Sometimes, free translations, meant to broaden understanding, end up limiting a fuller scope of textual interpretation. In examining the Grace After Meals as a source of insight regarding the perspective of "ALLNESS," I discovered that the Siddur Sim Shalom commits an unintentioned result when it translates-"VE-AL HA-KOL...ANACHNU MODIM LACH-"For all this we thank You." The implication of KOL - ALL, is constricted to 'all this,' referring to the previous enumeration of gifts having been bestowed upon us.
Literally, however, the phrase "VE- AL HA-KOL" is translated in other prayer books as -"For EVERYTHING...we thank You."
I prefer the latter translation since it opens the widest range of reasons for gratefulness. We can express gratefulness for everything! Yet, this creates a theological dilemma. If everything includes those things that are bad and painful, is it psychologically or morally consistent with our feelings of gratefulness? Are we to thank God for the bad as well? Are we capable of doing so? Tradition decides in the affirmative, declaring that just as we praise for the good we are obligated to express praise when the bad occurs as well.For this reason, at the time of death we recite a blessing-God is praised as the -DAYAN HA-EMET-The Righteous , steadfast and loyal Judge.(Talmud Berachot 54b)
The premise of God as the Source of all things confronts us with the apparent contradiction between God as beneficent and the reality of evil and suffering in the world. If God is the reason for everything, He is also the creator of that which is evil, the cause of so much agony and pain. Interestingly, the Biblical source of the opening blessing referred to in the last posting-PRAISED ARE YOU... MAKER OF PEACE AND CREATOR OF ALL THINGS, is Isaiah 45:7 where the text reads a little differently: “I form light and create darkness, I make peace and create WOE.”
The Hebrew word for “woe” is “Ra”, also meaning evil or bad. With its ascription of “ra”, of evil, to God, this passage poses a serious theological challenge. By altering the original text to read: "He created everything”, and conveying to the worshiper the perception of the totality, the “allness” of life, the prayer book helps us relate to that which is regarded as “evil” by either making an effort to erase or transform it, or by realizing that the all-embracing quality of life eclipses the reality of evil.
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, perhaps the finest Orthodox Jewish thinker of our generation, states this approach in the following way:
“The prayer connects the cosmic order with an ethical category: God is the Creator of light and darkness, the Maker of peace and all things. The word “hakol”, “all”, means not only the tangible natural phenomena but ethical ideas as well. “Hakol” in this context serves as a substitute for “ra”, evil…Indeed, the word “hakol” offers an explanation of the phrase “creates evil”, in Isaiah. “Ra” is only an illusion, a non-being which one apprehends when beholding only a minute segment of creation…Yet, within the greater, all-inclusive perspective, embracing the totality of being, it is part of an organic whole. Evil is dissolved into the universal pattern of goodness…Creation is an all-encompassing act..."
The ability to surpass psychology and meet the metaphysical is perhaps the most difficult demand of the spiritual life. Is the reality of evil such that it cannot be transcended or transformed? The avenue of gratefulness contributes greatly to this process of self-surpassing and finding our way to touching the transcendent so that “evil is dissolved into the pattern of goodness”.
By no means do I suggest that evil be ignored or relegated to the world of illusion. Soloveitchik continues: " Evil does exist… one must never acquiesce in evil, make peace with it or condone it. Defiance of and active opposition to evil, employing all means that God put at man’s disposal, is the dominant norm in Halacha (Jewish law).”
Gratefulness, which has the power of helping the individual approach evil metaphysically, that is to transcend it and connect to the good, at the same time can become the vehicle for translating the metaphysical into an ethical response of “Chessed,” of compassion and love. Gratefulness without kindness to others is incomplete at best, self-serving at worst. For gratefulness to serve as a conduit of fullest spiritual expression, it must be inextricably connected to ACTS of loving kindness and compassion as well.
Further thoughts on ALLNESS will continue.
Gratefully, The Grateful Rabbi