This week while shopping at Publix, I asked the check out lady how she was doing. “Great” was her response. She then asked me how I was doing and I told her “Great, thank God.” She then joked that I cannot answer “Great” because she already used that up. But then I corrected her with the following idea.
No, I didn’t stand there and recite a whole Devar Torah for five minutes. The guy behind me would not have taken too kindly to that; worse than the dreaded, “I need a price check!” But I did share with her this basic idea to illustrate that we can both be having a great day, and life, at the same time:
Everybody likes a blessing. To have someone wish us health, success, prosperity and good things in life is wonderful. What’s not to like? To receive such a wish from someone who seems to have a close connection with God is even better. Hence many seek the blessings of great rabbis, or others whom Jewish tradition views as having a special role because of their time and place. Two examples being the Sandak (the person holding the baby during a circumcision) or a new convert who is regarded as sin-free when he or she emerges from the mikvah. It’s a good idea to get blessings from such people.
Our Sephardic brethren are a bit more attuned to the Sandak blessing as you see them lined up to receive one after the brit. The Ashkenazim? They’re making a bee-line for the food. But any blessing will do and the Talmud says that one should never treat the blessing of anybody, no matter who they are, lightly.
Blessings play an important role in Judaism. The Hebrew word for blessing, ברוך Baruch probably appears in the Siddur more than any other word. We say a bunch of blessings when we arise in the morning as well as in the essential prayer, the Shemoneh Esrei, the silent meditation that is literally called, “Eighteen” after the number of blessing included in it. The Talmud says one should strive to utter 100 blessings a day.
In the initial communication between God and the very first Jew, Avraham, we note that “blessings” plays an integral role.
And the Lord said to Avram, “Go forth from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, and [you shall] be a Blessing. And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. All the families of the earth shall be blessed through you.”
Five times the word “blessing” is used. Not only as a verb, as when God blessed Avraham, but as a noun as well – Avraham is a blessing. And not only that, but all of Mankind is to be blessed through Abraham. He and his descendants, the Jewish nation, will be a conduit for Blessing. The definitive message that God is getting across to the first Jew in His first words to him is all about Blessing.
The Jewish notion of Blessing is the opposite of a common, present-day viewpoint that life is a “Zero-Sum Game”. In case you are not familiar with this term, Wikipedia defines it as follows: In game theory and economic theory, a zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which each participant’s gain (or loss) of utility is exactly balanced by the losses (or gains) of the utility of the other participant(s).
In other words, if someone is getting ahead, it is at the expense of someone else. Things always have to add up to zero, so my loss is your gain and vice versa. People who subscribe to this theory believe that the rich, or anyone who achieves success, only attain it at the expense of others. Sadly many go through life with this negative and pessimistic outlook.
There is nothing more diametrically opposed to a Jewish world-view than Zero-Sum Game. Blessing is the very opposite and all about win-win realities versus win-lose theories. My good can lead to your good and will not cost me a nickel. In fact the opposite – if I gain, you and others can gain as well and no party will lose.
If a person is creative, successful and thereby becomes wealthy as a result, he can employ many others so they can have the means to make an honest, decent and healthy life for themselves. Not only that, but the successful person can contribute to charity to improve his or her community and society at large. Blessing is something that emanates outward in a ripple effect, benefiting others broad and wide.
But it goes beyond just dollars and cents. A number of years ago a Jewish organization and synagogue, Shorashim moved right next door to Aish. Before they did they wanted to make sure I was fine with having another synagogue in such close proximity. I was. I had no issue with it at all because I knew that, not only will it not take away from our goals, but that it will actually help us.
And this is exactly how it has transpired as we both assist one another. If they are short people to make a minyan, we help them out and they do the same for us. This week we didn’t have anyone who could read the Torah Thursday morning, so Rabbi Ariel popped over to read for us. Two days earlier I gave a class to six young ladies in their women’s program.
This is what Blessing is all about and what the Jewish people try to offer the world. It is the truest expression of an Infinite God who can give without limit and still suffer no loss. It’s what God built into the fabric of creation for those wise enough to take advantage of it.
Sadly, it’s a concept that most of the Arab world refuses to acknowledge in their blind hatred that prevents them from partnering with the Jewish nation and enjoying so many benefits and blessings economically and otherwise that would result. They may be biological descendants of Ibrahim, but they have failed to learn the most important lesson of their forefather: The never-ending giving power of Blessing. Thankfully some are beginning to emerge from this darkness and nations such as Bahrain and the UAE are recognizing the blessing that is forthcoming by partnering with Israel.
God is Infinite and He has an infinite and endless amount of Blessings to distribute. If you wish to go through life with petty competitions, jealousies and resentful anger at the good of another, then it is hard for God and others to share His and their blessings with you. Subscribe to Zero-Sum Game and you will end up a Zero. But if you become a disciple of Avraham and realize that God’s blessing have no limit, then you will be amazed at how much good and blessings will magically fill your life.
We can all be having a great day at the same time and no one will lose out.
May the good Lord be with you
Down every road you roam
And may sunshine and happiness
Surround you when you’re far from home
And may you grow to be proud
Dignified and true
And do unto others
As you’d have done to you…