In the previous letter, we discussed a song in the Siddur titled, Nishmas Kol Chai – The Soul of Every Living Being. This song concludes with the opening verse from Psalm 103, which calls on the soul and the body to bless Hashem.
In what way, however, can the finite human being bless the Infinite One? Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, in his classical work on the mitzvos, explains that we can “bless” Hashem by furthering the Divine purpose through our deeds. Rabbi Hirsch adds:
“Accordingly, whenever you say to God, ‘Blessed are You Hashem, etc,’ you subject all the powers of your being to the fulfillment of the Divine will, to the service of the deed.” (Horeb, chapter 98, page 475)
Other sages have different explanations of the phrase, “Blessed are You, Hashem”; however, in this letter, we shall elaborate on Rabbi Hirsch’s explanation.
According to our tradition, the Creator is constantly maintaining the creation; thus, in one of our morning prayers, we say, “In His goodness He renews daily, perpetually, the work of creation” (L’Kal Baruch). Our tradition also teaches that the Creator gave the human being a mandate to help maintain the Divine work of creation – “to serve it and to protect it” (Genesis 2:15). Maintaining justice is one of the ways in which we preserve the work of creation (Pirkei Avos 1:18), and the Talmud, citing certain verses, teaches:
“Every judge who judges a true judgment according to its truth, even for a single hour, the Writ gives him credit as though he had become a partner to the Holy One, blessed be He, in creation.” (Shabbos 10a)
The radical idea that the human being is, so to speak, a “partner” with the Creator can help us to understand the radical idea that a human being can “bless” the Creator. As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes:
The moment God made the fulfillment of His will on earth dependent on the human being’s free decision, He said to the human being: “Bless Me! Further My aims, fulfill my mitzvos, realize My will, bless My work, whose completion on earth depends on you!” (Commentary on Genesis 9:26)
Rabbi Hirsch then explains that when we say, “Blessed are You, Hashem,” we are vowing to devote all our energies to the fulfillment of the Divine will, and he writes: “The whole purpose of the Torah is to teach us how to bless Hashem.” Rabbi Hirsch adds the following observation:
“We must not confuse the concept of blessing Hashem with mere praise and adoration. Praise and adoration become blessings if they have an effect on us, if they illumine our minds and purify our hearts, and thus help us to do the work that Hashem requires of us.”
In this spirit, each of us can say the opening verse of Psalm 103:
“Bless Hashem, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His Holy Name!” (Psalm 103:1)
Yosef Ben Shlomo HaKohen (See below)
Psalm 103 concludes with the following passage:
1. “Bless Hashem, O His messengers, armed with strength that fulfill His word, to obey the voice of His word. Bless Hashem all His hosts, His servants that do His will. Bless Hashem all His works, in all the places of His dominion; and you also, O My soul, bless Hashem!” (Psalm 103:20-22)
In his commentary on the above passage, Rabbi Hirsch writes:
“Therefore the call goes out to all things in Hashem’s universe: Bless Hashem – to devote themselves completely to the service of Hashem, to doing His will and to advancing the fulfillment of His purposes. And after having looked round about in Hashem’s great world dominion, the soul turns once more to its own self and remind itself again, ‘Bless Hashem, O My soul.’ For it is profoundly aware of the fact that it can deem itself worthy of rejoicing in its own life amidst the great hosts of creatures that serve Hashem only if it, too, heeds the call that has gone out to all beings.”
2. Based on the idea that we bless Hashem by fulfilling the Divine purpose, Rabbi Hirsch renders the term, “The Holy One Blessed is He,” as, “The Holy One Whose will all beings serve” (Nineteen Letter, Letter 4).
3. The following passage from the ancient prayer, Nishmas Kol Chai, serves as a reminder that blessing Hashem is a separate category and not just a form of thanking or praising Hashem:
“Therefore, the organs that You set within us, and the spirit and soul that You breathed into our nostrils, and the tongue that You placed in our mouth – all of them shall thank and bless, praise and glorify, exalt and revere, sanctify and declare the sovereignty of Your Name, our Sovereign.”