Skip to main content

Blessed be the name

Learning from a rowing machine surprise

I think you’re reading my 1,000th WORLD column on this back page, so it’s time to reveal one trade secret in column-writing: Give readers a sense of security by being in the same place each issue, but give them a bit of insecurity by not necessarily signaling at the beginning how the column will end.

I mentioned last year how pathetic a hitter I was in Little League. I could mention that I was also poor in dodgeball, rope-climbing, or anything else that required agility or strength. But this column is not a search for sympathy.

A lack of skill led me to emphasize feats of will. I could do 100-plus situps, slowly bicycle long distances, and most recently walk at least 10,000 steps each day for 534 straight days. But this column is not about compensatory persevering neuroses. 

Because I didn’t know when to stop, I always hurt myself. Hurt my knee running too much too soon. Hurt my chest doing too many pushups. Most recently developed plantar fasciitis in my left foot from walking too much. But this is not a column about knowing our limits.

Rabbi Israel asked him, “What is more important than thanking God?”

After I limped around with plantar for weeks a doctor said I needed to give my foot a rest for months, so in December I bought a good rowing machine. Pulling a chain turns a paddle within a closed transparent bowl containing four gallons of water. I like it a lot, and watched as the young man who delivered the machine used a big plastic funnel to fill the bowl.

As he excellently finished the setup I remarked that the funnel worked well and asked how often I would need to use it. He said he could not leave it, because the funnel did not come with the machine. Some columns require an embarrassing confession, and here’s mine: My pleasure at having a beautiful rowing machine turned to irritation. 

Wait a minute, I replied huffily, and thought nastily: I’m paying a lot for this machine, and the essential plastic funnel doesn’t come with it? The deliverer, Daniel Ramirez, responded very courteously, but I said I’d complain to the manager. Then Daniel said two words that made me wonder if my hearing as well as my foot was amiss: Baruch Ha-Shem

Baruch Ha-Shem—Hebrew for “blessed be the name.” Some churches sing Matt Redman’s lyrics: “Every blessing You pour out, I’ll / Turn back to praise / When the darkness closes in, Lord / Still I will say / Blessed be the name of the Lord.” It’s also a familiar phrase among Orthodox Jews, who write G-d and won’t say God, instead saying “the name.” 

But I didn’t expect to hear those words in Hebrew in the context of a rowing machine delivery. I asked: What did you say? Ramirez repeated those words and pointed to my bookcase: a book with Hebrew on the spine. I said, “Yes, blessed be the name.” He said, “I figured you are Jewish.” I responded, “You figured partly right. I’m a Jewish Christian.”

We shook hands. Daniel told me he goes to a Messianic Jewish congregation that has two services, one in Hebrew and English, another in Hebrew and Spanish. I confessed my Presbyterianism and said I wasn’t aware of that congregation, so he told me more about it. But this column isn’t about Messianic Judaism.

This column is about putting first things first: Baruch Ha-Shem. Three centuries ago Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the father of the Hasidic movement, traveled from village to village and asked, “Is everybody healthy?” People normally replied, “Baruch Ha-Shem, all is fine,” or “Baruch Ha-Shem, things are improving.” When one scholar, bending over the Talmud, scowled at the interruption to his concentration, Rabbi Israel asked him, “What is more important than thanking God?”

Instead of thanking God for this beautiful rowing machine, I had scowled about a plastic funnel. How many of our days are taken up with complaining instead of thanking?