Gem of the Week from Rav Shamshon Rapahel Hirsch zt”l: Man’s Role in History


By Moshe Pogrow, Director, Ani Maamin Foundation 

There are those who hesitate to render the word baruch according to its plain meaning. In their view, the meaning of the word when it refers to man interacting with G-d differs from its meaning when it refers to G-d interacting with man. Hence, they classify it as a noun, “source of blessing,” just as rachum and chanun mean “source of grace” and “mercy,” respectively. But this interpretation gets them nowhere.

Countless times we are called upon levarech es Hashem. There is no escaping it. But why should we seek an escape? The moment Hashem made the fulfillment of His Will dependent on man’s bechira, He said, “Barcheini!” Further My aims, obey My commandments, bless My Work—whose completion depends on you. Thus, bracha is a fundamental idea of Jewish life.

The entire purpose of the Torah is to teach us how to bless Hashem. We must not confuse the concept of birchas Hashem with mere praise. Praise and adoration become brachos only if they have an effect on us, if they illuminate our minds and purify our hearts, and help us do the work G-d requires of us.

What makes tefilla an acceptable substitute for a korban is not the bakashos of Shemone Esrei, but the brachos that conclude them. When we say baruch, we vow to devote all our energies and resources to G-d’s service. When we say baruch, we are carrying on the work assigned to all of mankind; we pronounce the first word ever used to express man’s relation to Hashem—baruch Elokei Shem.

A parallel to this idea is found in the story of Bereishis. The concluding words, “asher bara Elokim laasos,” declare that G-d’s work was not complete, but had only begun. Heaven and earth were created for Hashem to commission man to continue the work, set above all Creation. It was the beginning of Hashem’s creative work in human history, His shaping and guidance of the future for all time to come. The guarantee that the world’s ultimate purpose will be realized lies in the fact that Hashem, who has complete freedom to act as He wishes, created the world for its sake.

We express this confidence in Kaddish, which is woven into the order of our prayers: Yisgadal v’yiskadash shmei rabba, b’alma di vra chirusei. G-d’s great name will be recognized in all its greatness and holiness, in the world which He created with His free will.

Towards this goal of mankind’s future, a future assured by the ratzon Hashem, man is called upon to use his power to shape the future in G-d’s service—i.e., to make Hashem’s Will his own. And when a Jew says “Baruch atah Hashem,” he vows to devote all his energy to fulfill it. Have a wonderful Shabbos,

Note: The “Gem of the Week,” is based on excerpts from Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch zt”l’s commentary on Chumash, with permission of the publisher.

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