In today’s daf (Brachot 46b) we find a series of discussions about the section of Birkat HaMazon, known as ‘HaTov VeHaMeitiv’, which celebrates all the good that God does for us.
According to Rabbi Akiva, when Birkat HaMazon is recited in a house of mourning the ‘HaTov VeHaMeitiv’ section should be replaced by the ‘Dayan HaEmet’ blessing. However, the Sages disagreed and they took the view that the ‘HaTov VeHaMeitiv’ paragraph should be kept and ammeded to include a further section reflecting the spirit of ‘Dayan HaEmet’ and acknowledging how God takes away life and rules the world as He chooses.
It should be clear that underpinning this debate is a profound theological discussion concerning how we look upon life when immersed in the grief of death, and though Rabbi Akiva is often known as a hopeful scholar, nonetheless the recitation of ‘HaTov VeHaMeitiv’ in a house of mourning is a hard idea to process. The question we must therefore ask is why do the Sages take the view that it should be maintained and adapted so that it also incorporates a ‘Dayan HaEmet’ message?
To answer, we must return to the beginning of today’s daf (46a) where we are told that it is customary for guests to recite (ie. lead) Birkat HaMazon ‘so that they can bless their hosts’. In addition to this, we are also taught (46b) that when Mar Zutra recited Birkat HaMazon in the presence of Rav Ashi who was mourning a relative, he included a ‘Dayan HaEmet’ section in the ‘HaTov VeHaMeitiv’ paragraph which he then concluded with the following exquisite sentence: ‘May He who mends the breaches in Israel mend this breach within Israel for life’.
Based on all this I’d like to suggest that this is possibly the basis for the Sages point of view that maintains ‘HaTov VeHaMeitiv’ and also includes ‘Dayan HaEmet’. Of course, when visiting someone who is mourning a relative it is essential to acknowledge what has occurred, and this is done by invoking the words of Dayan HaEmet which, as I once explained, is a blessing that comes from the mind while trying to counterbalance the pain in our heart. Still, by being present for the mourner, and by offering them words of comfort, there is also an element of ‘HaTov VeHaMeitiv’, ie. the possibility of goodness and kindness even in the most challenging and painful times.
Ultimately, people can face many challenges that they find very hard to bear, and while we are neither capable nor responsible to explain these events, our task is to acknowledge the pain, while offering words of comfort like those of Mar Zutra – ‘May He who mends the breaches in Israel mend this breach within Israel for life’.