Defining Ge’ulah

R. Shimon said: When the Holy One, blessed be He [-- HQBH], came to create Adam, the ministering angels formed themselves into groups and parties. Some said, “Let him be created,” while others urged, “Let him not be created.” Thus it is written, ” חֶֽסֶד־וֶאֱמֶ֥ת נִפְגָּ֑שׁוּ, צֶ֖דֶק וְשָׁל֣וֹם נָשָֽׁקוּ׃ — Love and Truth fought together, Righteousness and Peace kissed each other.” [Tehillim 85:11] Love said, “Let him be created, because he will dispense acts of love”; Truth said, “Let him not be created, because he is compounded of falsehood”; Righteousness said, “Let him be created, because he will perform righteous deeds”; Peace said, “Let him not be created because he is full of strife.” What did Hashem do? He took Truth and cast it to the ground. Said the ministering angels before HQBH, “Sovereign of the Universe! Why do You despise Your seal? Let Truth arise from the earth!” As it is written [in the continuing words], “אֱ֭מֶת מֵאֶ֣רֶץ תִּצְמָ֑ח — Let truth bloom up from the earth.” [v. 12]

-Bereishis Rabba 8:5

Man was created with Hashem’s knowledge that with the existence of free-willed beings, Truth would be submerged and have to emerge over time through the process we call history.

The Qetzos haChoshen has a beautiful comment on this medrash. He noted that here truth is described as tatzmiach, blooming. When we make the berakhah after an aliyah, we say “vechayei olam nata besocheinu — eternal life [or perhaps: life of the world{-to-come}] was planted within us.” The Qetzos explains: Torah is the seed from which our medrash tell us Truth blooms.

Rav Shim’on Shlop writes about the difference between the first luchos and the second ones.

AS A BEGINNING OF this preparation, so that one is ready to acquire Torah, the Torah requires specific conditions. The first condition is toil and contemplation, as our sages explain “‘If in my statues you go’ (Vayiqra 26:3) … that you should be toiling in the Torah.” (Rashi ad loc, quoting Toras Kohanim 26:2)

One can use this to explain the whole notion of breaking the [first] Tablets, for which I have not found an explanation. At first glance, understanding seems closed off. Is it possible that Moses our teacher would think that because the Jews made the [Golden] Calf they should be left without the Torah? He should have just waited to teach them until they corrected their ways, not break them altogether and then have to fall before Hashem to beg for a second set of Tablets. Our sages received [a tradition that] there was a unique ability inherent in the first Tablets. As it says in Eiruvin (folio 54), “What does it mean when it is says, [of the first Tablets] ‘[The Tablets were made by God and written with God's script] engraved on the Tablets’ (Shemos 32:16) ? Had the first Tablets not been destroyed, the Torah would never have been forgotten from Israel.” (Eiruvin 54a) Which is, they had the power that if someone learned them once, it would be guarded in his memory forever. This quality Moses felt would cause a very terrible profaning of the holy to arise. Could it happen that someone destroyed and estranged in evil deeds would be expert in all the “rooms” of the Torah? Moses reasoned a fortiori from the Passover offering about which the Torah says “no foreign child shall eat of it.” (Shemos 12:43 [To explain: If one offering can not be possessed by a non-Jew, how much more so should the entire Torah not be possessed by someone who is not merely a non-Jew, but an evil person.]) Therefore Moses found it fitting that these Tablets be shattered, and he should try to get other Tablets. The first Tablets were made by G-d, like the body of writing as explained in the Torah. The latter Tablets were made by man [Moshe Rabbeinu], as it says “Carve for yourself two stone tablets.” (Shemos 34:1) Tablets are things which cause standing and existence, that it’s not “letters fluttering in the air.” Since they were made by Hashem, they would stand eternally. But the second ones, which were man-made, only exist subject to conditions and constraints.

The beginning of the receiving of the Torah through Moses was a symbol and sign for all of the Jewish people who receive the Torah [since]. Just as Hashem told Moses, “Carve for yourself two stone Tablets”, so too it is advice for all who receive the Torah. Each must prepare Tablets for himself, to write upon them the word of Hashem. According to his readiness in preparing the Tablets, so will be his ability to receive. If in the beginning or even any time after that his Tablets are ruined, then his Torah will not remain. This removes much of Moses’ fear, because according to the value and greatness of the person in Yir’as Hashem [Awe/Fear of Hashem] and in middos, which are the Tablet of his heart, this will be the measure by which heaven will give him acquisition of Torah. And if he falls from his level, by that amount he will forget his Torah, just as our sages said of a number of things that cause Torah to be forgotten. About this great concept our sages told us to explain the text at the conclusion of the Torah, “and all the great Awe Inspiring acts which Moses wrought before the eyes of all of Israel.” (Devarim 34:12 [the Torah's closing words])

- Introduction, Shaarei Yosher

Thus, with the giving of the Second Luchos, the Torah was made a dynamic process. Rather than a Torah entirely contained in writing, external to the people for easy reference, it is now make part of the people, and part pf our process of growth in both wisdom and in middos. (And even, as Rav Shimon continues, of our material progress.)

R’ Chaim Brisker (Derashah 17) writes something similar to Rav Shimon Shkop’s words on the second luchos. He says that the first luchos contained the entire Torah, even down to “a question a student will ask his rebbe in the last generation.” With the second luchos came the concept of Oral Torah and the need for Torah study. They entail Hashem’s choice to make Torah less well known but more internalized into the people. Making the nation Hashem’s “parchment”.

Rav Chaim refers to the thught of Chazal which says that had we not made the Golden Calf, the redemption from Egpt would have been the complete redemption. That sin necessitated further exiles, a longer process to reach the ultimate ge’ulah, And this is why the first luchos could not exist in a post-calf world — for two reasons. First, because without the Torah being intimately tied to the Jewish People, our host nations would have co-opted it. And second, the unity of the people and the Torah would give us a self-definition that would enable us to survive as a distinct people.

The picture I am drawing using the concepts of Rav Shimon and Rav Chaim is of history as a process by which Truth, which had to be compromised by the creation of Man, is planted again in the Heart of the Jewish People as Torah, and through that Man is refined, the Torah is refined, and Truth sprouts forth from the ground, reconciled with the refined human being at the culmination of history.

It certainly sounds like a definition of ge’ulah, redemption, in the sense of describing the redemption of the universe and of the human condition.

Following his theory that phonetically related roots are similar in meaning, Rav Hirsch places the “ge’ulah” in the same family as \יעל\ (to progress), as ג and י are articulated in the same part of the mouth, as are א and ע. The meaning would also be shaded by other \גל\ roots that lack the middle א semivowel — \גלל\ (to revolve) and \גלה\ (to reveal). Our definition can thus be phrased as “a process for the the ultimate revelation of truth.”

And thus it is no surprise that the dips in the process, where it takes what looks like a step away from the embodiment of Truth in order to cause a greater revelation, is called “galus” (exile).

There is an interesting implication here. (The startling element is not in my embellishments, but in the original Qetzos.) Torah is not being described as Truth. Rather, it is the seed and process from which Truth blossoms.

One wonders if this is related to the Maharal’s explanation of machloqes (disputes in halakhah). In an earlier entry, I described his position as follows:

The Maharal’s position is that “divrei E-lokim Chaim — the word of the ‘Living’ G-d” is simply too rich and too complex to exist in this world. Therefore they are mapped to oversimplified models, related to Hashem’s words the way a shadow is a flattened representation of the original. And thus, different people looking at the problem from different directions will get different shadows — even though they are all accurate representations of the same thing.

To finish out the metaphor: The angle at which we look at Devar Hashem is our “derekh“, our path in how we . This derekh, just like the lamp, is determined by two things: mei’ayin basa, ule’an ata holeikh — from where do you come, and to where are you going? Where the lamp is, and the angle it points. Different people were put together differently, and can have different emphases in how they interpret the ultimate goal.

The complexity of Devar Hashem causes the illusion (to us) of paradox. It’s no more real of a paradox than the 5 blind men who argue about the nature of the elephant. The one who felt the elephant’s ear would argue an elephant is like a fan. The one who felt its leg would think it is like a tree. But it’s only because we can’t capture the full picture.

It is possible to say that history is the process of closing the gap between Truth in its full richness, and Torah as our ability to make it manifest. Or, as the mequbalim would say, “Lesheim yichud Qudshah berikh Hu uShechintei – For the sake of the unity of the Holy” — i.e. Remote — “one and His Presence” — i.e. as we Perceive her amongst us.


There are three words for counting that factor prominently in the Torah.

Parashas Pequdei gets its name from Moshe Rabbeinu’s accounting of all the material collected for the mishkan. The root \פקד\ has three meanings altogether:

  1. To count out inventory
  2. To remember, “veHashem padas es Sarah ka’asher amar — and Hashem remembered Sarah [so that she could conceive Yitzchaq, as He said..” (It is worth comparing this usage of “paqad” with “zachar“.)
  3. To appoint, as in Yoseif’s method for running Egypt’s storehouses – “vayafqeid peqidim“.

I point this out in relationship to another root used to mean counting, \ספר\, which also has three meanings. This is mentioned in Seifer haYetzirah, discussed by the Kuzari (4:25), and is the reason why the 10 sefiros are called sefiros. It can mean:

  1. Counting, as in mispar (number)
  2. To cut — from which we get sapar (barber) and misparayim (scissors)
  3. To tell, lesapeir, or a book seifer

There is also a third word used for counting, but we only find it with respect to counting people. In parshios  Beamidbar and Naso, Hashem commands Moshe “nasa es rosh — count the heads”.

What is the difference between counting in the sense of /pqd/ or nasa, and counting as denoted by lispor?

Parashas Naso’s counting comes immediately before a discussion of the nesi’im a term from the same root meaning the head of a sheivet (tribe). The word reuse would seem to indicate that this, like pqd, is about appointments. In both cases, we’re looking at individuals as individuals, and pointing out their distinct role.  A paqid is given a special duty, just as a nasi is, and just as you can emphasize the worth of each individual, “raise their heads” when ou count them, you can show the destination of each item donated when you make an accounting. Which would also explain the meaning of “to remember” one particular person rather than letting her remain part of the whole.

Lesapeir, however, is to cut. The items being counted are counted as pieces of the whole. The story isn’t simply being said over (lehagid) one must spell out each element. The verbal step of the seider may be called “maggid“, but the mitzvah of the night, which goes beyond the verbal into the foods of matzah and maror, of re experiencing the tears of karpas and the joys of Hallel, is “sippur yetzi’as Mitzrayim.”

Lesapeir sipur isn’t to give a one sentence summary: “There was a car accident.” It’s to divide that one thesis into its parts, telling detail. “So and so got a call on his cell phone. He was distracted, and didn’t notice the car making a right turn ….” Thus the connection to cutting.

It is not coincidental that this is in pedagogic question-and-answer form, a teaching format. Because that’s lesapeir. When the last of the prophets needed to organize the Torah into a format usable even as prophecy ebbed away, our rabbinic leadership (the usage of the word “rabbi” in this way didn’t begin yet) we called the soferim. In part because they counted out the letters of the Torah, to insure accurate reproduction of the Torah even after the Babylonian exile. And thus they were also sofrim in the sense of writers of the seifer which contains the sipur.

But perhaps foremost, they were the ones who made halachic analysis as we know it today possible. During their era was the story of Purim, and the Jewish people’s response to it. “Qiymu veqiblu haYehudim — the Jews established and accepted.” Chazal, perhaps wondering about the redundancy of “qiymu veqiblu“, comment “qiymu mah sheqiblu qevar — they established that which they had already accepted” in Sinai (Megillah 7a). They gave it a spelled out analyzable basis that didn’t require prophetic grounding. The concept of having short memorizable paragraphs describing established law, the notion which became the Mishnah, began.

But also because they represented a shift from being able to speak from a prophetic identification of the big picture principles to a need to reason from individual facts. Lisapeir, to tell the idea detail by detail.

Rav Chaim Brisker asked what the difference was between the obligation of zekher yetzi’as Mitzrayim (remembering the departure from Egypt) which is a daily experience, morning and evening, as part of Shema, and the night’s obligation of sippur Yetzi’as Mitzrayim (see Haggadah miBeis Levi p 110). He answers that zekher requires only saying one sentence. As R’ Elazar ben Azaryah puts it, “Behold I am like 70 years old, and I didn’t merit understanding why yetzi’as Mitzrayim must be said — shetei’amer – at nights. Until Ben Zoma expounded it..”

Sippur, however, has 4 elements:

  1. Ideally, it should be told to another in question and answer form.
  2. One must start the telling with genus (discussing our disgrace), and end with shevach (praise).
  3. It must include a discussion and performance of the three mitzvos of the night: pesach, matzah, and maror.
  4. It must tie the events to the date, the night of the 15th of Nissan, on which they are being recalled.

(These can be mapped to different sections of Maggid. See “The Structure of the Seder“.)

In our language, the difference is between simple amirah and sipur.


A couple of years ago I collected some of my own thoughts and others from around the web into a commentary on the Haggadah shel Pesach. I took special care to give the seider a definite structure, as in this blog entry, in accordance with the meaning of the word seider, order.

Blogged Divrei Torah about Pesach are all available by  visiting this category.

Earlier divrei Torah for Pesach:

Toras Aish 5762 Lekhem Oni and Packing Peanuts

Aspaqlaria 5764 Who Knows Four?

Tam, what does he say?

The text of our Haggadah for identifying the third son is somewhat ambiguous. The word “tam” means “simple”. It could refer to someone who is simple minded. And this is the interpretation assumed in most translations of the Haggadah — “The simple son”. And then there is the frequently repeated thought on the words “At pisach lo — you shall open [the discussion] for him”, or perhaps even “you shall Passover for him”. The verb “pisach” is in the masculine, but the noun “at” is feminine. Because teaching the simple son requires a woman’s touch, or in this case, that the father be in touch with his feminine side.

However, I have seem commentaries that note that “tam” is used in the Torah as a compliment. Simple in the sense of having a pure faith, a first-hand relationship with the A-lmighty. And so while the Chakham (who may very well be a different aspect of the same person as the Tam) is taught the laws of Pesach, the Tam is given the heart of Pesach. We could say that the Chakham is the ideal pursued by the stereotypical Litvak, whereas the Chassid is trying to be this understanding of the word Tam.

♦ ♦ ♦

When R’ JB Soloveitchik was “Berel, the Rabbi’s son”, a boy living in the predominantly Chabad town of Chaslovitch, the cheder he attended was in a room rented from the carpenter. The carpenter was a “pashuter Yid — a simple Jew” as they would have said in Yiddish. Whenever he worked, the carpenter would say Tehillim. The future Rabbi Soloveitchik noticed that he had things timed; whenever the carpenter drove in the last nail it was just as he finished the last verse of Tehillim. Regardless of the size or complexity of the piece, the man would say Tehillim at just the right speed to match.

It is like the Zohar’s comment on the words “Chanokh walked himself with G-d, and he was gone for G-d had taken him” (Bereishis 5:24). The Zohar states that Chanokh was a shoemaker, and with every stitch he not only attached the uppers to the soles, he also pronounced names of G-d and unified the worlds. And at some point his soul simply sored upward and left this world without dying. (Similar in kind to Eliyahu’s mode of passing.)

♦ ♦ ♦

Rav Soloveitchik would repeat the Vilna Shoemaker Dilemma. While the Gaon studied Torah in Vilna, there was another man, not recorded by history, who was Vilna’s shoemaker. He wasn’t a gifted genius, nor capable of sleeping in half-hour installments and accomplishing work 22+ hours a day. Of course, in terms of Torah the Vilna Gaon knew more and taught more. But the shoemaker spent his days banging at his shoes and saying Tehillim with pure thought. He too accomplished everything he could with what Hashem gave him. Who was holier?

And in a statement one would have expected from a chassidic story, not this heartland of Lithuanian learning, the answer is simply “We can’t know.”

I think it’s no coincidence that Rav Chaim Volozhiner, a student of the Vilna Gaon, tells a story which concludes: “And there I hear a voice from the street. I put my head out the window and I see Eli the shoemaker running excited. ‘What happened Eli? What happened to the light of the sun? Why are the birds singing so loudly? Why are all the trees suddenly blooming?’ The shoemaker responded ‘Don’t you know rebbe?’ The shoemaker gave me a look at said, ‘Moshiach came'”

♦ ♦ ♦

The version of the four sons in our Hagaddah follows the Talmud Bavli. In the Yerushalmi, there is no such ambiguity — this son is call the Tipesh, the child who isn’t as bright as most of us.

As a procedural question, textual variants can be taken two ways. The first approach would be to assume there is no dispute, that these are simply two different expressions of the same basic idea. Which would imply in our case that “tam” would have to mean “simple minded”. The other is to assume that the Bavli intentionally used a different word than the Yerushalmi in order to express a difference of opinion. And therefore “tam” here would be someone who is “spiritually unconflicted”, wholeheartedly a servant of G-d.

I happen to have a son who would be called a “tipeish” if the term hadn’t been turned into an insult. Shuby has Downs. But he truly is tam in both senses of the word: because his understanding of the universe is so uncomplicated, if I tell him “Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere” — He is. To Shuby, when reminded of the fact, Hashem’s Presence is just as real and immediate as mine.

The Vilna Shoemaker or Chaslavitch Carpenter were not among history’s Chakhamim (although there is no reason to believe they were any less bright than most). But they were Temimim; they lived their lives with only one goal — to serve Hashem with the upmost of what He gave them.

Their worldview is captured by Shalom Aleikhem in the mouth of Tevye the Milkman. He may mangle every verse or statement of Chazal that he tries to repeat, but his life is a continuous dialog with the A-lmighty. We meet him coming home moments before candle-lighting on Friday afternoon. He is pulling his milk cart, and muttering something. As we get closer, we hear him ask the A-lmighty, “But did You have to break my poor horse’sWas that necessary? Did you have to make him lame just before the Sabbath? That wasn’t nice. It’s enough you pick on me. Bless me with five daughters, a life of poverty, that’s all right. But what have you got against my horse’s leg?” And so he continues, his constant discussion. In his own little way, Tevye fulfills “Shevisi Hashem lenegdi tamid – I place Hashem before me constantly” in a manner matched by few who have greater erudition.

Of course, the true goal would be to have both.

Eizehu chakham? Halomeid mikol adam.” Ben Zoma teaches us, “Who is wise? Someone who can learn from anyone.” Finding what to learn from the Vilna Gaon is trivial. But what are we to learn from the third son? “Tam, mah hu omeir?

This temimus, this purity of belief and personality is accessible even — no, let me write “more so” — to the Yerushalmi’s tipeish, the simple boy who may not be able to understand everything going on around him, but who uses the all the beauty Hashem gave him to touch heaven with his fingertips.

Sweet Charoses

(Version II of an earlier thought.)

Charoses poses a paradox. On the one hand, the Rambam writes, “The charoses is a mitzvah from the Sofrim, as a commemoration of the mortar that they worked in in Egypt.” (Laws of Chaomeitz and Matzah 7:11). Charoses represents mortar, slavery.

On the other hand, contemporary recipes for charoses are to make it sweet. Sephardic, Ashkenazic and Yemenite recipes have few ingredients in common, yet they all use a sweet mixture (see also Pesachim 115b, which warns against losing the bitterness of the maror under the sweetness of the charoses).

So which is it — a symbol of slavery, or of the sweetness of freedom?

Thinking about it, though, matzah presents a similar ambiguity. We open Magid by describing matzah as “the bread of suffering which we ate in Egypt”. Yet, later on, when we repeat Rabban Gamliel’s three things that must be said to fulfill the obligation of the seder, we say we eat matzah “because there was not enough [time] for our ancestors dough to rise”.

Again, which is it — a symbol of slavery, or of a hasty redemption?

What is interesting is that we see the same duality in the very concept of mitzvah. On the one hand, the root of the word is \צוה\, to command. This is the idea we convey before taking out the Torah, in “Berikh Shemei” (from the Zohar). “I am a servant of the Holy One, blessed be He”. We keep mitzvos for a simple reason. G-d told us to.

However, the word for “commandment” is “tzivui“. Mitzvah is built from the passive form, a less probable conjugation, “that which was commanded”. The late Lubavitcher Rebbezt”l opined that this is an allusion to a second root, \מצצ\ or \מצו\, to connect for nourishment or aim. Mitzvah can be read as the feminization of this root. Which gives us a second definition of “mitzvah” — not only are they “what G-d commanded” but also they provide a focus to our lives, a way to connect to Him. And so the selfsame Zohar we cited in the previous paragraph occasionally refers to the mitzvos as the “Taryag itin — the 613 eitzos, ideas / pieces of advice”.

In a shi’ur on the berakhah before netilas Yadayim, I suggested that this is the reason for the phrasing of berakhos on mitzvos, “asher qidishanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu — Who sanctified us with His mitzvos and commanded us…” Mitzvos are to be viewed both as an opportunity to draw qedushah and as a straightforward act of submitting to His command.

“‘The tablets were engraved (charus) by G-d, and the writing was the writing of G-d.’ (Shemos 32) Don’t read ‘charus‘, but ‘cheirus‘ (freedom). For no one is more free than one is busy with Torah study.”
— Pirkei Avos 6:2

Mitzvah operates on two levels. Servitude, simple obedience to G-d. Freedom, doing what is in our best interest. And here is where the two ideas we’ve been looking at converge.

“You will guard the matzos” that they shall not come to leaven…. R. Avohu says, “It should not be read ‘matzos‘ but rather ‘mitzvos‘. Just as we don’t let matzos leaven, we similarly don’t let mitzvos ‘leaven’. Rather, if one comes to your hands, do it immediately.”
— Rashi, Sh’mos 12:17

Matzos, in the guise of “there was not enough time”, teaches us about the proper way to do mitzvos. They parallel because they both share the same dual nature. On the first level, one would assume they are unpleasant, something one would want to avoid. But by the time we’ve explored the subject, toward the end of “Magid“, you can feel how they represent the path to freedom.

The mitzvah is a yoke we accept upon ourselves because we know that Hashem commanded (\צוה\) it to nourish us (\מצצ\). On the surface layer, it is “the bread of affliction” but we eat it by choice, because we trust the G-d gave them to us to help us.

This is a major theme in the Exodus story in general. As we say in Sh’ma “I am Hashem your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt to be for you a G-d/Legislator.”

We also have a key to understanding the apparently oxymoronic symbolism of charoses. It doesn’t represent the bitter servitude of Par’oh, but the sweet, voluntary yoke of heaven. We eat is with maror, which does represent the bitter slavery, and give it the appearance of that servitude to bring to mind the contrast.

Charoses, like being a “servant of the Holy One” has a surface layer, an appearance of the mortar of slavery. But experientially, it’s very different. Or, as King David wrote, “טַֽעֲמ֣וּ וּ֭רְאוּ כִּי־ט֣וֹב יְהוָ֑ה, אַֽשְׁרֵ֥י הַ֝גֶּ֗בֶר יֶֽחֱסֶה־בּֽוֹ׃ — Taste and see that the Hashem is good; happy is the man who takes refuge in Him. ” (Tehillim 35:9, said in Shabbos and holiday Shacharis)

(It is interesting to note that due to the inclusion of the next 2 verses in bentching (“Yir’u es Hashem qedoshav…“)and R’ Yisrael Meir haKohen Kagan’s choice of title to his seifer “Chafeitz Chaim”, added to the efforts of a number of 20th century songwriters, many people are aware of the mussar content of this chapter of Tehillim. However, this preceding verse doesn’t get the same attention.

Na’aseh viNishmah — we will do, and we will hear.” Doing come first because only through the first-hand experience can we hear the beauty, the depth, of the Torah.

Shetir’u baTov

(10-Apr-2008: Added a significant point near the end.)

The Bostoner Rebbe (of Boston) commented once on the expression “Shanah tovah umsuqah – a good and sweet new year”, which is related to the famous custom of having apple and honey on Rosh haShanah.What does “umsuqah – and sweet” add, beyond the notion of “tovah — good”?

As Rabbi Aqiva often said, “All that the All Merciful does, He does for the good”. An echo of the words of one of his rabbeim, Nachum ish Gamzu, who would greet events that would disappoint or depress most of us with “Gam zu letovah — this too is for the best.”So actually, wishing one another a good year could be thought of as being redundant. Everything is good, how could this year be any different? However, not everything I was told was “for my own good” was particularly pleasant.
Therefore, the rebbe teaches, we wish that the year not only be tovah, good, but also be mesuqah, sweet to our perception as well.

Along the same lines, I had a thought about a phrase in Shabbos and Yom Tov davening:

Our L-rd, and the L-rd of our fathers, sanctify us bemitzvosekha (through Your mitzvos), and put our portion beSorasekha (in Your Torah), satisfy us mituvekha (from Your Goodness), and make us (or: our souls qua living force) biyshuasekha (in Your salvation)…

The predicate prefix has an oddity: it says bemitzvosekha, beSorasekha, and later, beyshu’asekha. But by goodness, the prefix is “mituvekha” — “from”, not “be-” (“in” or “through”) like by the others.

The reason, I believe, is because we are asking for something inherently different. We can ask G-d to make us more holy by allowing us to do more mitzvos, or give us the opportunity to learn more Torah, or make us happier by saving us more often. This is “be-“, we are asking for more of a gift by asking for more of the vehicle He uses to give it to us.

Since everything G-d does is good, we can’t be asking for G-d to give us more good, and thereby make us more satisfied. There is no more good for us to get. Rather, we are asking for more satisfaction with the goodness He already provides. This is why the “mi-” prefix is used.

This is also in contrast to Rebbe’s words (Berakhos 50a) about benching, that a wise person says “uvtuvo chayinu — and through His good we live”, and a boor, “umituvo chayinu — and from His good, we live”. Rebbe says that “umituvo” is incorrect because it says that we live through some of His Good, implying that Hashem gives meagerly. Perhaps it’s different here, when we ask for happiness, because the truth is that if we had a full realization of even a small part of His Good would be enough to satisfy. Like the piyut we sing at the seider. We list fifteen things Hashem did for us when taking us out of Egypt. But had He done any one of those 15 alone, “Dayeinu“!

R Shelomo Wolbezt”l would part someone’s company wishing him “shetir’u batov — may you see the good!” Because the tense of “tir’u” is ambiguous, this is both a berakhah and a mussar shmuess.

Taken in the future tense, “May you see”, it becomes a blessing that Hashem allow him to see all that’s good in his life. In the imperative, the same work becomes “Look”, advice to the person to take the initiative and seek out the good of every situation. To aspire to the middah of Nachum ish Gamzu and Rabbi Aqiva of realizing the Hand of G-d in everything, and looking to see how even the tragedies in our lives are necessary steps to something bigger which He has in store for us.

The two together yields a profound combined meaning. Live is the product of a partnership between myself and G-d. It is the sum of my free-willed decisions and the hand Hashem deals me. “Shetir’u beTov” addresses both at the same time, by praying that Hashem show the person good, and that the person look to find it. A greeting that recognizes the fundamental covenant by which man is redeemed.

It’s a beautiful greeting, one worth adopting. Wishing others could taste the sweetness.

Shetir’u baTov!

(With thanks to RYGB for helping me find the gemara.)