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For the week ending 30 July 2005 / 23 Tammuz 5765

Blessing in dSkies

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

From: Martin in NJ

Dear Rabbi,

First, I enjoy reading your very logical responses to questions. I have been reading about Jewish life for many years trying to understand what it means to be a Jew. I think I am beginning to understand. One item that will help me fit the pieces together is a good meaning of the word "bless". What does it mean to "bless" something? Or better, a "blessing" FOR something may be a better question. I think I figured it out, but am yearning for an official answer. Thank you in advance.

Dear Martin,

Thank you for your encouraging words of blessing. I feel fortunate to be part of your search for the meaning of Judaism.

The word commonly associated with "blessing" in Hebrew is beracha. Sometimes this is understood as praising or lauding. However, many sources indicate that beracha more accurately refers to a flow of increase and bounty.

For example, in Blessed by a Rabbi we referred to the story in the Talmud (Berachot 7a) in which G-d asked the High Priest performing the Yom Kippur service to bless Him. There, we dont find that Rabbi Ishmael included any praise in his blessing, just a prayer and a request that G-ds mercy be increased. Similarly, when Yaakov said to Esau, "Take my blessing" (Gen. 32:11), we dont find that Yaakov praised or blessed him at all. Rather, in giving him gifts and thereby increasing his possessions, Yaakov gave him beracha. The same applies with the verses, "He will bless your bread" (Ex. 23:25) and, "He will bless the fruit of your womb" (Deut. 7:13). Obviously the intention is not that G-d will laud our bread and offspring, but rather will give us plenty and bounty.

Therefore, when we talk about blessing something, or giving a blessing for something, it is not about praising, but rather an expression of our desire that something be improved, and a request from G-d for that bounty. This is also the case regarding the many blessings, or berachot we make to G-d. What is usually translated as, "Blessed are you, Hashem our G-d" is actually a request and expression of belief that the flow of Divine energy and influence affecting the subject of the beracha be increased. So, for example, when we make a beracha before eating an apple we are actually drawing down an influx of spiritual bounty sustaining this specific apple and all fruit trees in general.

When we give a beracha to someone for something, we have in mind increasing and improving the Divine Providence flowing down upon the person regarding that thing be it health, wealth, happiness, finding a soul-mate or the like. As mentioned in Blessed by a Rabbi, even the blessing of a simple person is very valuable. Still, when giving a beracha to someone, it is very important to have a humble heart before G-d (bericha means bending the knee, a symbol of humility). Also, keeping in mind what weve explained about what beracha is and how it works, it is a very good idea to begin by blessing G-d, before blessing the person. This way one increases the source of beracha on high (bereicha means a pool) before directing its flow down below.

Sources:

  1. Nefesh HaChaim 2:1
  2. PeleYoetz, "Berachot"

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