bread from the earth”). That is, the blessing is less about the particular morsel than about God’s eternal attribute of provider of which this piece of bread is a synecdoche. Nevertheless—and this is crucial—the blessing only functions “truthfully” when said as a response to the particular phenomenon. To say the blessing over bread out of a desire to express gratitude and awe for God’s general role as bread-giver, when one is not actually about to eat, is an instance of a “blessing in vain.” A blessing, then, is umbilically linked to an actual experience, and yet with great deliberation it turns our attention away from that experience.
Blessings are commonly understood to be moments of acclamation: “The uniqueness of a blessing is that it is pure praise, asking nothing of God but rather giving us an opportunity to remind ourselves of God’s presence and of the ways in which we experience Him in the world.”[4] Reuven Hammer, Entering Jewish Prayer (New York: Schocken Books, 1994), p. 25.  While this represents perhaps the most common understanding of a blessing, I am not sure that we should let it go unexamined. There are two theological concerns, mirror images of each other, raised by the very idea of praising God, let alone making it the cornerstone of worship. The first is: Is it ever enough?

A certain man descended [to the Leader’s Desk] before R. Hanina and prayed, “God! The great, mighty, awesome, glorious, powerful, and terrifying! Strong, valiant, sure and honored…” [R. Hanina] waited until he had finished, and then said to him, “Have you finished all the praises of your Master? What use is all this to me? Even these three (great, mighty, awesome) that we do say [as part of the canonical liturgy], had not Moses our Master first used them in the Torah (Deuteronomy 10:17) and had not the Men of the Great Assembly fixed them in the liturgy—even these we would not be able to say, and you say all these and still go on! Imagine a king of flesh and blood who had a million golden denarii, and they praised him for having silver. Would it not be an insult?”[5] Berakhot 33b. 

Secondly, we might ask bluntly: Is it necessary? Of course God is deserving of our praise, but does God need it? Does God need it enough to demand it of us one hundred times daily?[6] Menakhot 43b.  In speaking of a similar question in Catholic worship, S.R. Jeri Cashman and liturgist Tom Conry have said, “It puts one in mind of Goethe’s declaration that ‘those who cannot love are condemned to flattery.” It is the Jabba the Hurt School of Theology—it conjures up an image of God as Jabba the Hutt, the famous slavering frog-villain of Star Wars, up in the heavenly court who constantly demands from people ‘More praise! More praise!'”[7] Tom Conry and Jeri Cashman, “Liturgy and the Expression of Justice,” delivered at Call to Action, Detroit, November 1996. 
Taking the concept of praise but strengthening the connection between the blessing and the phenomenon is the classic rabbinic understanding that the berakhah is the device through which we gain permission to partake of Creation. The Talmud teaches: “’The earth is the Lord’s and all that it holds.’ (Psalms 24:1) Rabbi Levi compared it with another verse, ‘The heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth He gave over to man’ (Psalms 115:16). There is no contradiction. The one verse is before a blessing is said, and the second is after a blessing is said.”[8] Berakhot 35a. 
But this prompts still more questions, even as it leaves unanswered the problem with praise. What, for example, is the status of non-Jews, both contemporary and antepatriarchal, who enjoy the created world without the discipline? And more, just what kind of payment is a berakhah?
Let us ask the question from the other direction. Is it an act of theft to do no more than other creatures do? We do not take the apple or the wheat out of God’s world, but we put it to use so that it sustains life, supporting that very world. And what sort of theft is it to enjoy the beauty of the rose, the smell of the wild rosemary? The answer is that it is indeed a theft, but not of property.
Rav Helbo said that Rav Huna said: Anyone who knows that his fellow is accustomed to greet him, “Shalom,” should anticipate and greet him “Shalom” first, as it says, “Seek peace [shalom] and pursue it.” (Psalms 35:15). And if he does not even respond to a greeting he is called a robber, as it says, “That which was robbed from the poor is in your houses” (Isaiah 3:14).[9] Berakhot 6b. 
What has been stolen? That which even a pauper has to give[10] Rashi, ibid, s.v. gezeilat ani: his regard. In offering a greeting, he echoes the primal act of recognition in the Garden, and proclaims the other to be worthy of notice, worthy of some of his space. In refusing to return the greeting, the other rejects the commonality of the first, even his humanity. Occupying, the space of the greeter, he yields no space of his own, and so deprives his fellow of what is by all rights his. God’s actions in the world are not only actions, they are gestures to us, and when we understand them as such we are bidden to respond.[11] The motif of reciprocity, of gesture-and-response, appears constantly in Jewish practic, practice. Its lorus classicus in the liturgy is the Shema and its blessings. Each of the blessings (excluding the additional evening blessing) highlights a Divine activity. Each of the three paragraphs of the Shema presents the corresponding human response. And so: God created everything, and we are to love God with everthing we are and have; God taught Torah, and we are to follow Torah; God redeemed us from Egypt, and we are to remember the redemption.  For those who see that the heavens are really God’s heavens, the gift of the earth must be responded to. Shalom Aleikhem, says God through the scent of the herb, the taste of the fruit. Aleikhem shalom, we say through the berakhah.
I offer: Whatever the original meaning of the word,[12] See Bradley Shavit Artson, “Barukh la-Shem: God is Bountiful,” Conservative Judaism XLVI:2 (Winter 1994), pp. 32-43, both for his discussion and his extensive collection of sources.  the functional meaning of “Barukh atah” is “You are Present”; the blessing—when said mindfully—helps establish a relationship with God in the phenomenon at hand.[13] While the second person form of the opening of the Berakhah is not part of the halakhic requirements (v. Maimonides, Hilkhot Berakhot 1:6) it is, I think, crucial to the real work of the berakhah.  The rabbinic injunction to pronounce a blessing over the “bad” as well as the good[14] Mishnah Berakhot 9:5.  is not so outrageous as to demand that we thank or praise God for the death of a loved one, but it does insist that there is no thing, no “where” that is empty of the One who says, “I form light and create darkness, I fashion weal and create woe.”[15] Isaiah 45:7.  God is somehow present even in tragedy, and can (and must) be met there.
As an aside, this way of understanding berakhot may resolve the confusion that arises from the fact that both God and mortals can bless; can, in fact, bless each other.[16] See Joel Lurie Grishaver, And You Shall Be a Blessing (Northvale, NJ and London: Jason Aronson, 1993), esp. pp. 37-49 for an alternative approach to this issue.  We are in no position to bestow abundant gifts upon the Divine, and the very idea of God praising, glorifying or thanking us is ludicrous. Yet our Tradition holds out the possibility of the individual and God encountering one another as independent subjects. And is there, after all, greater “blessing” a person can receive than to be cherished as a “thou” by the Very God?
God, we believe, addresses us not just through the acts of creation, but also through the Teaching. Whatever else the commandments may do, to the extent that they are experienced as commandments, as calls, they offer the opportunity to respond. Indeed, some mitsvot may only have resonance for us as a means for connecting with the Divine. In order for their performance to be other than empty motions the performer needs to be awake to the One towards Whom the act is directed. Contrariwise, there may be mitsvot which are so full of emotional, aesthetic or rational meaning that their religious—by which I mean here “Other-directed”—nature may be entirely lost. The berakhah for mitsvot are not different in kind from those for physical experiences; they are tools for helping us recognize and respond to the God Who is, present in the particularity of the moment, whether the moment involves a loaf of bread or a lulav.[17] This analysis, I believe, can be shown to apply even for liturgical berakhot. 
It would seem that a berakhah would be de rigueur for all mitsvot, at least for all the “thou shalts,” but that is not the case. As we noted above, it is predominantly in the realm of the ethical—even the prophetic—in which the connection to the realm of the sacred is left unspoken. However, the Tradition has much to say about how deeply our relationships with God and with our fellows are implicated one within the other.

R. Papa was climbing a ladder; his knee buckled and he ought to have fallen. “I was nearly sentenced to the death of Sabbath breakers and idolators [who are executed by being thrown from a height].” Hiyya b. Rab from Difti said to him: “Maybe a pauper came to you and you did not provide for him; as it has been taught: R. Joshua B. Korhah ‘Whoever turns away his eyes from charity is as if he were practicing idolatry’… R. Eliezer son of R. Jose said: “All the acts of charity and kindness which Israel performs in this world yield great peace and great intercession between them and their Father in heaven”… If a man gives a penny to a pauper, he is worthy to receive the Divine Presence, as it is written, I shall bebold Your face in justice [= charity] (Psalms 17:15). R. Eleazar gave a coin to a pauper and then went and prayed, saying, “It is written, I shall behold Your face in justice.”[18] Baba Batra 10a. 

But all this serves only to amplify the liturgical silence that surrounds the actual act of tsedaqah.
A variety of traditional explanations for the absence of berakhot for various mitsvot is presented by the fourteenth-century Spanish liturgical commentator Abudraham.[19] Abudraham Ha-Shalem (Jerusalem: Usha, 1963), pp. 16-21. See also Kensky, ibid. for an important discussion of these and other sources, albeit one which comes to a different Conclusion.  Their limited and tentative nature makes them sound less like explanations than attempts at categorization. By and large, they rely on formal characteristics of the mitsvot, and there are exceptions to nearly every category—or the categories are so narrowly defined as to be more puzzling than explanatory. What is more of a problem is that, for the various categories, there is frequently no reason for why a certain type of act should not require a blessing. Perhaps the most compelling of the answers Abudraham cites is that of Abraham ibn David of Posquiérs, the Ravad, who argues that it would be inappropriate to say a blessing when pain or degradation are involved, either when it is the result of the act (giving a bill of divorce, inflicting capital punishment) or when it is the stimulus for the act (comforting mourners, visiting the sick). While there is, as I hope to show, a connection between blessings and human dignity, even this explanation is incomplete. Not only because it fails to account for those actions where no pain at all is involved (such as rising before the aged, honoring parents, bringing joy to a bride and groom), but because it seems to fly in the face of the injunction cited above to acknowledge God’s presence even and especially in moments of pain.
What is clear is that whether or not God is acknowledged as present in the face of suffering, we are certainly called to be present. An examination of the texts on tsedaqah make it clear that the obligation is met in responding to (even if not meeting) the need presented.[20] Baba Batra 9b, codified in Hilkhot Matanot Ani’im 10:5. See also YD 249:3,4.  This is what underlies a partic larly famous—and troubling—ruling, Maimonides brings the law as follows:

You are commanded to give to the poor according to what he lacks. If he has no clothes, you must clothe him. If he has no furniture, you must buy him some. If he is unmarried, you should find him a wife; if it is a woman, you must find her a husband. Even if this poor person used to ride on a horse with a servant running before him and then became poor and lost his possessions, we must get him a horse to ride upon and a servant to run before him, as it says, “. . . sufficient for whatever he needs” (Deuteronomy 15:8)—that is, his actual needs. And you are commanded to make whole his lack; you are not required to make him rich.[21] Hilkhot Matanot Ani’im 7:3. 

At first glance, the requirement seems almost carnivalesque, even offensive. In a world of the starving, in a world of the homeless, what possible calculus of needs would make room for the ego gratification of a plutocrat brought low? But let us go to the source of this law.

Our Rabbis taught: ‘Sufficient for whatever he needs—you are commanded to maintain him, but you are not commanded to make him rich; ‘in that which be lacks’—even a horse to ride on and a slave to run before him. They said of Hillel the Elder that he bought for a pauper of good family a horse to ride on and a slave to run before him. Once he could not find a slave to run before him, so he ran before him for three miles.[22] Ketubot 67b. 

Hillel is not distributing communal funds, or even setting priorities. His actions are an immediate response to the person standing before him. This, story is not about public policy; it is about the compelling, commanding, nature of the experience of listening to another.
This is not an anomaly. Central to the concept of tsedaqah is the pauper’s power of self-definition, with that self-definition calling forth the particular action demanded of the donor. Further, as we look at texts dealing with other acts of kindness—visiting the sick, comforting the mourer, for example[23] Concerning visting the sick, see Nedarim 39a-41b; for comforting mourners see Moed Ḳatan 27b, 28b. —we find that tsedaqah is not a special case. The story in Ḳetubot is paradigmatic of the entire range of ethical mitsvot: they arise in response to the authenticity of the individual. The unspoken but nonetheless crucial and primary obligation in each instance is to be aware of and open to that authenticity, as the performance of the mitsvah in its fullness is absoluely dependent upon that awareness.[24] Jonah remarked: it is not written in the verse, “Happy is he that gives to the poor” but “Happy is he that deals wisely with the poor,” which is to say: considers closely how to benefit him (Lev. Rabbah 34:1).  The dynamic of awareness leading to performance works in the other direction as well, so that we may say that even as the ethical mitsvot are actions in, and transformative of, the external world, they are also disciplines for cultivating sensitivity to an other.
There is no blessing for tsedaqah and like behaviors because to say a blessing here would destroy the very moment it is supposed to elevate. We have seen how a berakhah serves to help us cast our gaze away from the event-in-itself to see God through it. But if the pauper or mourner or bride were to become as transparent as the bread, as the candle, then the element of being present to the other which is so crucial to the fulfillment of the mitsvah— perhaps even part of its purpose—is undercut. Simply, I cannot be fully sensitive to another person if I have made that person into an object, a means, even if a means for getting to God.[25] The inability to fully carry both God and an other individual in a single gaze is perhaps recognized in the exemption from the bedtime Shema during the nuptial week (Mishnah Berakhot 2:5).  The insight of Ravad, that a blessing is not said when there is degradation involved should perhaps be understood as meaning that a blessing is not said when the blessing itself would be an occasion of “degradation,” that is, objectification.
Here it is worth noting that there are, in fact, blessings to be said over people on certain occasions. There are blessings for meeting great sages and kings. There are blessings for the extraordinarily beautiful, and for the misshapen as well.[26] Berakhot 58a.  These, though, are not objectifying, because the objectification has already taken place. That is, the liturgical definition of the moment is triggered only when the observer’s vision of the other has already been filtered through an experience of a particular aspect of that other, so that the other is labeled by that aspect, and is thus other than fully human. For in my labeling I rob the other of that very right to self-definition which makes up subject-hood, and so I come to the blessing moment having already made the encounter with the other an “I-it” event. It is this which the blessing tries to salvage, by insisting thar there is a subject behind the beauty, or the ugliness, or the wisdom, or the power—even if that presence is not the one which should, ideally, have been recognized.
The liturgical silence surrounding ethical mitsvot does not betoken a radical separation between “religious” and “human” encounters, but testifies to the profound connection between the two as responses to the sacred. I am using the term “sacred” here not to refer to an innate quality of the object itself, but to the human experience of it. Something is sacred to the extent that we see it having value-in-itself, demanding to be seen as a subject. God, of course, is sacred, but in saying that what we affirm is that God’s worth is intrinsic and uncontingent. God demands to be treated as “subject,” to be looked directly, so to speak, in the face.[27] And thus the tragic and lonely tension of religious life epitomized in God’s answer to Moses’ request to “see Your Glory” (Exodus 33:20). God’s sacred nature both compels and denies our gaze.  The biblical formulation that humanity is created in God’s own image is particularly relevant here as a visual metaphor. We bear the same kind of resemblance to God that other representations do to their subjects, Indeed, we are God’s icon.[28] R. Joshua b. Levi said: A procession [of angels] pass before man and the heralds proclaim before him saying: “Make room for the icon of God” (Deuteronomy Rabbah, Re’eh: 4). 
The point for us is not that a person “looks” like God, but that a person must be “looked on” like God; that he or she demands to be seen as a subject, having value in him- or her-self.[29] To be sure, a person’s value is contingent, but only in respect to God.  Respect for the person must be respect for the person in his or her own particularity, for it is precisely in that particularity that the person is most a person—an individual. It is in the particularity, in the difference, that the human resemblance to God is embodied “For this reason was humanity created from a single individual . . . to proclaim the greatness of the Blessed Holy One: For if a man mints coins from a single mold, they all look alike, but the King of the kings of kings, the Blessed Holy One, minted every human in the mold of the first human, and yet not one of them resembles his fellow.”[30] Sanhedrin 37a.  The different “images” are not merely incidental—God’s radical subjectivity can only be modeled in individuality. And so the paradox in its most wonderful form: It is the Godly aspect of a person, our very resemblance to the Divine, which precludes liturgizing our one-on-one encounters.[31] The apparent exception of life-cycle events is because there the task of the ritual is to lose the individuality of the moment, to see the person as representative of a class the transition as a model of a moment in sacred history. 
We have observed that a berakhah, the archetype of religious activity, is a tool for the recognition of the sacred Other, for greeting that Other in our wordly experience. We have observed as well that acts of justice and mercy, as religious acts, are rooted in an openness to the presence of a human other. This suggests that a common dynamic, and perhaps the central dynamic of religious life, is the emulation of tzimtzum: the making room in one’s own space for a different subjectivity. The refusal to respond to a beggar is linked to idolatry because there is no essential difference between erecting a wall against one’s fellow and erecting a wall against God. The experience of an other subject creates a demand upon us by its very presence to make room, to respond. Whether the encounter is with a beggar or a bride or the “I” revealed in the first of the Ten Commandments, every encounter contains within it a call, a mitsvah, to make room, to approach, to act.[32] And so, even if all that was heard at Sinai was the first commandment, or the first word of the first commandment, or the silent “aleph” that begins that first commandment (Mendel of Rymanov, cited in Gershom Scholem, On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (New York Schocken Books, 1969), p. 30, that alone would be sufficient to establish an experience of “command.” See also Scholem’s referrence to Rosenzweig there (“The only immediate content of revelation… is revelation itself”), and also Buber’s understanding that “The soul of the decalogue, however, is to be found in the word “Thou’… At all times, in any case, only those persons really grasped the decalogue who literally felt it as having been addressed to themselves, only those, that is, who experienced that first one’s state of being addressed as though they themselves were being addressed.” Quoted in Will Herberg, ed., The Writings of Martin Buber (New York: New American Library, 1974), pp. 192-193.  A religious or spiritual personality is one which is open to those encounters, those calls. Both berakhot and ethics can function as disciplines for cultivating that openness. Both are necessary, and each leads to the other. For even if we think we are turning away from God, whenever we turn in openness to the presence of an other, we find that we have turned to the Divine Other as well. There is, after all, nowhere else to go.
For the Blessed Holy One follows His own nature, that ‘His presence fills all the earth’ (Isaiah 6:3) and even if He were to withdraw His manifest Presence and wait for Abraham to return to Him, that would not—Heaven forbid!—be a diminution of the honor of HaMaqom (God, lit: The Place), Because it is for that very reason that God is called “The Place,” for God is not located in the world, but the world is located in God.[33] Maharsha on Shabbat 127a, sv. shelo. 

This dvar tefillah, “Blessings and Ethics: The Spiritual Life of Justice,” was written by Rabbi Joshua Gutoff and first published in Conservative Judaism 49:4 (1997), pp. 50-58. Rabbi Gutoff notes that the article was written “for Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf [whose] influence, along with that of both Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas, is manifest throughout this article.” At the time the article was published, Rabbi Gutoff served as the Jewish Chaplain of C.W. Post campus of Long Island University.

 

Notes

Notes
1Genesis 18:1-5. All scripture translations from Tanakh: The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1988), except where rabbinic exigetical passages demand otherwise.
2Shabbat 127a.
3See especially Allen Kensky, “Is There a Blessing on Feeding the Homeless” Conservative Judaism XLIII:4 (Summer 1991) pp. 66-72, and the discussion in Arthur Waskow, Down-to-Earth Judaism (New York: William Morrow, 1995), pp. 231-239.
4Reuven Hammer, Entering Jewish Prayer (New York: Schocken Books, 1994), p. 25.
5Berakhot 33b.
6Menakhot 43b.
7Tom Conry and Jeri Cashman, “Liturgy and the Expression of Justice,” delivered at Call to Action, Detroit, November 1996.
8Berakhot 35a.
9Berakhot 6b.
10Rashi, ibid, s.v. gezeilat ani.
11The motif of reciprocity, of gesture-and-response, appears constantly in Jewish practic, practice. Its lorus classicus in the liturgy is the Shema and its blessings. Each of the blessings (excluding the additional evening blessing) highlights a Divine activity. Each of the three paragraphs of the Shema presents the corresponding human response. And so: God created everything, and we are to love God with everthing we are and have; God taught Torah, and we are to follow Torah; God redeemed us from Egypt, and we are to remember the redemption.
12See Bradley Shavit Artson, “Barukh la-Shem: God is Bountiful,” Conservative Judaism XLVI:2 (Winter 1994), pp. 32-43, both for his discussion and his extensive collection of sources.
13While the second person form of the opening of the Berakhah is not part of the halakhic requirements (v. Maimonides, Hilkhot Berakhot 1:6) it is, I think, crucial to the real work of the berakhah.
14Mishnah Berakhot 9:5.
15Isaiah 45:7.
16See Joel Lurie Grishaver, And You Shall Be a Blessing (Northvale, NJ and London: Jason Aronson, 1993), esp. pp. 37-49 for an alternative approach to this issue.
17This analysis, I believe, can be shown to apply even for liturgical berakhot.
18Baba Batra 10a.
19Abudraham Ha-Shalem (Jerusalem: Usha, 1963), pp. 16-21. See also Kensky, ibid. for an important discussion of these and other sources, albeit one which comes to a different Conclusion.
20Baba Batra 9b, codified in Hilkhot Matanot Ani’im 10:5. See also YD 249:3,4.
21Hilkhot Matanot Ani’im 7:3.
22Ketubot 67b.
23Concerning visting the sick, see Nedarim 39a-41b; for comforting mourners see Moed Ḳatan 27b, 28b.
24Jonah remarked: it is not written in the verse, “Happy is he that gives to the poor” but “Happy is he that deals wisely with the poor,” which is to say: considers closely how to benefit him (Lev. Rabbah 34:1).
25The inability to fully carry both God and an other individual in a single gaze is perhaps recognized in the exemption from the bedtime Shema during the nuptial week (Mishnah Berakhot 2:5).
26Berakhot 58a.
27And thus the tragic and lonely tension of religious life epitomized in God’s answer to Moses’ request to “see Your Glory” (Exodus 33:20). God’s sacred nature both compels and denies our gaze.
28R. Joshua b. Levi said: A procession [of angels] pass before man and the heralds proclaim before him saying: “Make room for the icon of God” (Deuteronomy Rabbah, Re’eh: 4).
29To be sure, a person’s value is contingent, but only in respect to God.
30Sanhedrin 37a.
31The apparent exception of life-cycle events is because there the task of the ritual is to lose the individuality of the moment, to see the person as representative of a class the transition as a model of a moment in sacred history.
32And so, even if all that was heard at Sinai was the first commandment, or the first word of the first commandment, or the silent “aleph” that begins that first commandment (Mendel of Rymanov, cited in Gershom Scholem, On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (New York Schocken Books, 1969), p. 30, that alone would be sufficient to establish an experience of “command.” See also Scholem’s referrence to Rosenzweig there (“The only immediate content of revelation… is revelation itself”), and also Buber’s understanding that “The soul of the decalogue, however, is to be found in the word “Thou’… At all times, in any case, only those persons really grasped the decalogue who literally felt it as having been addressed to themselves, only those, that is, who experienced that first one’s state of being addressed as though they themselves were being addressed.” Quoted in Will Herberg, ed., The Writings of Martin Buber (New York: New American Library, 1974), pp. 192-193.
33Maharsha on Shabbat 127a, sv. shelo.

 

 

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