This week’s Torah reading gives us the Priestly Benediction, delivered by the kohanim (priests) on festivals during services. It is the familiar “May the L-rd bless you and protect you.” In commenting on one of the blessings, the Talmud reveals an important aspect of the Jew’s attitude to Judaism.
“May the L-rd favor you.” The Talmud tells us that the ministering angels protested this, because the Torah declares that He “has no favorites.” G-d replies to this contradiction: “How can I help but favor Israel? I said, ‘You will eat and be sated and (then) you are to thank G-d for the good earth,’ and they give thanks for a small morsel of food.”
This may sound somewhat whimsical at first, but in simple terms it expresses Israel’s devotion to G-d. Israel does not believe in and follow G-d because He is good to us, out of gratitude for His blessings. If Israel’s faith were dependent on G-d’s immediate blessings, based on our “eating and being sated” before we accept Him, then Israel would have abandoned Judaism centuries ago.
Judaism stresses not G-d’s obligations to man, His debt for our goodness, but man’s devotion to G-d. Not what He owes us, but what we are due Him. We do not demand full satisfaction before expressing gratitude, but gratefully thank Him for the humble morsel, or as our Sages put it, “We should thank G-d for every breath we take.”
Thus Israel earns G-d’s favor. We make no conditions for Him to meet, we present no ultimatum to the Creator, He is never on trial. If we do question, we ask not whether He is doing a good job, but whether we deserve what He has given us.
(Rabbi Zalman Posner)