Over the years I’ve taught many kids in preparation for bar and bat mitzvah. One of the challenges is getting them to project and enunciate so that everyone will be able to hear them. Self-conscious and semi-strangers in their own rapidly expanding skin, their voices get smaller as their bodies get larger.
Another of the ironies in this process is that no matter how much they break their teeth on the siddur and biblical hebrew, slowly forming each individual sound with braces chafing, when they get to a familiar phrase, their lips move with lightning speed. So, when they come to the phrase “Baruch Atah Adonai”, ‘blessed are you, Lord’, the sounds melt together into one “Bruchtadnai”, their shoulders relaxing in respite from their effort.
This is where I have to be the bad guy. “Look,” I explain, “You do such a lovely job with this whole difficult text. Then you get to the part where you’re addressing God directly, and it’s ‘Hey, dude, ‘sup?’ You can manage all seven syllables.”
The age of texting and Twitter has many of us using shortcuts to express ourselves using our tiny phone keyboards. Which, most of the time, makes sense. Typing IMHO instead of ‘in my humble opinion’ is a big timesaver. Even if it does take the sting out of the ‘humble’ part.
But there is a cost to turning every common phrase into a few easily typed letters. Lately, the use of the letters ‘BD”E’ instead of spelling out Baruch Dayan (ha)Emet when someone dies, typed casually on someone’s Facebook page, has become ubiquitous. Really, people? Your friend is announcing the death of a loved one, and you’re just too busy to type an extra twelve letters to express your sympathies?
Saying ‘blessed is the One True Judge’ is a pretty powerful theological statement to express when hearing about a death. It may even make some people uncomfortable. Which is why it should not be reduced to a throwaway acronym.
Even more troubling is an acronym which has become de riguer of late, especially in response to the horrific terrorist stabbings and shootings in Israel. There, beside the smiling photo of a young mother, a sweet elderly man, a beautiful life brutally cut short, I see those three little letters. HY”D. Maybe you’ve seen it, too, and didn’t even know what the letters stood for. Some words of comfort, maybe? A formulaic praise of the divine?
Not even close.
Those three letters stand for HaShem yikom damam, ‘God will avenge their blood’.
Let’s examine the phrase for a moment. As I read it – IMHO – someone using these words in response to a vicious attack is saying one of two things. The first, most obvious interpretation is, a heinous crime has been committed, and we demand, require, are desperately hoping for – revenge. It’s a feeling so many of us find bubbling up from some deep place inside when a crime so beastly, so close to home, unfolds in front of our eyes.
But calling God to action is tricky business. And if God doesn’t seem to be working fast enough, what harm is there in being partners? In helping things along? In slowly dehumanizing our enemies so that a grief induced fantasy becomes reality? Surely, if this is what you mean by these three little letters, you can take the time to fully consider the implications. To type it out.
There is, though, a second possible reading of these words. One that attempts to calm those impulses, to push down the bubbling rage. It says, it’s not our job to enact vengeance. God will exact the appropriate measure.
Critics of this reading will point out that for crimes like these we don’t simply sit back and wait for a divine hand to reach down and right wrongs. We act, swiftly, so that we can protect against similar events in the future. Jews spent thousands of years relying on others to determine our destiny. Now that we have sovereignty, we are able, we are obligated, to respond to these attacks as only a sovereign nation can.
If you believe otherwise, you need to have the courage of your convictions. Take responsibility. Don’t hide behind three little ambiguous letters. Type it out.
As for me, I will assiduously avoid making public demands of God in the face of tragedy. Our responses to these acts are the purview of governments and legislative bodies, armies and police forces.
I will also respond with prayer. Prayer for wisdom, prayer for peace, prayer for healing for the families of the murdered. And, even though it is as familiar to me as the faces of my children, I will pronounce every syllable of HaShem’s name. Because when you believe in something with all your heart, you better be able to have the time to say its name full, and clear and strong.