I have frequently written about the many major things Islam and Judaism have in common; from the shared names/attributes of God to our pilgrimage festivals of Hajj. But this shared heritage of Islam and Judaism also extends even to small items that few Imams and Rabbis know about.
In the first volume of the Talmud, which is mostly about rules pertaining to Jewish prayer, a question is asked: “What prayer does God pray? The great sage Rav said: God says: May it be My will that My mercy will overcome My anger; and may My mercy prevail over My [strict] attributes; and may I conduct myself toward all my children (humanity) with the attribute of mercy beyond the letter of the law.”
The same lesson is taught in an Islamic Hadith Kudsi “When Allah created the creatures, He wrote in the Book, which is with Him over His Throne: “Verily, My Mercy prevailed over My Wrath.” (Al-Bukhari)
One of Allah’s 99 names is Al Shakur— the Appreciative One. As the Qur’an states, “… whoever commits a good deed — We will increase for him good therein. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Appreciative.” (42:23)
There are several other verses of the Qur’an which speak of God as “appreciative”: “If anyone willingly does what is good, God is appreciative and cognizant. (Quran 2:158) And “for anyone who brings about good, We will add goodness to it, for God is forgiving, appreciative”. (Quran 42:23)
This is truly amazing. “The Lord God – Originator of heaven and earth, Creator of all that exists, Giver of Life, to Whom refer the most beautiful names, celebrated by everything in the heavens and the earth, the Almighty, the All Wise. (Quran 59:24) – is also al Skakur, “the Appreciative One.”
But what can any human being do for God, so that Allah would be appreciative of his or her behavior. There is nothing that God needs; yet God is the Appreciative One, when a human “willingly does what is good,” or is willing to “advance God a good loan”: “If you advance God a good loan, God will multiply it for you, and forgive you; for God is most appreciative, most clement.” (Quran 64:17)
So, the nature of the Divine-Human relationship is like that of grandparents and their small grandchildren; who are sometimes an annoyance and often a source of worry; while always being a source of great joy. Thus God’s prayer to always have ‘My Mercy prevail over My Wrath’.
Prophet Muhammad urged everyone to do good deeds no matter how small, so we could protect ourselves from the Fire by giving even half a date in charity [Bukhari]. This is why the Prophet said, “Do not belittle any good deed, even meeting your brother with a cheerful face,” [Muslim].
One way the Jewish tradition has taught the value of gratitude for all God’s gifts is to teach Jews the importance of saying blessings for the many things we experience, both in our ordinary daily and weekly life, and at occasional extraordinary times.
It is a Mitsvah (a Jewish religious duty) to say blessings at every meal over food and drink. Every morning when we awake it is a Mitsvah to say several blessings because various parts of our mind and body still work. During morning and evening prayers 18 blessings are said, and there are blessings for the weekly celebration of the Sabbath.
There are also blessings to say for special occasions for our sages urged us to thank God for as many blessings as we can, since the more blessings you can say, the more blessed you are. Indeed, Jewish tradition maintains that everyone who is able to say 100 blessings a day is truly blessed.
Among the special occasion blessings there is a blessing for seeing a non-Jewish sage and another one for seeing a Jewish sage. There is a blessing for hearing good news and another one for hearing bad news in accordance with Rabbi Huna’s view that we need both joy and suffering to experience a holy life.
Here are a few examples of blessings for special occasions: On beholding fragrant trees:
Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, creator of fragrant trees.
On seeing trees in blossom: Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, whose world lacks nothing we need,
who has fashioned goodly creatures and lovely trees that enchant the heart.
On seeing an unusual looking person: Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, who makes every person unique.
On the Divine value of pluralism and human variety when seeing a large number of people:
Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, the Sage of esoterica, for just as no person’s opinion is like that of another, so their faces are different from one another.
On seeing evidence of charitable efforts: Praised be Adonai our God, ruler of space and time, who clothes the naked.
On seeing people who overcome adversity: Praised be Adonai our God, ruler of space and time, who gives strength to the weary.
Almost all Jewish blessings begin ‘Barukh attah Adonai’ Blessed are you O God; which seems rather strange for humans to “bless” God, so this is usually rendered into English as “praised”. After all, since a blessing is a bestowal of a wish for someone else’s benefit; and how can humans give anything at all to the One who lacks nothing.
The normal phrase in the Hebrew Bible is Barukh Adonai asher, blessed be God who (has done a specific thing for us). Barukh attah Adonai ‘Blessed are you O God’; appears only twice in the Hebrew Bible. Yet the later is the phrase the Rabbis chose as normative for their liturgy, perhaps because of the more intimate connotation of the word you.
The term “barukh” was employed in early rabbinic tradition by those who understood “barkhu et Adonai ham’vorakh” (Mishnah Tamid 5:1) to be one aspect of a mutual “gifting” between God and Israel.
To God, Israel (the Jewish community) gives words of acknowledgement and gratitude, and God gives Israel commandments to help make us a grateful holy community.
There are places in Sacred Scripture where “b’rakhah” actually means a “gift”. And there is not another word in the Hebrew Bible that is generally used for “praise” that God “does” to us AND that we “do” to God.
It is this “reciprocation,” this mutual gifting, that in the context of Israel’s covenantal relationship with God that makes God “barukh,” “gifted,” by Israel with words of praise, even as God “gifts” Israel with all the things our various prayers refer to.
In the Talmud (Berachot 7a) there is this wonderful narrative: Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha (a rabbi who was also a High Priest) says: “I once entered the innermost part of the Temple to offer incense and I had a vision of The Crowned God, Adonai of Hosts, seated upon a high and exalted throne; who said to me: ‘Ishmael, My son, bless Me (barcheini)!’
I replied: ‘May it be Your will that Your compassion overcome Your anger. May Your compassion prevail over Your other attributes. May You deal with Your children compassionately. May You not judge us solely with strict justice!’ And God nodded to me.”
The Rabbis then said: We learn from this that the blessing of an ordinary person should not be taken lightly. If God says that God wants to be blessed by “us little human beings,” who am I to correct God?
The same lesson is taught to Muslims in a Hadith Kudsi “When Allah created the creatures, He wrote in the Book, which is with Him over His Throne: “Verily, My Mercy prevailed over My Wrath.” (Al-Bukhari)
Philosophers might reply that the One God is entirely self sufficient. But to me, this is a great example of rabbinic Judaism’s “audacious humility” — we teach that God commands us to improve upon God’s creation; and even to improve God’s satisfaction by submitting ourselves to God’s will.