Q: I would greatly appreciate it if you would explain what it means to be blessed. When many believers say they are blessed, they imply that they have found favor with God. Does this mean that God favors some over others? Have the favored pleased God more than others? Isn't this contradictory to what is stated in the Book of Job? Fleming James' book, "The Personalities of the Old Testament" (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1939), has a chapter on the writer of the Book of Job. On Page 533, James states "As a matter of fact, prosperity and adversity have no necessary connection with goodness and wickedness. God's dispensations towards individuals cannot be interpreted as rewards or punishments." — J from Wilmington, North Carolina
A: To be blessed is to be given more than you deserve by God and to know that you have been given more than you deserve. To be blessed is to know that God has touched your life.
One hard part about your question is the issue of relative blessedness. To have God touch our life does not mean that God touches every person in the same way. Our various talents are the marks of God's blessing, but we are not all gifted in the same way and degree. The common and shared fact of our blessedness is that we are all made equally in the image of God. This means that we are all equally holy. We are not all equally blessed, but we are equally holy.
The other hard part of your question is people who seem not to be blessed at all, people who live with physical, social, emotional or economic burdens so crushing that they never have a chance to draw an easy breath. This seems unfair. How could a good and powerful God ignore these poor people's plight? The answer is in the first verse of the 23rd Psalm, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not lack." The meaning is that nobody has absolutely nothing. The Rev. Tom Hartman told me a story of being greeted in a shack in the slums of Calcutta by a woman who basically had nothing. She was smiling and brought him a cold soda. It would have taken her a week to save up enough money to buy it, but she found in her heart the spirit of generosity to greet a visiting priest. She seemed to have nothing, but she had everything. She was truly blessed.
Unfriending a witch
Lots of you were not happy that I endorsed a reader's decision to cut off a friendship with a witch.
Q: Dear Rabbi Gellman, I was very disappointed in your response to the Christian woman who questioned if she had done the right thing by ending a friendship with a former friend who practiced Wicca. It would seem your attitude and knowledge is gleaned from comic books and horror movies. I am a practicing Jew. My wife grew up in a Christian church but now is a practicing follower of Wicca. It has nothing to do with evil spells or unnatural ceremonial practices. As a Jew I was taught "do not do unto others as I would not have done to me." How much different is that from the Wicca belief that wishing harm to another will return to yourself many times over? We celebrate the bounties of God's given gifts. They celebrate the majesty of the Earth and the heavens.
You should have advised that ill-informed woman to embrace her former friend for the common goals of peace and harmony instead of feeding into centuries of misinformation and fear. I have had discussions with my wife about such things and think modern practitioners of Wicca make/made a mistake by insisting on calling themselves "witches" rather than finding a less loaded name. There's just too much ill history associated with the term for them to successfully change general attitudes. My wife and her associates are among the most caring and socially active people I know. I think you owe them an apology and should rethink your answer to that woman. — D from Bay Shore
A: Dear D, I think you are right. You are right that Wiccans should stop calling themselves witches. Witches cast spells and casting spells is a form of magic, the belief that we can control God and nature through our rituals and our will. This is a spiritually corrosive belief. I also think that my heart was too hard, and I should have been gentler and less judgmental. Thank you for teaching the teacher. I apologize. I think I have watched "The Wizard of Oz" too many times.
SEND QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad at firstname.lastname@example.org or Rabbi Marc Gellman, Temple Beth Torah, 35 Bagatelle Rd., Melville, NY 11747.