At the Beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Re’eh we see the introduction to the curses and blessings listed in the Torah portion 3 weeks later in Ki Savo. It states: “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing, that you will heed the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today; and the curse, if you will not heed the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn away from the way I command you this day, to follow other gods, which you did not know” (Devarim 11:26-28).
The Medrish Rabba at the beginning of this week’s portion poses an interesting halachic question; a question in Jewish Law. Why must the curses in parshas Ki Savo be read in one aliyah? Why can’t they be broken up into many aliyahs? Rebbe Yehushua of Sichnin said in the name of Rebbe Levi: “Hashem said I wrote upon my honor, ‘I am with him in his distress’ (Tehillim 91:15), it is inappropriate for my children to be cursed and me blessed.” How? If they have many aliyahs for The Rebuke, then each Aliyah has two blessing before and after; rather, one person should read the entire aliyah. The Rabbis say that Hashem said that He did not give them the blessings and curses for their bad, rather to inform them what is the good path to choose in order to receive reward. How do we know this? From the fact that the pasuk here says “Behold, I set before you etc.”
The Yidei Moshe asks a very compelling halachic question on this medrish. Just as we bless Hashem for the good, aren’t we also supposed to bless Hashem for the bad? His first answer is that the bad for the populace is different, for then “I am with him in his distress.” The second answer he gives is that there is a difference between something bad that happens on a particular day and something bad which is being used for a known, set circumstances. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Yidei Moshe is asking: the more times we bless Hashem for the bad, the better it should be; so we should be able to split up The Rebuke into many aliyahs.
This question is based on the halacha in the Shulchan Aruch that says: “On bad news he makes the blessing: Blessed are you Hashem, Our G-d, Master of the Universe, the judge of truth. A person is obligated to bless on the bad with a full mind and wanting soul, in the way that he blesses happily on the good, because the bad, for servants of G-d, is their happiness and goodness. Since he/she has accepted out of love what G-d has decreed, he/she finds that by accepting this bad, he/she is serving G-d which bring Him happiness” (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 222:2,3). The Be’ur Halacha explains that bad news doesn’t just include a death, but even if one’s barrel of wine turns to vinegar, property is burned by a fire, or one’s animal dies, or anything of the like where a person is aggrieved. It makes no difference whether it is something bad that happened to oneself, or one heard or saw it happening to another, this blessing should be made. The Mishna Berura (4) explained the reason behind the blessing: “Because the truth of the matter is, that all suffering, physically and monetarily, is an atonement on sins so that one does not have to suffer in the in the next world where the punishment is much greater…” (However the Chofetz Chaim adds in the conclusion of his Sefer Shem Olam that even if a person does not find any sin in him, there are many times that one will suffer as a test to see if one can stand up to it and accept it with love without letting down their service to Hashem, for this is the way of Hashem, to test his righteous people in order to strengthen their reward). (Click here for Hebrew text.)
In any event, these are all reasons to bless Hashem for the bad. Therefore the Yidei Moshe answers that you bless Hashem for personal tragedies or something that actually happened on a certain day, but communal tragedies or if it is known that suffering will happen as a means of Hashem to send a message to us in certain specific situations – that does not warrant a blessing, because Hashem is with us in those times of suffering.
However, if the blessings and curses were given to us as a directional marker of which paths to take through life, as the Rabbis suggest (and there is no reason Rebbe Yehoshua of Sichnon in the name of Rebbe Levi would disagree with this premise), then why shouldn’t we split up The Rebuke to bless Hashem even more? Wouldn’t it enhance our appreciation of Hashem to want us to follow his ways even more, which is the whole purpose of the blessings and curses? Furthermore, what difference does it make whether it is a communal tragedy or a personal tragedy? Wouldn’t you think Hashem, our loving merciful Father, is with us in all our suffering; so why the distinction? Lastly, what difference does it make if the suffering is happening presently or if it is recalling the details of all the curses which we know came true throughout the ages and could still haunt us in the future, either way, by blessing Hashem and accepting whatever he brings our way we have the opportunity to strengthen our belief and trust in Hashem so shouldn’t we always take that opportunity?
It is absolutely true that Hashem shares our pain through communal and personal tragedies, and by acknowledging Hashem during these tough times we strengthen our belief and trust in Hashem. However, there are designated times when we must specifically bless Hashem, whether it is a personal tragedy or because it happens in the moment. For at that point it is more likely to evoke an emotional response of ‘where is Hashem, is He really taking care of me,’ and by blessing Him, you reinforce the belief and trust that He is there for you, and that all is for the best. But for communal suffering or terrible situations which you know happened or could happen, then it is harder to relate that Hashem really cares and it is easier to bless Hashem that all will be ok. Therefore at these times it is better to focus on the fact that if we don’t behave and Hashem has to punish us then you are causing Him to suffer as well, because He feels your anguish and He does not want to put you through it. It pains Hashem and, consequently, it would be inappropriate to shower Him with blessings.