Before we discuss the universal blessing which introduces our morning psalms, we should review the following explanation of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch regarding a deeper meaning of blessing Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One:
“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.” (Commentary on Genesis 9:16)
Rabbi Hirsch adds: “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!’ ”
In addition, Rabbi Hirsch writes in his work “Horeb”:
“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)
At the beginning of the Second Temple period, an assembly of leading sages and prophets organized the basic structure of our classical prayer book. This prayer book is known as the Siddur – a term which refers to order or an arrangement. Within the Siddur, we find a special blessing with a universal theme which serves as an introduction to the morning psalms. This blessing is known as Baruch Sh’omar – Blessed is the One Who spoke, and it opens with the following passage:
“Blessed is the One Who spoke, and the world came into being, Blessed is He. Blessed is the One Who maintains the creation; blessed is the One Who speaks and does; blessed is the One Who decrees and fulfills; blessed is the One Who has compassion on the earth; blessed is the One Who has compassion on the creatures.”
In this introduction to the morning psalms, we are reminded that the Life-Giving One – the One Source of all the diverse forms of life within creation – “maintains the creation.” This introduction also emphasizes the Divine compassion through the words, “Blessed is the One Who has compassion on the earth; blessed is the One Who has compassion on the creatures.”
The idea that the Creator has compassion on all creatures is one of the themes of our morning psalms, and an example can be found in the following verse.
“Hashem is good to all, and His compassion is on all His works.” (Psalm 145:9)
One of the reasons why our prayers remind us of the Divine compassion is because human beings, created in the Divine image, have the capacity to emulate the Divine compassion within our own human sphere of activity. In this spirit, we were given the following mitzvah which call upon us to emulate the compassionate and life-giving Divine ways:
“And you shall walk in His ways” (Deuteronomy 28:9).
Maimonides, in his explanation of this mitzvah, cites the following teaching of our sages:
“Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, is called Compassionate, so should you be compassionate; just as He is called Gracious, so should you be gracious; just as He is called Righteous, so should you be righteous; just as He is called Chassid – the One Who does lovingkindness – so should you be a chassid.” (Book of Mitzvos, #8 – from the commentary of the Sifri on Deuteronomy 11:22)
The opening words of the Baruch Sh’omar blessing can therefore strengthen our universal consciousness in the following ways:
1. These words remind us that all life on earth comes from the One Source; thus, we are to become more aware of our kinship with all creatures.
2. These words remind us that the Life-Giving One maintains life on earth through the Divine compassion; thus, we are to rededicate ourselves to our human responsibility to emulate the Divine ways.
In this spirit, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes:
“Compassion is the feeling of empathy which the pain of one being of itself awakens in another; and the higher and more human the beings are, the more keenly attuned are they to re-echo the note of suffering, which – like a voice from heaven – penetrates the heart, bringing to all creatures a proof of their kinship in the universal God. And as for the human being, whose function it is to show respect and love for God’s universe and all its creatures, his heart has been created so tender that it feels with the whole organic world.” (Horeb 17).
The above teachings can help us to appreciate how the introductory Baruch Sh’omar blessing enables us to enter the lofty world of the psalms through the gate of compassion.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen
“Horeb” by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, discusses the ethical and spiritual lessons that can be learned by fulfilling the mitzvos of the Torah, including the mitzvos of the heart and the mind. It also discusses some of the “halachos” – the detailed requirements – of the path of mitzvos. Through this noted work, one gets a deeper appreciation of the Torah’s universal vision, and how the mitzvos of the Torah enable us to fulfill this mission. Horeb is published by Judaica Press and should be available in most Jewish book stories.