Blessing on the Bad: Lessons from an Infertile Land

Yael Roberts
October 24, 2014
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Although human infertility is a main theme in the book of Genesis, the infertility of the matriarchs is interwoven with the infertility of the land. Just as the women are barren, the land is barren too. Even the first biblical command to be fertile, pru u’rvu, be fruitful and multiply, ends with the phrase, umilu et haaretz, and fill the land. Just as we care about the infertility of women, as Jews, we also care about the infertility of the land.

Tractate Brachot is specifically concerned with our relationship with the land and our environment. In the ninth chapter of Tractate Brachot, we come across a series of brachot in the second mishna, a series of blessings to be said on seeing the wonders of God in the world, like lightning and thunder. Yet two of the blessings mentioned seem out of place: The blessing for good news and rain, Baruch Hatov V’hamativ (blessed is who is good and causes good), and the blessing for bad news, Baruch Dayan Emet (blessed is the true judge). These two blessings do not seem to be connected to nature, unlike the other blessings in the mishna. What do these two blessings have to do with the land?

As it turns out, the blessing of Hatov V’hamativ in relation to rain can only be recited if one shares land with others. If one does not share land, the blessing is replaced with Shehechiyanu. I think this says something powerful about the nature of good and bad tidings. It is most easy to self-contain ourselves in the midst of success or tragedy. When we achieve success, it is easy to celebrate on our own. In fact though, good comes into the world in order that we may be mativ, or cause good in others. Good news causes someone else to cause someone else to do good. We are all sharing the same land, and our success can overflow to help others achieve goodness as well.

When we hear bad tidings, we often feel alone. But the juxtaposition of these two blessings is to tell us that we should not feel alone. Just as we share in good news, we share in bad news. Just as your good news should affect me, your bad news should affect me too. We bless on the bad, because it asks us to unite and think about those around us and our environment.

These blessings are in the context of land to demonstrate that infertile land is a shared problem. When rain comes, we share in the blessings. And when the rain does not fall, we all share in the drought. So too, as children are born, the good tidings spread like water. For those who suffer from infertility, we all share in their struggle, and pray that they will one day conceive.

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Yael Roberts Yael Roberts graduated Stern College for Women in 2014, with a major in English Literature and a minor in Studio Art. This summer, she is participating in Tent: Museums, and working as a Arts Education Intern at BIMA at Brandeis. She is a 2014-2015 year program student at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. A printmaker and mixed media artist, she had her first solo show, "Correspondences," in January 2014 at Blackburn 20/20 in Manhattan. She was a Kressel Research Scholar for 2012-2013 and a 2013 artist-in-residence at the Contemporary Artists Center in Troy, NY.

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