Day 33: Hod she’b’Hod, Splendor, Gratitude, and Humility—squared
TEXT: HATOV V’HAMEITIV
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, King of the universe, benevolent God, our Father, our King, our Strength, our Creator, our Redeemer, our Maker, our Holy One, the Holy One of Jacob, our Shepherd, the Shepherd of Israel, the King who is good and does good to all, each and every day. You have done good for us, You do good for us, and You will do good for us. You bestowed, You bestow, and You will forever bestow upon us grace, kindness, and compassion; relief, salvation and success; blessing and deliverance; consolation, livelihood and sustenance; compassion, life, peace, and all goodness; and may You ever cause us to lack any good.
(Hatov v’ha’meitiv from Birkat Hamazon, extended blessing after a meal. Translation adapted from Chabad.org.)
ABOUT LAG BA’OMER
Today is the minor Jewish holiday of Lag Ba’Omer. It’s a relatively new practice, by Jewish standards. Historians say it was probably first observed in the 12th century. Lag Ba’Omer recalls the Jewish rebellion against Roman imperial occupation, led by Bar Kochba, 132-135 CE.
Some say Lag Ba’Omer honours Rabbi Akiva. Many of Akiva’s students died in the war. But—according to legend—the deaths stopped on Lag Ba’Omer. Others say Lag Ba’Omer honours anti-imperial activist Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. According to legend, Rabbi Shimon died on Lag Ba’Omer.
Actually, there are many legends about Rabbi Shimon. He hid from Roman police in a cave for 12 years, eating only carob fruit. He could blow things up with his laser eyes. And he wrote the Zohar, a mystical book first published in the 13th century.
But—back to history—at first Bar Kochba’s revolt was successful. For three years, he led Jewish militias in recapturing town after town. Finally, Roman Emperor Hadrian sent legions of soldiers. The Roman army laid siege to Bar Kochba’s Betar fortress. A few months later, they massacred the fighters and their families.
For some years, Roman authorities blocked access to the site. So, no one could collect the bodies and bury them. When extended families were finally allowed in—says a Talmudic legend—the bodies had not decomposed at all. So, at the funeral, the families recited this new prayer, Hatov v’hameitiv,.
If I did not know this prayer’s backstory, I would call it a prayer of gratitude. In fact, every Shabbat I sing it as I thank God for an abundant meal. And all the tunes I know for it are lively.
But I do know the story. So, I see the complexity of this prayer. Its authors are shocked, angry, grieving. They hoped, suffered, won, tasted freedom, suffered, and lost. And now they continue to suffer. Their hearts break into even smaller pieces when they think of their unburied friends and relatives. So, they yearn to bring their loved ones home. To honour them with dignity. And also to soothe their own broken hearts—just a bit.
So, they thank God for a small comfort. But they also demand a better future. One with grace, kindness, compassion, and relief.
So, maybe Hatov v’hameitiv is a perfect prayer for Lag Ba’Omer, Hod she’b’Hod. God, you are splendid, and we are grateful for all you do. But we humbly demand a better world!
Sources: Henry Abramson, Orthodox Union, Chabad.org, MyJewishLearning.com, things I learned long ago
Image: “Set My Heart On Fire,” Soundcloud