For decades, we have attempted in vain to come to an agreement over the borders between Israel and a state of Palestine. The Palestinians want us to revert to the pre-1967 borders. But for all the talk of taking back East Jerusalem, everyone knows that the inhabitants of the city are very happy living in Israel and fear the thought of ever having to live in a Palestinian state.
I know what you’re thinking – this is mere hearsay. What do I know? I assure you, I have this information, first-hand. When I’m in Jerusalem – and I go every year – I’ll hop into a cab and immediately engage the cabbie in conversation. You can do that – you’re paying them for their time, they’re an active audience! Most of the time, the driver will be an Arab from East Jerusalem and I’ll ask them how they feel about dividing the city. Inevitably, the response will be resoundingly negative. They’re all quite content to be living under Israeli rule, with good governance and benefits.
But the most forceful reply I ever received was when the cabbie said to me, “Are you crazy? The moment we divide the city, Hamas will take over just like they did in Gaza; and then it becomes terrible for everyone. Nobody wants to live under those terrorists!”
The Mishnah states: One who says, “May the good people bless You,” is acting heretically.
Rashi explains that the problem of his words is that he is not including wicked people in his praise of the Almighty. Our Sages learned from the inclusion of galbanum – a foul-smelling spice – among the ingredients of the incense, that the Torah mandated the inclusion of all types – righteous and wicked – in the community.
Why would anyone stand up to pray and praise G-d with such a strange statement? Sure, you might say ‘Bless You, O G-d;’ but who would say ‘May the good people bless You?’
Obviously the Mishnah is not just talking about what we say, but how we act. For some, praising the Almighty is the sole domain of the righteous; the rest of the world can ‘burn’ like Sodom and Gomorrah. But that’s not what G-d wants! He wants everyone to praise Him, no matter their station in life.
Certainly this is true in our community – the task of those who are dedicated to praising the Almighty is to persuade our fellow coreligionists to similarly appreciate everything He does for them in their lives. But in truth, every human being must praise Him!
The next time your neighbour asks you how you are doing, don’t be shy to respond, ‘Great, thank G-d!’ And when you next hop into a cab, teach them about their mission on earth to serve G-d by adhering to the seven Noahide laws. What have you got to lose? You’re paying them to be a captive audience!
Of course, you should have a two-way conversation. You don’t want to sound preachy – I’ve learned so much about life, history and conflict around the world from talking to cabbies. But when it’s your turn to speak, ask them about their religious lives, encourage them to talk to their children about G-d. Many new immigrants of all faiths struggle with communicating their beliefs to their children who are being assimilated into a secular culture. Inspire and encourage them!
G-d doesn’t need your blessing. Bracha (blessing) is related to the word breicha (pool of water). When you bless G-d, you are drawing down Divine energy from His great pool. Who doesn’t want that in their lives? And the more Divine energy people have in their lives, the more spiritual, and ultimately righteous, they become.