A Blessing, What Does it Do?
By Avi Lazerson
Why do Jews make blessings? What does a blessing do? Does the food become blessed? Is the food that is blessed tastier or better than before? Or perhaps there is a different reason for making blessings?
Actually there is a Talmudic tractate called "Brachot", meaning blessings, that deals with the many and varying aspects of blessings. To shed a bit of light on our questions we refer to the fourth chapter which has an argument that when we analyze it, can help give us some information on exactly why we Jews make blessings.
The beginning of the chapter speaks about what blessing to make on fruit. All blessing start basically the same; "Blessed are you, Lord, our G-d, ..". The difference is in the end of the blessings. On fruit that grows on trees, say ".who has created the fruit of the tree." On fruit that grows from the ground, say ".who has created the fruit of the ground."
But the Talmud interjects at this point a differing opinion, the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda, who says that on grains, we say ".who has created the different species of grain." and in another place he says on seeds we say ".who has created the different species of seeds." It seems that Rabbi Yehuda has many different blessings for each and every type of fruit and vegetable. Even though the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda is not accepted, we shall soon see that by contrasting him to the first opinion, that of the unnamed rabbis, we shall have a better understanding of blessings.
As the Talmud continues it changes course to see what is the force that compels us to make a blessing. At first the Talmud wants to say it could be a requirement from the Torah, but it rejects it to say, that rather it is a logical deduction. What is the logical deduction? Just this: It is forbidden to enjoy from this world with out a blessing.
Now our question returns. What exactly is the purpose of a blessing? Why is it a logical deduction that it is forbidden to enjoy from this world with out a blessing?
More ever, is the blessing for the food? Is it for us? Or is it for G-d?
In the blessing are we thanking G-d for the food? Is it a recognition that some how G-d has a hand in the land's production and growth of food?
To answer these questions we really need to find and define the difference between Rabbi Yehuda and the unnamed teacher of the Talmud. Rabbi Yehuda seems to feel that by giving praise to G-d for each and every different type of specie is the best, but the unnamed teacher disagrees and says that it is enough to mention if it came from the tree or the ground.
Why is this?
Rabbi Yehuda seems to want to give praise to G-d for each and every different specie. G-d could have simply given us one type of food to eat but out of the goodness of His heart, He created for us a multitude of types of food. So for this, Rabbi Yehuda feels we should give Him a multitude type of thanks. So it seems that Rabbi Yehuda sees the purpose of the blessings as our chance to thank G-d for His bountiful goodness.
But the unnamed rabbis see it differently. Most people in this world think the ground and trees grows things because that is their nature. Just put a seed in the ground and add water and presto, something grows! This is a mistake! To think that the ground has an inherent nature to produce fruit and vegetables is incorrect. It does not.
Instead the unnamed teacher is telling us that in reality the nature and ability of the ground in producing produce has been given to the ground and trees by G-d and this point is very important to remember. With out G-d investing His ability in the ground and trees to create, the ground and trees could not produce fruit or vegetables. It is just this very power that G-d has invested into the earth that needs to be recognized and understood by us.
As we live in this world, it is so easy to forget that G-d is all around in our lives. We can not see him, and the few miracles that come our way can easily be misconstrued. Therefore the unnamed teacher makes a point that we must realize that it is G-d's energy and ability to create that is given over to the ground and trees that enable them to produce.
The purpose of making a blessing then is not for the food but rather for us. It is for us to realize that it is G-d's hand in the creation that enables us to continue to have a constant food supply. Before we eat, we should take this opportunity to see His greatness in all of His doings, of which the most basic is in providing us with food.
Once we are able to see His hand in this most spectacular display of His greatness, we will be able to see Him more actively in all of our live situations. The realization that G-d is in all of our lives at all times is a very important point of being a Jew.
from the 2015 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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