Bless the L-rd
Torah Portion: Yitro (Jethro) Sh’mot/Exodus 18:1-20:23
Haftorah Reading: Isaiah 6:1-7:6; 9:5-6
Tonight, we read a Torah portion that contains some of the most iconic words in scripture, the Ten Commandments. But I would like to begin with my question this week about the Hebrew phrase found in Sh’mot/Exodus 18:10, “Baruch Ha Shem commonly translated as “Bless the L-rd.” What does it really mean to bless the L-rd? Does G-d need our blessing or does it have a deeper meaning that could almost be a statement of faith.
As I mentioned in my question these words are spoken only three times in the Torah. The first time was by Noah in Genesis 9:26, then by Eliezer, the servant of Avraham in Genesis 24:27 when he found Rebecca, the future wife of Isaac. Finally, here in our portion it was spoken by Jethro. Interesting that all three of these people were non-Jews.
This might be a clue to our question, G-d is usually seen as the G-d of Christians and maybe even Jews but not of everyone. Is this a true fact? I think when given some thought we agree He is the G-d of all whether people believe in Him or not. Thinking back to the creation of man, G-d breathed into Adam and Eve the breath of life and that process continues until the end. G-d is not just concerned about Jews and Christians rather He loves the world as it says in John 3:16.
The phrase, “Bless the L-rd,” shows that concern for all mankind. Even though the majority of the world’s population has a belief in a pagan god or no god at all, that does not diminish His love for them. In Exodus 18:9 we read where Jethro, the priest of a pagan god, rejoiced because of all the good that G-d had done for Israel. The following verse we read where he used the phrase, “Baruch HaShem.” In verse 11 he understood that G-d was greater than any other god. He did not attribute the wonderful things Moses recounted to him as anything but the workings of the one true G-d.
Each of us should be able to see the goodness of the Father, the love of G-d in our lives each day. Now that may not be a problem for us when everything is going fine, but what do we do when issues arise which on the surface do not seem to be good for us. When we utter the phrase, “Baruch HaShem,” we are expressing the belief that G-d is G-d in everything. The point being, G-d is G-d of all, or He isn’t. No matter where we are or what is going on around us it is His Hand allowing it so we praise the L-rd in all things. This doesn’t mean we just skip through life. It does mean, even in the difficult times, we are able to see His hand, learn from what is happening and “Praise the L-rd,” for He loves us and is with us. This does not come to us easily. We are all human and sometimes look for the easy way through life. There are some lessons that may not appear on the surface to be good but everything G-d allows into our life is for good. It gives us opportunities to choose Him, to choose right from wrong, to learn and to grow.
My other question in this week had to do with verse 19:5 where G-d spoke to the people and asked them to do two things, hear G-d’s word and do what He said. The word used for listen is the Hebrew word, “Shema.” First tell me what you think it means to “hear G-d’s word.” Is it just the physical act of hearing the sounds and being able to decipher those sounds into words? I think here in our reading and in our life each day this means to hear, to understand, and most importantly, to incorporate the Word of G-d into our daily life. It means to come to know Him, to understand His purpose for us in His world. It is so much deeper than just a list of do’s and don’ts. His desire is for His words to reveal His essence to us. His words should reveal who He is and also how we as His people are to live each day, to become who He created us to be. So hearing is more than an acoustical event or sound waves striking our ear drums. Hearing is allowing His words to penetrate our soul and become part of who we are and how we live our lives.
That hearing results in doing. The change brought by hearing brings action, we help, we reach out and assist others because that is the change His words are meant to have in our hearts. We are to reach out to people who may be different, who are rich or poor. We choose “the narrow way” doing what we have heard even when it is difficult. Nothing should stand in the way of our “doing” what we have heard Him speak to us. That is the point of listening, truly listening. It results in action and doing His will every day.