For thousands of years, Jews have said the blessing “Baruch Dayan HaEmet” (“Blessed be the True Judge”) in response to death and tragedy. The entire blessing with God’s name is as follows: Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, the True Judge. In Hebrew it is pronounced: bah-rooch a-tah a-do-noi e-lo-hei-noo me-lech ha-o-lahm da-yan1 ha-e-met. The traditional Jewish response to the news of a death, any death, is “Baruch Dayan HaEmet,” “Blessed be the true judge.”
Reasons for “Baruch Dayan HaEmet”
If there is a ritual formula, you have to say when there is shocking news, you are less likely to say something inappropriate or cruel. Death is solemn, and even if it is expected, it can be a shock. People say unwise things when they are shocked. Having a script for the first moments can be very helpful.
In doing so, one acknowledges that the sum total of that person’s life could not be known. By saying that only God is qualified to do this, it either reinforces the belief that God is the only true judge or that only God can sit in judgment.
A statement of humility (“I cannot judge”) reminds one not to say something inappropriate with the next words.
If the death is tragic or unexplainable, this is a way of saying, “I don’t understand how this could happen,” without starting a conversation about the possibilities. It keeps people away from platitudes that might get in the way of healthy grieving, or other statements that might be unhelpful to those who are grieving.
Origin of “Baruch Dayan HaEmet”
The longer form of blessing first appears in the Mishnah Berachot 9:2 (“Blessed are You, Eternal One, our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who is the True Judge.”). In this Mishnah, it is said that this is a blessing spoken upon receiving bad news. Rabbi Louis Rieser teaches that this is a way to acknowledge the presence of God at a moment of great emotion, when we are most overwhelmed by a loss.
The moment of death is a time when no words will suffice, but we humans are relentless with our words. Through a simple ritual of humility with many possible interpretations, Jewish tradition gives a vessel for words at a time when they can do terrible harm. There is no need to say anything after “Baruch Dayan HaEmet” – after all, it says, “I have no words for this. One stands with the mourner or stand as mourners in the presence of the greatest mystery of life, and with these words one clears the way for the long process of mourning.