Rabbi’s Corner: Praising God During Difficult Times-“Baruch Dayan Ha-emet”

Mary Gonzalez’ cousin, Captain Arnon Moshe Avraham Benveniste Vaspi, on his first visit home from the army since October 7th. The weekend
before
He was killed in Gaza.

 

In Judaism, when we learn of someone’s death, it is traditional to recite: ‘Baruch dayan Ha-emet- praised be the true judge.” These words may seem cold, unemotional, almost detached, especially when learning of someone who died due to violence, war, illness; for someone who died too young before “their time.”

We have been reciting this blessing a great deal recently – for all those killed in the brutal October 7th Hamas massacre/attack on Israel and the deaths resulting from the resulting war. We recited it last week for our TBS congregant Mary Gonzalez’ Israeli cousin, Captain Arnon Moshe Avraham Benveniste Vaspi, who was killed at the beginning of the week of November 20th fighting in the Northern Gaza Strip. He was a combat officer in the Givati Brigade of the IDF and was 26 years old. How do we say “Baruch Dayan Ha-emet” for a 26-year old who was killed fighting in a war that Israel did not ask for? This is a war that Israel did not begin.

What does this phrase mean? Rabbi Marcia Prager, Director and Dean Emerita of the Aleph Renewal Ordination program, teaches that one answer can be found by looking at the letters of the last word of the blessing: the Hebrew word אמת / emet, which means “true.” The first letter of “emet” is alef, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the second letter is mem, the middle letter of the alphabet, and the last letter is tav, the last letter of the alphabet. Rabbi Prager teaches us: ‘what is true about life? That every life’s journey has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Every life’s ending opens a new beginning: for the soul of the person who dies, and for those of us who remain.” So when we recite this blessing, we are thanking God for blessing us for the gift of the “beginning, middle, and end” of that person’s life – even if we cannot make sense of a particular life’s journey. We are grateful for the life that was lived, in all its fullness, no matter the length of years. We are grateful for its beginning, we are grateful for the intervening years, and we are hopeful that the soul will be at peace and with God as this life’s journey ends.

This blessing does not negate our mourning, nor remove our immense sorrow, or grief at our loss. It acknowledges that God’s eternal presence will abide. God will support us on our journey of loss and mourning, as we journey back to the “land of the living.”

Captain Arnon Moshe Avraham Benveniste Vaspi’s was born into a family dedicated to defending and protecting our Jewish homeland. Their family story is unusual: many of Arnon’s relatives lives’ were sacrificed in defense of Israel. Even though his life was short in years, the middle years of his life was rich and full. He said: “The army taught me more than I have ever learned in school.”

You can read his and his family’s stories here: Gaza War Claims IDF Soldier with Deep Military Heritage

We salute Captain Arnon Moshe Avraham Benveniste Vaspi, and all who died, for his courage, his valor, his beginning, middle and ending years of his life. We wish consolation and condolences to his bereaved family. May they feel the nurturing embrace of all the Jewish people – and all good people – wrapping our arms around them metaphorically from around the world.

Baruch Dayan Ha-Emet – Praised be the True Judge.
May his memory be for a blessing.

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