By Rabbi Steven Sager
One need not be lonely in confronting tragedy. Community affords us the strengthening company of fellow-travelers of all faiths. Our rituals deepen community by gathering the past to support both heart-break and resolve. To make the beracha over bad news is to invite timeless wisdom to inform and to guide us in our fresh pain:
Baruch ata Adonai, eloheinu melech ha’olam, dayan ha’emet/Overflowing are You, Adonai, our God, sovereign of the world, the judge of truth.
We do well to include in our company those who created the beracha and whose deep thoughtfulness and experience shaped its uses:
An ancient sage taught that when the moon ripens to fullness, one should make the beracha for good news – Baruch hatov v’hametiv/Overflowing is the One who is good and makes for the good. A colleague responded: Does this mean that on the next night when the moon begins to diminish one should say the beracha for bad news – Baruch dayan ha’emet? The beracha over bad news acknowledges a moment that breaks the anticipated cycle. (Sanhedrin 42a)
Another glimpse: Upon seeing someone who has developed disability, one makes the beracha, Baruch dayan ha’emet. But, upon seeing a person who was born with that same encumbrance, one makes the beracha, Baruch m’shaneh ha-b’riot/Overflowing is the one who varies creation. (Berachot 58b)
That which the world already accepts as true – truth as old as the beginning, truth from birth – does not require Baruch dayan ha’emet. Baruch dayan ha’emet is the beracha that introduces to the world a new and difficult truth.
The fully made beracha – complete with proclaiming God’s name and sovereignty – is often pared to the essential words that invite human action. Baruch proclaims an event has overflowed/barach its own time-frame. Unknown implications await. Dayan summons the dayan/judge, the capacity for judging the severity of the moment and adjudging responses to it. Ha’emet asserts that this moment is the truth/ha’emet, not to be ignored, softened or minimized.
Don’t know what to do in the face of tragedy? First, make the beracha that sets the conditions for naming what is true, adjudging how to respond, and recognizing that there is more to grieve than is apparent. So, do we avoid the loneliness of victimhood. So, begins the dignity of response.
Rabbi Steven Sager is the Director of Sicha, an organization dedicated to the continuing education and mentoring of rabbis from all denominations. He is the Rabbi Emeritus of Beth El Synagogue in Durham, NC, a Senior Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute, and an Adjunct Professor in the Duke Divinity School.