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What Are Brachot?

What Are Brachot?


Ami Silver

Writer

From the moment we wake up to the moment before going to sleep, before we eat, after we eat — we’re always making Brachot! But because they’re such a constant in our lives, it’s no wonder we end up muttering the words. Quickly these prayers lose their sense of meaning, even becoming obstacles in the way of the food we want to enjoy. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Brachot don’t have to be a burden — they can be a meaningful experience. Join Ami Silver as he re-examines the origins of Brachot in the Bible and discovers new meaning behind these prayers — and never think about Brachot the same way again.

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Transcript

Oh, Hi!…

Sorry, didn't see you there. Brachot - like the one I just mumbled - are everywhere. From the moment we get out of bed in the morning, to when we go to sleep at night. Every time we daven; before we eat, after we eat, we're always making brachot! There are so many of them each day - it's no wonder we end up muttering them at warp speed. We have to squeeze in a mezonot in the time it takes to get that muffin from the table into our mouths. We rattle off an asher yatzar quickly enough to answer that call. Brachot are such a constant in our lives, that they end up losing their sense of meaning. They become these little obstacles that stand in between us and the food we want to eat, or the thing we need to do next. But wouldn't it be nice if making brachot were less of a burden, and more of a meaningful experience?

In order for that to happen, we need to understand what a bracha really is. What does "bracha" even mean? We often say things like "I give you a bracha to find your soulmate," or "you should be blessed with good health." Is a bracha just something we say when we want good things to happen?

Well, let's see. Does that work with the common brachot we make every day? When we're about to eat an apple, and say "baruch ata Hashem, boreh pri ha'etz," we're not wishing God well, or saying, "God, You should be blessed to create many more delicious fruit." If anything, the brachot we make throughout the day are ways of recognizing God and saying thank you for the things He's given us - whether it's food, new clothes, or the opportunity to do a mitzvah.

So, we solved it! "Bracha" really means recognition, and thanks. Buuuuut, before we end this video - let's see what the Torah has to say. The first time the root - beit reish chaf - appears in the Torah is on the fifth day of Creation. After God creates the fish and the birds, it says וַיְבָ֧רֶךְ אֹתָ֛ם אֱלֹקים לֵאמֹ֑ר - God gave them a bracha, saying - פְּר֣וּ וּרְב֗וּ וּמִלְא֤וּ אֶת־הַמַּ֙יִם֙ בַּיַּמִּ֔ים וְהָע֖וֹף יִ֥רֶב בָּאָֽרֶץ - be fruitful, and multiply. Fill the seas with fish, and the skies with birds!

So, according to our theory, God recognized the fish and the birds, saying, be fruitful and multiply??! That just doesn't work! This bracha can't be about recognition and thanks.

But maybe the context here can help us understand what it is about. Because if we read on just a few more verses, the exact same bracha pops up again, this time with Adam and Eve: וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹתָם֮ אֱלֹקים - God gave them a bracha, and said - פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֛וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ - "be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth!" Two times, in just a few verses, we see God giving a bracha to be fruitful and multiply. Is it possible that this has something to do with the very meaning of what a bracha is? Maybe in some essential way, bracha has to do with peru u'revu: increase and multiplicity.

And it kind of makes sense. Because doesn't being blessed mean that you've received more of something good? More wealth, more happiness. When the Torah says you'll have bracha in your field or bracha in your womb, it means that your crops will increase, you'll have more children.

So, this seems compelling, right? Bracha equals multiplicity. But to be sure, let's test it out on one more passage in the Torah that's dripping with brachot: it's an often-overlooked story about Avraham and Malkitzedek, a local king and priest. Avraham and his band of men have just defeated the combined armies of four kingdoms to free his nephew Lot. And Malkitzedek decides to honor him with a feast. He brings out some wine and bread, and then: וַֽיְבָרְכֵ֖הו - he gives Avraham a bracha, וַיֹּאמַ֑ר and says - בָּר֤וּךְ אַבְרָם֙ לְאֵ֣ל עֶלְי֔וֹן קֹנֵ֖ה שָׁמַ֥יִם וָאָֽרֶץ - "Baruch is Avram to God, Creator of Heaven and Earth." וּבָרוּךְ֙ אֵ֣ל עֶלְי֔וֹן אֲשֶׁר־מִגֵּ֥ן צָרֶ֖יךָ בְּיָדֶ֑ךָ - "and Baruch is God, for He protected you from your enemies."

These brachot don't seem to have anything to do with multiplying or increasing! If anything, Malkitzedek is merely recognizing things that God did for Avraham! Baruch Kel Elyon, God You're awesome, You were really there for Avraham.

So we're back to the drawing board. It seems like sometimes bracha means multiplicity, but other times, it's a type of thank you or recognition. Is there a more essential meaning of this word that somehow brings these explanations together? And if there is, could this deeper idea help make our brachot more meaningful?

Let's take a step back from all of our associations and preconceived notions about the word bracha. Let's just look at it on its own: ב-ר-כ-ה. Does anything jump out at you? What if we play around with the vowels; is there any other word that you see? These same letters can also spell the word בְּרֵכָה. In modern Hebrew, a breicha is a swimming pool. But in Biblical Hebrew, it means a cistern, an ancient water source.

But a cistern isn't just a little old well. Ancient cisterns were pools of water that fed into rivers and streams. Sometimes they were the sources of aqueducts that transported water miles away to nourish entire cities! Is it possible that a breicha, can somehow serve as a model for understanding bracha? Just like a cistern, a bracha might be referring to a source, that expands itself outward, to nourish and sustain its recipients.

Let's try to apply that model to Malkitzedek's brachot. What were those brachot about? Malkitzedek was recognizing the source of what took place before him. When he said, "Baruch Avram la'Kel Elyon" he was saying - I see that God's greatness is pouring through you, Avram. God has turned you into a source of strength, a mighty current that can't be stopped; not even by great and powerful armies. And - Baruch Kel Elyon asher migen tzarecha beyadecha - I also recognize that God is baruch. He is the original source behind these great events. It all ushered forth from Him. Through your success, Avram, I see God's bracha unfolding.

This bracha - breicha connection can also help explain what bracha has to do with multiplicity and expansion. Think back to those verses about the birds and the bees and Adam and Eve. God gave them a bracha to be "fruitful and multiply." He was empowering them to generate more of themselves. To become a source of life! Like water that flows out from a cistern to create new streams and pools, new life would now unfold from creation itself. Just like with Avraham, God's bracha transforms those who receive it into an unfurling source that expands and bubbles outward.

So now, let's come back to the brachot that we make. When we say "Baruch ata Hashem," we're not blessing God or giving Him a bracha. We're recognizing God as the source of what's right in front of us - be it a mitzvah we're about to fulfill, a rainbow that appears above us, or food that we're about to eat. When I hold an apple and say, "baruch ata Hashem, boreh pri ha'etz," I'm saying: "God, in this moment, through this fruit You created, I can see that You are the Source. This apple is a product of Your unfolding creative output."

So yeah, we make a lot of brachot throughout the day. But they're not meant to be these annoying burdens or religious dues we need to pay to God. Each bracha is a distinct opportunity to recognize God in our world and our lives. Before we eat, we start with the awareness that we're being fed by the Source of life. When we make a bracha before doing a mitzvah, we're recognizing where the mitzvah comes from. We're not just going through the motions. The bracha makes us aware that we're fulfilling God's will and desire in this very moment.

The brachot that accompany us in our everyday experiences and in the special occasions of our lives, are meant to transform these moments into unique points of connection with God. When we trace these seemingly disconnected dots back to their Source, it makes our lives more, well… blessed… day by day, minute by minute, moment by moment.

Thanks for watching. May your day be filled with bracha.

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