Blessings and Jewish Ethics

Why don't we say a blessing before we do a good deed?

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The refusal to respond to a beggar is linked to idolatry because there is no essential difference between erecting a wall against one’s fellow and erecting a wall against God, who demands to be treated as a “subject”, to be looked directly, so to speak, in the face. The experience of another subject creates a demand upon us by its very presence to make room to respond.

Whether the encounter is with a beggar or a bride or the Creator, every encounter contains within it a call, a mitzvah, to make room, to approach, to act. A religious or spiritual personality is one that is open to those encounters, those calls. Both brakhot and ethics can function as disciplines for cultivating that openness.

Both are necessary and each leads to the other. For even if we think we are turning away from God, whenever we turn in openness to the presence of another, we find that we have turned to the Divine other as well. There is, after all, nowhere else to go.

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Rabbi Joshua Gutoff

Rabbi Joshua Gutoff is a teacher and writer living in Brooklyn, NY.