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Saturday, July 26, 2014

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Thanking God with blessings

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Around eight years ago, I decided to try my hand at cooking by preparing a dafina (Moroccan cholent) for my congregation.

I surfed the net, found a recipe and followed it carefully. To my surprise, the dafina was delicious. My wife asked who made the dafina, and when she found out it was me, she told me I was hired! It was the beginning of a new hobby.

For me, cooking is a time of meditation, especially when I’m alone and it’s quiet. It’s a time of introspection where I realize the abundance that HaShem provides us with every moment. How do we thank God for this abundance?

There are many ways to express our appreciation for His bounty, and reciting brachot is certainly one of them.

A brachah is a formula specified by Jewish law by which we thank God. It can be long or short, but it invariably contains the name of God and a phrase beginning with the words “Baruch Atah” (“Blessed are You”).

Many biblical commentators question this terminology, for how is it possible, they ask, for a person to bless God, who lacks nothing? What do we mean when we declare that God is “baruch”?

The Chizkuni (13th-century France), says in Bereshit (24:27) that the word “baruch,” when used in relation to God, is an expression of greeting or praise.

The Rashba (1235–1310, Spain) posits in a responsa that a brachah is the acknowledgement that He is Ruler over all, and everything comes from Him. As the Talmud states, “A person must bless [God] for the bad just as he must bless Him for the good (Brachot 60b).” The Rashba continues by explaining that the word “brachah” comes from the word “breichah,” meaning reservoir of water (i.e., the source of everything).

Rabbi Chaim Volozhin (1749-1821, Lithuania), says in Nefesh HaChaim, that the expression “baruch” means multiplicity and abundance.

Rambam (1135-1204, Spain) explains in a wonderfully clear manner in Yad Hachazakah, when treating the subject of brachot, that the wording of the brachah was instituted by Ezra and his court (circa 350 BCE) and that anyone who deviates from the wording of a brachah is mistaken. The exception to the aforementioned blessings’ origin are the biblically commanded Birkat Hamazon and Birkat HaTorah.

The Rambam teaches that the purpose of brachot is to acknowledge the awesome reality that God is the Creator of everything. Human nature causes us to believe, mistakenly, that the beautiful lunch we enjoyed today, the great car we saved for years to buy or the library we’ve built over the years all belong to us.

But the fact of the matter is that all of these things really belong to God and are on loan to us. Reciting a brachah acknowledges this truth.

We are so fortunate. Let us seize the many opportunities we have each day to thank God for what we have.

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