After surviving a mishap or crisis, recovering from a serious illness or returning safely from a long and especially hazardous journey, it is traditional Jewish practice to recite a blessing in the synagogue during the reading of the Torah. This is called- BIRCHAT HAGOMEL.
"Praised are You...showing goodness to us beyond our merits for bestowing favor upon me."
In light of the accident I experienced several days ago, I intend to recite this blessing in my synagogue in Annapolis this Shabbat.
At first glance, we are impressed by the awareness of sheer survival in the midst of circumstances that are threatening and chaotic. We acknowledge the existence and intervention, in some incomprehensible way, of a Power or Force ie. God ,who ultimately is responsible for our well-being. This understanding may lead to theological challenges. It is not my intention to deal with them but rather to interpret the meaning of this blessing in a way that can be universally accepted and appreciated.
To me this blessing heightens my awareness of how grateful I can and should feel in the presence of the unpredictable and mysterious unfolding of life. The blessing humbly recognizes our undeserving status to warrant the privilege of rescue and survival.
The question of deserving , however, is highly problematic.
How do we determine who is deserving or not? By what criteria and standard? How does one measure 'reward' or 'punishment' outside of a given human framework of institutional law and regulation?
To recite this blessing reflects the basic reality of life and survival as being a gift freely given to us without our having 'deserved' it from the start. Sheer human existence-without the frills of wealth, power or fame, is the fundamental rationale for declaring our praise for life and being. In fact , no one is fully deserving! We are all imperfect and wanting in so many ways. To admit to our undeservedness is to magnify and deepen our sense of gratefulness and joy with life as it is.
Many are obsessed with the feeling of deserving more. For the most part , this preoccupation is not only unhelpful but often results in escalating our feeling of unhappiness and discontent, our ingratitude. By focusing on the gift of what is and what we have , our lives take on added fullness and satisfaction.
The Hebrew word for the free translation -"beyond our merits"- is chayaveem-literally guilty or obligated. The first definition brings with it a sense of self-negation that I personally am uncomfortable with. I prefer the latter definition-obligated- which suggests a profound challenge and expectation that we pursue a sense of gratefulness for all the myriad moments of survival in our lives.
Praise are You...for showing me goodness beyond my merit and bestowing favor upon me and my loved ones.
Shabbat Shalom.The Grateful Rabbi