The Beauty of Brachos
Many Jews say blessings or brachos everyday, often without putting much thought into it. To most, brachos seem like a natural way of expressing gratitude to G-d for all that He gives us. But are brachos about more than giving thanks? Like all aspects of Jewish observance, the reasoning behind brachos is rich in underlying ethical and spiritual teachings.
According to our Sages, a Jew should recite 100 brachos or blessings a day. Understandably, this seems like a daunting task. For some it is perhaps less daunting upon learning that the majority are said during the three daily prayer services, and the remainder are said before and after meals and before the performance of other daily mitzvas. If the Sages required that we say no less than 100 of them a day, then one can reasonably conclude the Sages considered brachos important. Why? Here, I will attempt to briefly explain to the best of my ability why we say brachos, the deeper meaning behind brachos, and how saying brachos can enhance our lives.
First the obvious question. What is a bracho? According to Artscroll’s The Laws of B’rachos, there are three categories of brachos. One category involves those that we say over enjoyable activities such as eating and drinking. Another involves those that we say over observing mitzvos such as tefillin, blowing shofar, counting the Omer, and tzitzis. Finally, the third category includes those that we say during the three daily prayer services – Shacharis, Mincha, and Maariv (the brachos of the Shimoneh Esrei fall under this category).
Part of why we say a bracho is to give thanks. We are expressing gratitude to G-d and recognizing that all that we have and all that we are able to do comes as a direct result of His will and not our own or anything else’s. However, behind brachos is something deeper than saying ‘thank you’. The word ‘baruch’ is often translated as ‘blessed’ or ‘praised’. Does it make sense for a mortal human being to bless or praise the all-powerful, omniscient, Creator of the universe? We make brachos, not because G-d needs us to, but because it gives us an opportunity to connect with Him. The word baruch means more than thanks or praise. Rather, according to The Laws of Brachos, it denotes an utter and complete dependence on G-d. We not only thank Him, but we recognize that nothing in this physical existence can occur without Him specifically willing it. The Sages instituted brachos for so many facets of life in order to teach us that everything from the tiniest drop of water to our ability to wake up in the morning comes from G-d. This is meant to teach us that G-d is not simply the Creator, but the orchestrator of all that happens. Brachos reinforce this powerful teaching on a daily basis.
When G-d gave humans dominion over the world, we were given the ability to denigrate or elevate our existence. When we make a bracho over something such as food we unlock its hidden spiritual potential. By making brachos for even the simplest, most mundane, and animal-like aspects of our lives such as eating, drinking, and going to the bathroom, we elevate these activities and make them holy. More importantly, through bringing out the G-dliness hidden in our environment we elevate ourselves and actualize our spiritual potential. By recognizing our complete dependence, we are not simply receiving G-d’s gifts, but appreciating and delighting in recognizing that they are from G-d. Brachos allow us to transcend our nature which is to simply take from this world. Giving thanks and recognizing our complete dependence on G-d, in turn, makes us become better givers. In this way, brachos enhance life with greater meaning and depth. From a Jewish standpoint, gratitude and awareness of G-d are linked to happiness. One who truly knows everything comes from G-d is happy with his lot in life. When said with kavanah (concentration), brachos help us internalize this idea and empower us to connect to G-d through all of our daily activities.