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Thought for the Day: ברוך השם Does Not Mean, "Thank G-d!"

As you may recall, I do not like answering queries about my well-being with the simple statement of faith: ברוך השם.  As many of my friends (and ex-friends, I suppose) know, I also don't like being answered that way.  When I answer non-Jews (except Christine and Ross, may he rest in peace), I pretty much give the same response; except that I substitute "Thank G-d" for ברוך השם.  Which brings us to today's thought.  "Thank G-d" is a a reasonable substitute for ברוך השם -- meaning that it satisfies the requirements of giving a real answer to the query and doesn't require any additional explanation -- but is not a translation of ברוך השם.

So... what does ברוך השם literally (more or less...) mean?  How is it used?  Why do we use that phrase/concept for those use cases?

Translating the word ברוך is harder than translating השם, but much easier to understand why we use it.  The word השם simply mean, "The name/reputation" ("The Name/Reputation", if you prefer; though the Hebrew alphabet has no concept of capital and lower case letters.)  The word ברוך is nearly always translated as "blessed".  I have no clue why that is, as the an exhaustive search of the internet (meaning I typed "bless definition" into the search box and scanned the top dozen or so hits) bears no relation to what the word means.  The Hebrew word ברוך is from the same root as the words בריכה/pool (of water) and ברך/knee.  The verb לברך means to provide an overflowing abundance (the pool connection) of goodness to the point that the receiver is totally dependant on and subservient (as in, "I bend my knee to you, Oh Lord") to the one who confers said goodness.  ברוך, then, is simply the noun form, meaning the One and Only source of all goodness upon whom we are completely dependent and subservient.

Cool.  And השם?  Why not the generic word for G-d or Lord or Master or Creator?  Well, first please note that the Hebrew word for G-d really just means "the source of all power and control".  Pretty much a drop in replacement for what we now call "physical law".  We have so many words to refer to G-d/Lord/Creator/etc because we can only know Him through His interactions with the world and using the concepts that He has given us.  We have no word nor term nor even concept for what is behind that interaction.  We, as created beings cannot -- even in principle -- really know anything about our Creator.  Instead, we are honest in our limitations and always refer to Him via the interaction to which we are responding or addressing.  Generically, we use the term השם to to refer to whatever interaction is appropriate.

Therefore, the term ברוך השם at once acknowledges that there is only one source of all good, that it is overflowing in abundance, that we are totally dependent on it, and that we declare our subservience to a Being (even that word is wrong, as being-ness is also a creation) that we cannot really understand at all.  We use that term where the non-Jewish word uses the term "Thank G-d", therefore, for obvious reasons.  But we also use that term when some horrible tragedy occurs.  There is no contradiction for us.  Since we know that we are only in this world for a short time and it is only a preparation for our real/eternal life, we acknowledge that whether is feels good or bad to us, we know with clarity that it is for ultimate good; !ברוך השם

See why I just say, "I am doing fine, thank G-d" and don't try to explain each time what is meant by ברוך השם?


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