There is a famous story of a man called Mo that went to borrow a horse from his neighbour, Shmuli. “Sure, you can borrow my horse,” replied Shmuli, “But there is one thing you have to know about this horse. He is trained to start moving when you say ‘Baruch Hashem’ (thank G-d) and stop when you say ‘Shema Yisrael’”
Mo thanked Shmuli for his kindness and set out starting to practice on the horse. Sure enough every time he said Baruch Hashem the horse started to trot, and whenever he said Shema Yisrael it stopped.
After a short practice he felt confident enough to start his journey.
Three hours into his journey he notices that at the end of the road is a steep cliff. Mo tries to veer the horse into a different path, but the horse seems adamant forge ahead. Mo tries to remember the word needed to stop the horse. “Ashrei yoshvei vetecha,” he squeaks desperately. The horse keeps going. “Um – Adon Olam” he intones. The horse keeps going. “Eh – Aleinu L’shabeiach.” But the horse keeps galloping. Now fearful that he is about to die, Mo does what any good Jew would do when confronted with certain death. He screams out, “Shema Yisrael!” As trained, the horse stops suddenly — barely two feet from the edge of the cliff. Shaking like a leaf, Mo pulls out his handkerchief and wipes the sweat from his forehead. “Phew!!” he exclaims, “Baruch Hashem!!”
The famous words of Baruch Hashem can be heard in almost every Jews conversation.
By stating Baruch Hashem we constantly bring Hashem into our lives, and recognise His Kindness towards us.
So who was the first to say Baruch Hashem after the Jews left Egypt? Was it Moshe, Aharon or perhaps Miriam?
The Torah states that after Moshe told Yitro all that had happened to them and the Egyptians, Yitro said, ‘Baruch Hashem! Who has saved you from Egypt and from Pharaoh.’ (18:8- 10)
The Gemara in Sanhedrin (94a) states that it was taught in the name of R’ Papayus: It was a disgrace for Moshe and the 600,000 Jews that left Egypt that they did not say Baruch Hashem until Yitro came and said it.
The Gemara continues;
“Va-yichad Yitro” (18:9).
What is the meaning of the unusual word “Va-Yichad”?
Rav says: It means he circumcised himself.
Shmuel says: It means that his flesh became full of goose bumps (he got the shivers after hearing what Hashem had done to Egypt). As people say: For ten generations after his conversion, one should never disdain a gentile in front of a convert.
This Gemara leaves us with a few questions.
First, surely Moshe and the Bnei Yisrael said Baruch Hashem; they had just sung the most elevated song in history – Az Yashir – which was full of praise and exultation of Hashem? Why then does the Gemara criticise them?
Second, what is the connection between Yitro saying Baruch Hashem and the next part of the Gemara which states that according to Shmuel he was shivering when hearing what happened to the Egyptians?
The Mishna in Berachot (9:5) states that one is obligated to bless Hashem regarding the bad just as one does regarding the good.
It is significant that Chazal do not obligate us to thank Hashem for bad just as one thanks for good but rather to bless. To thank in Hebrew is Le-Hodot. To bless is Le-Vareich. To thank Hashem for something one is not really thankful for would be dishonest.
So what is the difference between to thank and to bless? What exactly do we mean by blessing Hashem?
When we say, “Baruch Hashem” as we do at the beginning of every Beracha we make, we are not thanking Hashem, but rather recognizing and acknowledging that Hashem is the origin of all sustenance: Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the Universe… – You are The Source from which all sustenance flows.
By blessing Hashem for the good and for the bad, we acknowledge that Hashem is the source of everything. Ultimately, we realize that even what we perceive as bad also comes from Hashem, and thus must, in the grander scheme of things, be for our good, even if it’s sometimes difficult to see how. As the famous expression goes, “Gam zu le-tova/Even this is for the good.”Still, because it feels bad for us, it is not possible to obligate one to thank Hashem for it. By blessing Hashem “even when it hurts,” we affirm that our belief in Hashem is stronger than our feelings, emotions and perceptions.
When Moshe described the destruction of Egypt, Yitro according to Shmuel, found it painful and distressing to hear. This country had once been his home. Although he had by all means distanced himself from their evil and corrupt ways, in his heart he had hoped that they would succumb to Moshe’s request for freedom, thereby recognizing Hashem and saving themselves from destruction.
Things hadn’t worked out how he had hoped. Nevertheless he garnered up enough courage and conviction to state “Baruch Hashem”. These words could both allow room for his pain; yet at the same time recognize that this too was from Hashem.
When the Bnei Yisrael saw the destruction of the Egyptians at the sea, they immediately sang out in praise of Hashem, but says Rav Papayus, they never said “Baruch Hashem.” Their song focused strictly on the salvation and miracles of Hashem. But, we never find them blessing Hashem for everything they went through – not only for the salvation, but for the slavery and subjugation as well. They failed to recognize, at least verbally, that Hashem is not only the one who saved them from their oppressors, but He is also the One who put them there in the first place.
It was specifically through Yitro, who according to Shmuel was shivering when hearing this news and nevertheless connected this to praise Hashem, that we learn the importance of saying Baruch Hashem.
We must thus remember that the Baruch part comes to recognise Hashem as the ultimate source of everything, the good as well as what looks to us as bad.
A true story is told about the first printer in Bnei Brak. After enjoying many years of a monopoly on all the printing needs of the town, a second competing shop opened up. The first printer went into the new shop and shared with the newcomer all the tips of the trade – which suppliers were reliable and which clients could be trusted to pay on time, and so on. When his son asked him why he did that, he explained, “My livelihood is decreed in Heaven. It is in my best interest that he should be successful, because then I will get my income for only half the work, and will have more time for my learning.”
When a person such as this says Baruch Hashem, they really mean it and recognise Hashem as the source of everything; both their success and their loss.
Our first Prayer of the new week – Arvit on Motsei Shabbat begins with the Chazan saying Barchu Et Hashem Hamevorach.
The Chidah z”l says in the name of Rav Hai Gaon that a great, tried and true Segulah for a successful week is to draw out one’s response of “Baruch Hashem Hamevorach” on Motsei Shabbat in Arvit.
We begin our week by internalising the truth that Hashem is the source of everything that happens to us.
Ahh Baruch Hashem!