Friday, May 21, 2010

Blessings in Depth (posted by Sam)

In an earlier post, the Big Elephant introduced the idea of blessings. Here is the concept in more detail.

In Jewish life we are asked to say lots of brachos, blessings. For example, we say blessings before we eat; and these are very specific blessings (the Hebrew name for each blessing is in parentheses): One for fruit (ha’eitz), one for vegetables (ha’adama), one for cookies (mezonos), another for beverages (sh’hakol), and so on. There is also a blessing to be said after going to the bathroom, before smelling a rose bush, after one hears a loud clap of thunder, when one sees an unusually beautiful person, when one meets an exceptionally wise person, and at a marriage ceremony, to name just a few. The concept of verbally reciting blessings is prominent in Jewish life and is meant to make an indelible impact on our consciousness.

In Hebrew the word for blessing, brachah, is closely related to the word breichah, which means, a natural spring of water. A free-flowing spring of fresh, life giving waters is the Jewish image of a blessing. In many ways it is also the Jewish image of life.

The purpose of blessings is to call our attention to spiritually dramatic moments and experiences that often get overlooked.

When one sees a flash of lightning illuminate the sky the blessing to be recited is; Blessed are You God, Sovereign of the universe, Who constantly renews creation. Blessings are tools designed to enable us to truly see the wonders that are all around us. At the same time, in fact, there are not blessings for most of what we do in life. There is no blessing before you work in your garden, buy a card for an ailing friend, make lunch for your kids, or put your glasses on (although there is one for putting your shoes on).

The blessings that we do say are there to sensitize us to the fact that much of what we do is a blessing. In being directed to say some blessings, we are being guided to notice all blessings.

Here are the basics. How to say blessings:
Source in the Torah: “And when you eat and are filled, then you will bless G-d your Lord for the good land that He gave you.” (Deuteronomy 8:10)

Basic Ideas:
  • Some blessings are said before we eat. These are called a bracha rishona.
  • Some blessings are said after we eat. These are called a bracha achrona.
  • Thank you God! It’s easy to just dig in to good food without thinking about where it comes from. Blessings remind us that without God, there would be no food to eat.
Let’s do it:
Bracha rishona, before eating:
  • Different foods have different blessings: For fruit, the blessing is ha’eitz; for vegetables, it’s ha’adama; for cookies it’s mezonos. These are a few examples. Have fun learning all the blessings and matching them with your favorite foods.
  • Remember, before taking the first bite of any food, make a bracha.
Bracha achrona, after eating:
  • Different foods also have different after blessings: For fruit, vegetables, and lots of other stuff, it’s borai nefashos: for cookies, pasta, and other baked foods, it’s al ha’michiya.
  • There is a special blessing for certain fruits that grow in Israel, like grapes, olives, and others.
  • Birkas Hamazon is the blessing said after eating bread.
  • Even if your main course is something like spaghetti or a steak, if you also ate bread, then you say Birkas HaMazon.
Did you know?
Abraham and Sarah used to invite many guests into their tent for a meal. After eating, they would remind their guests that food is a blessing from God. Then, they would all thank God.


  1. Nice post Sam. Make sure to practice that blessing for "unusually beautiful people." You will need to say it the next time we meet. :)

  2. I forgot to mention, if you want to see the source in depth for Abraham and Sarah thanking God with their guests, see Genesis 21:33 (particularly Rashi's commentary). And Mr. Big Elephant, I am practicing the blessing for "exceptionally strange-looking people" for our next meeting!