by Payam Refaeilzadeh
Growing up in Iran, it was not at all uncommon for the very common daily question: “How are you?” to get the response: “Thank G-d.” The common folk would say it in Farsi (shok-reh Khoda), the more traditional muslims in Arabic (Alham-do-le-lah) and the traditional Jews in Hebrew (Barukh Hashem). Now-a-days living in America I can’t help but realize that it is not at all common to hear such a response. In fact I had completely forgotten about this until a couple of years ago when I started realizing its prevalence in the Orthodox Jewish community, and the old habit slowly came back to me.
To me it seems like a very natural and obvious response to the question asked, but judging by the confused looks that I often get I guess it is not so obvious to others. Looking at my experiences in Iran and now in America, despite all the pain and difficulties of living as a Jew in an Islamic theocracy I can’t help but think that I now live in a more Godless society here in America.
As Jews we are commanded to “sanctify [G-d’s] name,” basically to bring G-dliness into this world, to be G-d’s PR agency on earth if you will. Given this “mission” I always found it odd that we do not commonly proselytize. Heck even when once in a blue moon someone gets it in their head that they want to become Jewish, we are not too receptive (I am reminded of the archetype WASP Charlotte York very enthusiastically declaring: “I am considering converting to Judaism!” only to get a cold smile and “thank you, we are not interested” response from the rabbi and the door shut in her face – OK I did not just admit that I watch “Sex and the City” :)
So what’s the deal here? What’s a Jew to do? The answer is actually not that complicated. We have been given certain commandments to uphold by our Creator, commanded to us and not to other nations. (eeek! that’s a lot of pressure!) By following these commandments we give daily testimony in front of the whole world that yes there is a G-d. Even if you are a completely secular Jew, who has not done a single Jewish thing in your life, you can still partake in this very easily. According to the Rambam’s enumeration of G-d’s 613 commandments to the Jews, first on the list is to “know there is a G-d” (the non-Jews are not exempt from this one by the way). You can still spread G-dliness in the world by simply saying “thank G-d” next time someone asks you: “how are you?” You will get a lot of confused looks but if you are like me, as you walk away from the perplexed store cashier who never expected a simple greeting to the customer to turn into such an uncomfortable response, you know in your heart that after you are gone the cashier is going to think about it and ponder … G-d? Mission Accomplished!