"THANK G-D, MISERABLE!"
'Why do religious people always answer, "Thank G-d," no matter what
you ask them? "How do you feel?", "What's new?", "How's your job/business?",
"It's really hot, isn't it?"-all get the same superficial response.
No information. It is so predictable and boring, it discourages talking
Before the Baal Shem Tov was revealed as the leader of the Chassidic
movement (18 Elul 5494/1734), he used to wander the towns and villages
of the Carpathian mountains. Among other activities, he made a point
of asking every Jew he met-young and old, man and woman, how they were,
how business was, and so on. Hearing them respond with heartfelt words
of praise and gratitude to the Creator-"Boruch HaShem"
("Blessed be G-d"), "Geloibt der Abishster"
("Praise to the One Above"),-was one of his great pleasures.
He even rebuked a venerable sage for refusing to hold up his end of
such a seemingly trivial conversation.
Perhaps our pat answers lack the sincerity and emotion of the innocent
folk of yesteryear, and that leads to your disenchantment. Or, perhaps
you miss the profound intent that underlies these simple-sounding words
(and the Baal Shem Tov's motivation for stimulating them.) Consider:
We make a special blessing when something exceptionally good happens
to us-a birth, a big-time winning lottery ticket, etc. We say a different
unique blessing when something terrible happens, such as a death in
the family: "Blessed are You, ... the True Judge," and we
are expected to recite it with the same level of dedication as for the
one over good news! How can we? Only if we believe that everything that
happens is under the aegis of G-d, and therefore is ultimately for a
good reason, even if we do not comprehend this at the time.
Thus, when an event impacts our lives, we have to realize that whether
its effect seems to be positive or negative is secondary. First we have
to accept it with love as coming from G-d. The reasons may be known
only to Him, but we trust that He has our ultimate benefit in mind.
Only then are we permitted to protest and petition.
Having said this, you might be surprised to hear that, from a different
perspective, I agree with you. Secondary does not mean irrelevant. There
is a remarkable story about a follower of the Baal Shem Tov, who before
setting out on a journey was cautioned by the Master himself to think
carefully before answering a question. It turned out that this Chassid
had been chosen by Heaven as the barometer of whether the Redemption
was already due. When he was asked in extraordinary circumstances (for
the full story, send an e-mail request to editor@AscentOfSafed.com) about
how the Jews of Eastern Europe were faring, he answered instinctively
to the effect of "Boruch HaShem yom yom..."-"Blessed
be G-d, day by day...they live, they manage." Afterwards the Baal
Shem Tov told him that because he failed to mention the suffering of
the Jews due to persecution and poverty, the Redemption had been delayed
In addition, there is always the possibility that when "Boruch
HaShem" is not followed by some detail, the listener may understand
it as, "I don't want to say more to you." It is unfortunately
true that not everyone who greets a fellow-Jew with "How are you?"
is prepared to listen to a long, involved answer. Nevertheless, we should
always treat the question as an opportunity to proclaim with enthusiasm,
"Boruch HaShem, great!", or if unfortunately appropriate,
the words of the title of this piece.