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Ekev 5780 ~ August 8, 202

Political correctness may be found in many different arenas of life. Our Torah reading for this Shabbat suggests one that we are all familiar with: “Vehaya im shamoah el mitzvotai,” “If you choose to listen (adhere) to My mitzvot: and you elect the correct way of observance, then you will be rewarded with rain in its season.” We are also advised of the consequences of non-observance: the rain will not arrive in its correct season.

Needless to say, as the cleanup from tropical storm Isaias continues, some may be questioning whether this storm was part of the observance of the mitzvot as found in the second paragraph of the Shema, or whether it was one of the negative consequences. One’s response may be dependent on the severity of the experience. In that regard, I am hoping that most of us now have a return to normalcy with trees removed from our properties and once again having electric power back in our homes.

Steven Colbert might quip, “Okay, so rain in its season is one thing, but downed power lines in a time when we have enough disruption in our life, couldn’t You God come up with a different scenario! After all, You have already given us enough to think about living through this pandemic!” If one reads the words of this passage correctly, storms of this nature are part of Creation and bring the needed rain in its season. The fact that we choose to live close to the coast line or the shores themselves is not addressed in that particular scenario in this passage of the Torah.

A second political area may be found in our Torah reading as well this week, though I will rephrase its meaning for us today. One is required to say a blessing following partaking of food. (Strangely, there seems to be no requirement to recite a bracha prior to eating in the formula, “you shall partake, be satisfied and give praise to G-d.”) My rephrasing is not in relationship to food. Rather, it is that it is equally appropriate to recite thanksgiving after having gone through some kind of harrowing experience!

We do have such a blessing of gratitude and it is not the commonly used ‘shehechyanu.” Specifically, we bench gomel when we have gone through one of four scenarios described in the Talmud. We recite the words “Barukh ata Adon-aishegmalni kol toov,” “who had treated me so favorably,” when one has taken a trip across the ocean, has been ill and recovered, or who has been through a truly harrowing experience, including being freed from jail.

The question some have asked in Florida is: “should we bench gomel, because we skirted this one, and it landed somewhere else?” Should we recite the benediction because it was only a category one, versus a four or five? What if we just had power restored after a couple of days being without, or what if we had the tree service remove the downed trees in front of our home? Might the same question not be asked if one received the good news that a Covid 19 test came back negative?

What is truly fascinating is that people are asking questions about Jewish practice! Who might have ever thought that such a question might be asked over a tropical storm? Perhaps the questions reflect the changes in our outlook in life that are a direct result of the pandemic?

While we might find a way to stretch the halacha in this day to include many instances when benching gomelmight be recited, reciting on near misses or negative readings might not be in the spirit of the prayer either. It would seem rather inappropriate if we recited the birkat hagomel when it missed us, but hit others.

If we are true to halacha, then only when we have actually gone through the experience itself and come out safe on the other side is it politically correct to bench gomel. But if there is anything that I have learned from the experiences of this past year, it is that there are moments when it would be appropriate to stretch when it is permissible to offer our gratitude to God.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi K

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782