"Shoot!" (Q & A)

The Ascent Question & Answer Forum

conducted by Yerachmiel Tilles,
co-founder and first educational director of Ascent,
and Managing Editor of this site and KabbalaOnline.org

The three hebrew letters shin-vuv-tof [pronounced "shoot"] are often used as the abbreviation of she'eilot v'tshuvot: the ongoing written query-and-response process in Torah on every aspect of Jewish life which has been taking place since the beginning of Diaspora.) 

the Rabbi


Readers are encouraged to shoot! All questions are welcomed.

(All questions will be answered promptly; however, all may not be posted)


'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 to them.'

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 once again.

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.

Yrachmiel Tilles

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