A new blessing

The Covid 19 pandemic has altered the entire world

“Minhago shel olam” the way the world operates is a concept that has changed in just the past several months. It’s barely conceivable that we could easily find someone who could affirm that she or he remained indifferent to the pandemic.

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Many teenagers I know have chosen to start writing a diary of the Covid-19 pandemic. In these diaries they express their frustrations for losing parts of their lives they took for granted. Some have shared with me that they also write about the elements of their lives that give them a sense of gratitude.

Each of us — average people, but perhaps especially our nurses, doctors, first responders and teachers of the world could write a book of their experiences, simple joys, despairs, accomplishments, and pain during this time.

I have no doubt that many books will “see light” when this pandemic is over. Scholars and social commentators will discuss how our society has changed for the better and worse. They will consider our jobs and the economy, technology and relationships and other aspects of society around the world.

At the end of the introduction to the book Ani Maamin by Rabbi Dr. Joshua Berman, he presents an interesting question:  What blessing should a person recite upon the publication of a book?

Let me build my answer on the answer Rabbi Dr. Berman presented in his book.

The simple answer would be, “Schecheyanu.”

Rabbi Jacob Emden (The Ya’avetz, Germany 1697-1776) and Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg (The Tzitz Eliezer, Jerusalem 1915-2006) hold that when a person publishes a book, it brings pleasure not only to the author but to all those who will learn from it, therefore Schecheyanu is the appropriate blessing.

Well, the answer is not that simple.

The Magen Abraham (Abraham Gombiner Poland 1635-1682) rules that one does not recite Shecheyanu on new (Torah) books, since the blessing of Schecheyanu was intended to be recited when somebody derives physical pleasure from objects such as new clothing, new utensils or similar material objects. Since “the commandments were not given for the pleasure they provide,” no Shecheyanu is recited.

Even further Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam (Rumania, USA and Israel, 1905-1994) rules that a person who publishes a book of Torah should recite Dayan Haemet (G-d is the Judge of Truth), the blessing that it is traditionally recited upon hearing the news of a death.

Why is so? He arrives at this ruling after reasoning that it is possible the author may have understood a Torah ruling incorrectly and therefore that mistake may lead others to act wrongly, Gd forbid. Therefore upon completion of the book, and in case it misguides the readers, the author should recite Dayan Haemet.

I would add that Dayan Haemet could be interpreted in this case as a way to express that only the Judge of Truth knows that the author had the purest intentions, and any misguidance would not be premeditated, but a mistake.

During this pandemic, we have certainly heard the above-mentioned blessings several times.

The vast loss of life caused by Covid 19 has made the blessing “Dayan haemet” a far more common blessing than in in pre-pandemic days. However, it is hard to say that we have gotten used to it.

The “schechayanu” blessing became more frequent and usual than it used to be, also. We have said it when we found hand sanitizer in the supermarkets, when we were able to hug our parents, or when we sat outside at a restaurant.

Some will say it when, at long last, they receive the Covid vaccine.

Unfortunately, we will continue saying these blessings for some time.

When the pandemic finishes, each of us will be able to look back and write our own book of how this experience changed our lives.

When the pandemic is behind us, “Minhago shel olam,” the way the world operates, will be different.

When are able to reflect on the pandemic as a memory, our tradition will have nuances we never imagined before.

Maybe when the pandemic ends, we will bless: Baruch dayan haemet, schecheyanu Vekiyemanu Vehiguianu lazman haze.

About the Author
Fabian Werbin is a rabbi at Congregation Beth El, Bethesda. He was born and raised in Argentina, married to Patricia and father of 4 children. Since 2008 he resides in the US.