14 Nov 2014

Haye Sarah 5775: Barukh HaShem

Rav Aha said, “The discussion of the servants of the forefathers is more beautiful than the torah of their children”.

 If word count is an indicator, it would seem that the discussion of the servant is quite important indeed. 25 verses in this parasha are dedicated to the dialogue that the servant of Abraham[1] has with G-d and with his hosts in this parasha. The servant uses a phrase in the dialogue that is only used two other times[2] in the five books of the Torah and yet has come to be used in modern times as a regular filler of conversation. “Barukh HaShem[3] – “blessed is G-d”, says the servant, when he learns that Ribka fits the requirements he has set for Yitzhak’s wife.

Somehow, we have grown accustomed to hearing the phrase “Barukh HaShem” far more often than it was ever used for the majority of Jewish history. Many of us not only say it often, we also head our papers and written documents with an abbreviation – ב״ה. Rabbi Yosef Kafah[4] points out[5] that with all of the documents and letters we have found in the various genizas, including those of the Rambam, there is no such abbreviation or anything like it. Following Rav Aha’s statement and examining the valuable words of the servant, we come to understand that using Barukh HaShem was by no means commonplace. It was saved for special occasions.

In almost every other instance in which the term is used throughout the 24 books of the Bible, it is used to speak about G-d directly and acknowledge a blessing that He had given. It is “Barukh HaShem asher…” or “Blessed is G-d Who…”; in our parasha it is “Barukh HaShem Who has not removed His kindness and truth from my master”. Today, however, Barukh HaShem is usually used in the place of  “thank G-d” in any and every circumstance like, “Barukh HaShem I am fine”, or “Barukh HaShem I found a parking space”.

Today we rarely, if ever, use the term as it was used in the Bible, yet we invoke it much more often. But is this an appropriate custom? Rambam[6] felt that constant invocations of G-d’s name indicated that one did not know about Whom one was speaking, and this was, therefore, a less than praiseworthy practice:

Those who think of G-d and frequently mention His name without a correct notion of Him, are, in my opinion, like those who remain on the outskirts, distant from Him. They do not truly mention the name of G-d, nor do they contemplate it.

 The added point of the frequency with which people do so is a concern. When “Barukh HaShem” is mentioned in the Bible, it is always connected to a clear experience of G-d having acted in the world, and so is a response to that particular revelation — a revelation that didn’t happen several times every day, but at unique moments of grace and blessing. When one said Barukh HaShem, one was acknowledging the extraordinary nature of the favourable event or circumstance.

Abraham taught his servant not to be casual when speaking of G-d. If we are going to acknowledge that G-d is full of blessing, it should be at the clear experience of being impacted by His blessing. In limiting and carefully selecting our usage, we maintain the preciousness of the words and we consciously focus on G-d and His involvement in our lives. Rambam would suggest that it would be considerably more meaningful to study about G-d and learn about His ways than frequently mentioning His name. We would then build a relationship of substance and significant awareness with our Creator.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joseph Dweck

[1] We are never told the name of the servant. Tradition has it that it is Eliezer, mentioned in 15:2.

[2] Noah – 9:26 and Yitro – 18:10. It is used 22 more times in the Nebi’im (Prophets) and Ketubim (Writings).

[3] 24:27

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yosef_Qafih

[5] Katavim I, Kafah, pg.

[6] Moreh Nebukhim, III:51