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Shabbat Parashat Emor 5775

Parashat Hashavua: A Special Meaning of Beracha

Harav Yosef Carmel

At the end of Parashat Emor, the Torah tells of the person who cursed Hashem (Vayikra 24:10-12). That severe sin gives impetus to look at the opposite – which is certainly much better, but still vexing, as we shall see – blessing Hashem.

It is permitted and required to mention Hashem’s name in the context of berachot. But the question is why are we blessing Hashem? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to thank Him? We should mention another use of Hashem’s name, one which is connected to the curser. Moshe had used Hashem’s name to curse the Egyptian who was beating a Jew, after the Egyptian impregnated the Jew’s wife with the child who grew up to be the curser of Hashem (Rashi, ad loc.).

In order to gain more insight, we should look at one of the most fascinating blessings of Hashem, described by the gemara in Berachot (7a). Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha said that “one time I entered the inner sanctum” and saw Hashem sitting on His great throne, “and He said to me, ‘Yishmael, My son, bless Me.’” Yishmael responded: “Shall it be Your desire that Your mercy will conquer Your anger … and shall You treat Your children with the attribute of mercy and go, on their behalf, beyond the letter of the law.” Hashem shook his head in acquiescence.

Why did Rabbi Yishmael, who was the kohen gadol, say that he went “one time” into the inner sanctum, if he actually did it every year? The midrash (Otzar Hamidrashim, p. 444) tells another monumental story about Rabbi Yishmael, which is also introduced with the words “one time.” That is the story of the Roman tyrant who approached some of the greatest rabbinical leaders of the era and accused them of responsibility for the brothers’ sale of Yosef and demanded that they give their lives in place of their deceased forefathers. Rabbi Yishmael asked from his colleagues to share in the sin of using Hashem’s name so that he could go and see what had been decreed from the Heavens, so that he could either accept it or use the Name to fight it.

Let us suggest that these stories actually form two sides of one coin. Rabbi Yishmael was called upon, along with his colleagues, to accept upon himself the “dreadful” divine decree to be killed and in that way be a utensil for the sanctification of His name. In confirming this matter, Rabbi Yishmael went that one time into a very special holy place to “confer with Hashem.” At that time, Hashem asked Yishmael to bless Him, i.e., to accept the decree upon himself. It was as if he made a standard beracha of “Blessed are you, Hashem,” which indicates that one believes in Hashem, whether for “good” or for “bad.” When one makes a beracha before eating, he is in essence saying that he is eating in order to serve his Creator and, similarly, accept His decisions.

Let us join with Rabbi Yishmael’s call and pray that Hashem will treat us with the mercy we need to meet the standards He sets for us.

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