- Blessings on Nature
- Moshe Ben-Chaim
- Talmud Brachos, page 54a discusses various
blessings recited over the natural world. On shooting stars or
comets, earthquakes, thunder, winds (tornadoes), and lightning,
we recite "Blessed are You Ha-shem, our God, King of the
universe, that His strength and might fill the universe."
Over mountains, valleys, seas, rivers and deserts, we say "Blessed
are You Ha-shem, our God, King of the universe, Who performs
acts of Creation."
- What is the distinction between these
two groups, that each deserves a different praise? What is each
praise? Why must we praise God for these phenomena?
- On the latter group, Rashi says that we
recite "....Who performs acts of Creation", as each
are heard or seen from a distance. What is Rashi's theory? What
does distance have to do with our recital?
- Tosfos states that the rivers which demand
the former blessing are not all rivers, but only those mentioned
in Genesis. According to Tosfos, all mountains would require
a blessing upon seeing them, even those not mentioned in the
Torah. (I might add that according to Jewish law, we only recite
this blessing when we have not seen the mountains, sea, etc,
in more than 30 days. This too requires an explanation.) But
what is Tosfos' main theory, that only the four rivers in Genesis
require this blessing, but no others? And why are rivers treated
differently than other Earthly topography?
- In both cases, Rashi and Tosfos define
the essential criteria which demand these specific blessings.
Analyzing their statements will direct us to the true features
- Let us first try to categorize these to
sets. What category would contain shooting stars or comets, earthquakes,
thunder, winds (tornadoes), and lightning? To assist in defining
the unique character of these, contrast them to the latter set;
mountains, valleys, seas, rivers and deserts. Think for a moment
before reading further what two categories these phenomena represent?
- It appears that the first set is of natural
laws, or 'forces' in nature. The second set does not contain
forces, but rather, 'objects', represented by various, but impressive
Earthly topography. We learn that both, God's 'laws' of Creation,
winds, lightning, etc., and His 'objects' of Creation - land
and water masses - both of which are of impressive in man's eyes,
require man to praise God. Our next step is to deduce what we
can. That man must bless God over these phenomena, we deduce
that man must direct his appreciation for the universe, towards
the Creator. Witnessing Creation's primary and impressive features
must culminate in an appreciation for the Creator, as this is
a purpose in God's Creation of such marvelous forces and Earthly
domains. God desires man reach his Maker through a study of the
universe, and he therefore embedded in the natural world such
startling evidence of His own handiwork.
- This is of such great importance, that
Maimonides says it is for this reason that the Rabbis instituted
blessings. Hilchos Brachos, 1:4, "We find that all the blessings
entirely, are three types; blessings over pleasure, blessings
over commands, and blessings over thanks, which are in the form
of praise, thanks and requests, in order to remember the Creator
regularly, and to fear Him."
- It is important to realize that only two
categories are blessed over, as there are only two categories
in Creation; 1)matter, and 2)laws, governing matter. I also believe
it is these two categories which Genesis addresses. We first
read of the six days of creation, of heaven and Earth, the luminaries,
plant life, animals, and man. But what we notice is that we are
reading only of of the objects created, matter. As we commence
chapter 2 in Genesis, verse 4, we take note that the Torah describes
the workings of plants, then, with no break, describes the creation
of man once again, this time referring to him identical to animals,
as a "nefesh chaya" a living soul - not as in chapter
1, where man was referred to a "tzelem Elokim", a likeness
of God. Why the change? I believe in chapter 1, man is described
in his true essence - a thinking being. In chapter 2, man is
described in terms of his inner, psychological workings. This
I deduce because just as plants are described in their workings,
and with no break in that Torah section, man is introduced, our
traditions teach that all subjects in one single Torah section
must be related. Therefore, if plants are described with their
governing laws, so to man. So Genesis describes the matter of
Creation in chapter 1, and in chapter 2, discusses the workings,
or governing laws of Creation. God made two things, matter and
laws governing that matter. (As an interesting thought, if man
is now being described in his behavior, where is his behavior
described? All we see is the four rivers, but that too is of
interest, as King Solomon also spoke of rivers in the beginning
of his work, Ecclesiastes, "Koheles". Is there a parallel?)
- Returning to the subject, we now see there
are two areas of Creation, matter and laws. The blessing over
laws, is now befitting, "...that His strength and might
fill the universe." Laws refer to God's might. What about
matter? Why does the blessing over seas, mountains, etc., deserve
the blessing, "...Who performs acts of Creation"? The
answer is that when we witness a vast ocean or a huge mountain,
it is static. But, we are very impressed. We ponder, "Who
made this?" Or, "How did this get here?" Our minds
immediately reflect on its creation, as we know for certain that
this mountain has been standing here since day one. It reflects
Creation. For this reason, we praise God and recite, "...Who
performs acts of Creation". Both blessings appear appropriate
for their respective subject matter.
- We can now turn to Rashi's and Tosfos'
statements. Rashi says that we recite "....Who performs
acts of Creation", as each are heard or seen from a distance.
What is Rashi's theory? I believe Rashi indicates what demands
blessing: It must be that which forms part of our experience,
and although distant, a comet, thunder, lightning or an earthquake
are very much part of our experience. They are all so impressive,
distance plays no role in diminishing the effects of these natural
phenomena. This I believe is Rashi's point. He teaches us that
blessings demand personal experience, and in all cases, we have
experienced something quite phenomenal.
- Tosfos says that the four rivers in Genesis
alone require blessing, and no others. But ALL mountains would
require blessings. What is the distinction between a river and
a mountain? A river is active, it flows. Why does this matter?
Perhaps Tosfos means to say that the four rivers were the first
rivers, and they created all others. Meaning, these four alone
were created as rivers, and all others were not acts of God's
direct Creation, but later offshoots. Tosfos teaches that we
only bless over that which God made, not which nature created.
But all mountains are direct creations of God, one mountain is
not a cause for another. Therefore, we bless over any mountain.
Other rivers may be the cause of rain, or snow caps on mountains
that melt, so we don't bless on them. This latter explanation
was offered by my friend and chavrusa, Yoni.