Just say "thank G-d"

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!

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14 thoughts on “Just say "thank G-d"

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    1. Point well taken. I think the word Godless came across in a much more deragatory fashion than I intended. What I meant by that is compared to what I grew up with, our society in general has a degree of discomfort about he concept of G-d. Some people do genuinly get uncomfortable when I respond as such, I do definately see it in their faces.

  1. I often reply “Thanks G-d” when asked “How are you doing?” In general, I find that my answer draws very little reactions.

    On a different note, the over use of “B’H” in the frum world is something that I find a bit annoying. I would like a different answer to “How is the new job going for you?” or “How are the kids doing in school” other than “B’H” once in a great while…

    1. Jewess, I totally agree. I haven’t been deeply entrenched in the frum (Orthodox) community in a while and you’re reminding me that it bothered me too. It was like, “OK, so you’re telling me that you believe in God, or are thanking Him. But I was asking you about your car.” :) So funny. But you know, I guess it’s like any answer to the question, how are you, right? “Fine” “Good”… Almost none of them have actual meaning. I guess, though, that the point is that saying something about God should have meaning.

      Thanks for visiting and commenting on Blog Midrash! Nice to have you here. I’m checking out your blog now.

  2. “Given this “mission” I always found it odd that we do not commonly proselytize”

    So why don’t we proselytize now. I was taking a lunch time course in Boston at the CJP about what happens after death and I came across this quote in Daniel 12-3: “And they that are wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn the many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.”

    So Daniel sees that there are 2 ways to get to the heavens: 1) be wise in the way of the Torah and 2) convert as many people to being righteous as possible.

    We have such a beautiful thing here in Judaism. Why not share? Why show others the brilliance of Jewish practice and teachings?

    – Baruch Hashem –

    1. I think the simple answer is: you need not be Jewish to be rightous. I know plenty of non-Jewish people who are G-d fearing, good and descent individuals who I have no doubt will have a place in the world to come.

      That being said I have tremendous respect for those who convert to Judaism. They are probably much better Jews than I will ever be. I sometimes do wonder if I was not born Jewish would I want the responsibility? Would I consider converting?

  3. mTp,

    If something (an idea, path, choice, and so on) true, then it follows that whomever is seeking out that truth, she or he will come to find it on their own. And how much more precious that journey will be than the one that was delivered on a plate?

    We do have a beautiful thing in Judaism, some of us are born into it, and some of us discover on our own. But if someone started to chase after me, preaching about Judaism’s beautiful thing while I am out enjoying my walk, or enjoying late nap, or sharing a cup of coffee (I have had people trying to convert me while I was engaged in all these activities), it would accomplish nothing but irritate me.

    And lastly, there is a question of free will here. If someone is being actively proselytized, caved in under the pressure (some people are really amazingly impressive speakers, and can convince you out of your last pair of pants!), and converted, I wouldn’t see it as acting of one’s free will at all.

  4. I think it’s a matter of custom in a given country. It’s simply not the custome in North America to say “thank G-d”. This doesn’t mean people are more or less inclined to include G-d in their daily lives. Sorry if this repeats someone’s comments o.O

  5. Jewess,

    Thank you for your response but I have to disagree on the point that someone has to come to something on their own to be worthwhile. Most people I meet have no clue about Judaism. If there is an opportunity to teach and show how beautiful it is why wouldn’t I? To proselytize does not mean to bash people over the head with the Torah and say that they should love it. What I am refering to is reversing this inward bound privacy wall Judaism creates in fear of proselytizing. If someone is interested I should show the way. A very good example is the huge concern of intermarriage. Why is it looked at as intermarriage and not a huge opportunity. There are a few million potentially great people ready for the Jewish journey. But, but we treat them as the other all the time. This still occurs even in the Reform movement which does not make any sense. None of this suggests that we bug someone when they do not want to learn or hear. I know of many non-Jews married to Jews who do everything to create a “Jewish” household and attend synagogue but the community has done little to bring them in to have them explore more for themselves. Think about it. There is a right way and not right way to do everything.

  6. When I’m out in the world I do try to teach people about Judaism when appropriate because people, I believe, should know some truths about our religion, especially when they’re potentially fed so many lies. So, for example, when a young Japanese/Canadian dude visited my workplace one day, and he started asking me questions about Judaism, I just went for it.

    Your point, mTp, about intermarriage, is very interesting. I must say that I’m currently working on a (never ending) article about intermarriage in our community and the reform and conservative rabbis both push inclusiveness for the non-Jewish spouses. So, maybe things are changing in this regard. Or, of course, maybe there is so much intermarriage here that they feel they better include everyone or else they won’t have a community. :)

    I’m not giving their whole stand here, just by the way. PLEASE do not take my comment regarding those rabbis out of context. I’m just saying that generally, an intermarried couple – once already intermarried – is welcomed warmly into these congregations. (I hope I’m not misrepresenting them here.)

  7. Yeah they push inclusiveness as intermarried couples. They can participate as non-Jews. That is my issue. How about they participate by taking an intensive course and practice with their spouses and learn more about Judaism. Then they just may decide to convert. If we conveniently leave the non-Jew on the outside and have them “just” participate why should they convert. They no not much and only receive the fluff or the worst of the Jewish experience. This is deeply personal and should be a challenge posed to every couple. Intermarriage is not the problem its the Jewish aversion to conversion that is the problem. People will marry who they are around and Jews are around non-Jews. We have to expect them to get married but we should have a plan and an approach to incorporating them into our communities as potential Jews not as outsiders. This I personally could not accept and I do not believe we as a Jewish community should accept so many people living with our community but standing on the periphery.

  8. Hey mTp, for some reason I thought about this convo today and realized I never answered you. Sorry.

    At least a couple of the rabbis I spoke to tell intermarried couples that they are very strongly recommended to choose only one religion in the home. I think the result of this is that if they choose Judaism then the non-Jewish partner will be choosing to get into Judaism.

    I don’t know. At first I was going to say that these rabbis do push conversion when there is an intermarried couple but I’m not sure (either my memory is not serving me or I didn’t ask that question). I’m pretty sure but not 100%. One rabbi here, who is from Boston, said that he’s amazed at the conversion rates here. He said that his conversion class here, compared to his friend’s in Boston, is not proportunate considering the community sizes. Meaning, the one here is huge.

    But you’re not saying the non-Jew should be able to participate in everything 100%, are you? Because that I would have to disagree with! I can see how pushing conversion to the non-Jewish spouse might be a good idea, but it would not make sense, in my opinion, to fully include them when they are not even Jewish, right?

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