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Rabbi Kalmar's SermonParashat Shemini 24 nisan 5780

"A Year of Blessings" (April 17 / 18, 2020)

The Medresh relates that at one point during the kingship of Dovid HaMelech, there was a terrible plague that was ravaging the land of Israel and 100 people were dying every day. Unfortunately this is a reality that we can sadly relate to. David decided to institute 100 brachot – that people should say 100 blessings every day – and when he instituted this – the plague came to an end.

This is actually a halacha in the Shulchan Aruch that we are supposed to say 100 blessings every day. On a weekday – if one says the Shemoneh Esreh three times a day – in which there are actually 19 blessings it is very easy to get to 100. On a Shabbat when the Amidah has less blessings, one must make sure to have lots of treats and make up the blessings that way.

Why 100 blessings? Why should that appease God’s anger? Why should 100 blessings be so special? If it is relatively easy and common to say 100 blessings on an average day – what is so significant about that?

I believe that an answer provided to this question by R. Shimshon Dovid Pincus in his Nefesh Shimshon helps us to understand another powerful question on this week’s parsha. In Parshat Shemini we are confronted with the story of the death of Nadav and Avihu – the two sons of Aharon. glaring question with which all are faced with is what did they do wrong? Weren’t they incredibly holy people who were serving God? Ok – so they brought a foreign fire, they messed up a little bit – but why was God so angry at them?

In order to answer these questions we can acknowledge the fact that the closer that people are to each other, the angrier they can become when there is distance between them. Those who are closest to each other are more hurt when those whom they expect to love them the most do something that pains them. And this can cause the greatest pain and therefore the greatest distance.

Customarily we read Shir HaShirim this past Shabbat in which the incredible closeness between the Jewish people and God was being described. When there is distance between God and His people – the most awful things can happen. Nadav and Avihu were punished so awfully exactly because they were so close to God – their betrayal, whatever exactly it was, was such that it kindled God’s anger. And David saw that the plague was ravaging the Jewish people because of a distance between them and God. In order to get people who are angry with each other to come close to each other again, it is necessary for them to talk. David felt the need to have the people engage with God – and therefore he had them make 100 blessings a day – to get them talking to and conversing with God again.

Blessed art thou, God, king of the universe – if we really think about what we are saying – it has the potential to be so significant. We know that in this time period – we are closer to our immediate family than we have been in the past. And sometimes that creates conflict – and actually distance. It is important that we make sure that the communication is open and real and significant with our spouses and children and parents and siblings and those closest to us.
It is also a time when we may be struggling to talk to God. We may feel distant and forgotten. We may be angry and feel abandoned. It is important to start up the conversation.

Chofetz Chaim, R. Yisrael Meir Kagan, once heard someone bentsching and the person was cruising on through. When the individual finished the tov vihameitv blessing the Chofetz Chaim said to him – do you realize you just asked for 15 things? The person was taken aback and the Chofetz Chaim counted them out for him – you just asked for (1) chein, that people should find you to be favorable and not ridiculous to them. And 2 for chesed – kindness, and3 rachamim (mercy), 4 revach (space) – which I think we can all appreciate now as we may feel more cramped at home than normal, 5 Hatzalah (to be saved) – something we also can relate to, then 6 hatzlacha (success), and then 9 more things – go ahead and look at the bracha a little more carefully next time you say it and see them all. Can you imagine telling your spouse or parent or friends – ok this is what I would like from you – this and that and this and that and this and that – just rattling them off – it would be seen as incredibly rude and would bot be showing appreciation at all.

We have eyes – they are a blessing – close your eyes and then open them and see all the wonders in the world – we say the blessing of Pokeiach ivrim – who opens the eyes of the blind. We are able to take a breath – this is such a blessing. Try not taking a breath for 20 seconds – and think about those who are having trouble breathing facing this terrible virus. blessing of Elokai Neshamah – which talks about the breath that God puts into us – helps us to think about all our blessings.

point is that we may say 100 blessings every day – but do we really say them? Do we really mean them? Do we say them with real meaning and feeling? I think we may say ‘thank you’ lots of times out of rote – that’s just ingrained in us. But when you say it and mean it – it changes you and it is heard in a whole different way by the other person.

This is certainly true in our relationship with God. So I am challenging you – I am challenging us – to make this year a year of bracha – of blessing – of brachot – of blessings. Lets make this a year of renewing our relationship with God – by learning about and taking seriously – the blessings that come out of our mouths.

Mon, March 8 2021 24 Adar 5781