Rabbis Blessings
Moshe Ben-Chaim
In Genesis, Rashi states (Gen, 30:2) when Rachel desired children and had none, she asked Jacob, her husband, that he should have prayed for her. Jacob responded, according to Rashi, "God has withheld children from you and not me". We must know that Jacob was not vicious or callous to another human being, certainly not to his own wife. Jacob meant to say, "You have the need, not me, and God has not answered you. It must then be you who prays". A Rabbi mentioned that the person's prayer is the essential one, and not what someone else prays for you.
When what we seek from God goes unanswered, prayer enables us to reflect on our needs and our flaws. Hopefully, we spend time in self contemplation. We must wonder, "what in me has caused God not respond to my request?" This institution of prayer assists us in detecting our flaws that render us unworthy of God's response.
The reason for this is that prayer, when performed correctly, has an elevating reaction on the one praying. The ideas one ponders in the prayers actually raise his knowledge and awareness of these concepts to a higher level. When one adheres to these values, he is more under God's Providence, and will experience a different, more perfected existence than before, now benefiting from God's involvement in his life to a higher degree. (Maimonides, Moreh Nevuchim.)
It is the raising of one's perfection that causes this good. God is not the One who changes in this scenario. Rambam made a statement which I will very loosely paraphrase, as I cannot locate the source: "it is like something distant from a fire, it is in darkness, as it approaches, it becomes illuminated, closer, it is heated, even closer, the fire actually changes its form." This is our relationship with God. The more distant, the more in darkness we are. The closer we come, the more the fire (God) effects us. However, the fire never changed. The analogy being that God does not change. What is perfect, can be no more perfect, and therefore, He cannot change. We cannot change God. Even through our prayer. As God said Himself, (Malachi, 3:6) "I am God, I do not change....". This concept also explains the Mishneh in Pirkei Avos, (Ethics of the Fathers) where 10 miracles are said to have been created at sunset on Friday of the Six Days of Creation. All other miracles were also created then, but in their proper day, as Maimonides states in Ethics, 5:6. All this means that God made the world with all miracles built in to the fabric of their respective substances. God did not need to 'wait' until the miracle is necessary in order to render it. He has foreknowledge, and was able to implant all miracles into he creation - during creation.
This also teaches us clearly that God is the One Who performs ALL miracles, and man performs none. People today believe that Rabbis perform miracles. From Pirkei Avos we see that the Torah's words declare absolutely, that God alone causes ALL the miracles, as ALL miracles were built into creation.
It is crucial to note here that a person cannot effect changes in the world outside of his ability as a mere mortal, a weak individual. Even Moses prayed to God on numerous occasions to make changes. Moses alone had no power to do so. The concept of a Rabbi having any power whatsoever is against Judaism, and against God's recorded accounts of Moses, who was the greatest man to have ever lived, or will ever live. If Moses prayed to God for change, it follows that we must do the same, and we cannot effect changes in nature ourselves. Saadia Gaon says openly in his work, "The Book of Beliefs and Opinions" that man, not even the prophets, had no powers at all. Had they been given power, or protection from death, mankind would project false notions of their being superior to other mortal men, and this is not so. Saadia Gaon gives numerous arguments against the idea that man has any power whatsoever. God is the Sole wielder of power. This has never been given to man,... even Moses. There is a Gemara which discusses "three keys" which were given to man. But like all Rabbinic statements, do not guess at the underlying idea based on a superficial assumption, based only on the topic's title. This statement that God has given certain "keys" to man, cannot mean that God relinquished His unique role as Creator, the Master of all laws.
The Talmud on Blessings of Rabbis
There is a Gemora (Moade Katan 9a) that states that that both Rav Shimon ben Yochai and Rav had sent their son's to receive blessings from their respective students. Why didn't Rav Shimon ben Yochai and Rav bless their sons themselves? They were definitely greater than their students! Yet, they both desired that their students give the blessings. It is also interesting to note that Rav Shimon ben Yochai only sent his son to his students after he saw that these students were "anashim tzura", "wise men". The gemara also inserts that Rav Shimon ben Yochai's desire to have these students give blessings was only after they came back to take leave of him an additional time. As the story goes, Rav Shimon ben Yochai was visited by these two students. They said their goodbyes, and left that night. The next morning they returned to say goodbye again, at which, Rav Shimon ben Yochai asked why they did so. They responded, "Rebbe, you taught us that if a student takes leave of his teacher, but sleeps over in that town, he must once again take leave the next day". To this, Rav Shimon ben Yochai turned to his son and said, "these men are wise men, go to them that they may bless you."
What is so significant about this mechanical activity of returning to take leave a second time, that Rav Shimon ben Yochai thought of these men as wise? Aren't there more difficult commandments which would convey greater intelligence more readily than merely traveling back to say goodbye to a teacher? It is a very simple activity with no real intelligence required! I believe the gemara says that this command was followed by these two students for good reason, and very germane to this story.
Rav Shimon ben Yochai could have very well blessed his son. But blessing doesn't mean one performs miracles or controls nature in any way. Man does not have this ability. Moses didn't perform miracles without God's intervention, and anyone on a lower level certainly cannot perform miracles.
When these two men returned to Rav Shimon, as a friend suggested, Rav Shimon was testing the students by saying, "why have you returned?" Rav Shimon ben Yochai didn't forget the law. He was merely testing to see if their return was one of a personal nature. Meaning, were they so attached to him they didn't want to leave, or perhaps was their return merely out of respect to objective law? When they answered Rav Shimon that they returned "as the law prescribes", Rav Shimon saw in them an intellectual objectivity, and not a lower, emotional dependence. It was this objectivity which he felt was necessary for one to see his son's true nature, and bless him accordingly. Rav Shimon may have felt that he held some bias towards his son, and this is why I believe both Rav Shimon ben Yochai and Rav had their students bless their sons, and they themselves did not. They both saw the need for objectivity.
We now see how the gemara cleverly cited that these two students returned for this specific halacha. This halacha of returning, is to remind oneself of the town's real importance - the Rabbi, the teacher of God's Torah. These students displayed their relationship to their own Rebbe as an objective, intelligent one, not a personal and emotional one. This performance may be simple in action, but it is indicative of one's perfected relationship with his fellow man. Interesting also is that both Rav Shimon and Rav did not instruct their sons to request a blessing on a specific matter, as is done today when people ask a Rabbi to bless them with children or monetary success. Both, Rav Shimon and Rav let the wise students decide what is best for their sons. No preformulated requests. Respect for wisdom alone was the motivation of these two great Rabbis.
What is a "bracha", a blessing?
A Rabbi once expounded on this topic. He mentioned that when Jacob blessed his sons, he merely pointed to each son's nature, and underlined it. Without bracha, one may have to decide whether to take a position or not. He has no knowledge how it will play out later in life. He can be very successful, or a real failure. However, with prophecy, as Jacob had, he was able to remove doubt from his son's lives, and share with them Divine Knowledge to assure their successes.
But we today, as well as Rav Shimon and Rav, do not have prophecy. So what does bracha - blessing - mean in this sense? Also, what does the gemara mean that when sick, one should go to a chocham - a wise person? It means that a wise person looks at you objectively, studies your character, and points out your wrong doings so you understand how to operate better, and remove yourself from sin. The reason why one gains illness may be due to a misguided life. "Many evils befall the righteous, and they are saved from them all." This teaches that one who is not righteous, may suffer illness. To teach man of his wrong, God may deliver illness apropos of the mistake, "mida kneged mida" or "measure for measure", as He did to Miriam the prophetess. She was smitten with leprosy for speaking against Moses, her brother.
It is of the utmost importance we realize that in no case does a person display the ability to change nature or perform miracles alone. This, the gemara and Chumash do not state. When prophets 'seem' to revived dead children, the commentaries explain that when they laid upon the child and he revived, eye to eye, mouth to mouth, he only laid upon him so as to concentrate more on his prayer. The prophet prayed, and God revived.
The Blessings of the Rabbis' Students
These wise students of Rav Shimon ben Yochai asked Rav Shimon's son upon his arrival, "What do you request here?" He responded, "My father sent me to you to receive a blessing". When these students heard this, they quickly surmised that this son of Rav Shimon was clearly still taking direction from his father. Perhaps, this is why their blessing was longevity, for Rav Shimon's son, his wife and his children. By making this wish to the son, perhaps, this young man will abandon his current paternal dependency and feel secure through this blessing, to start a life of his own. This I believe may be the purpose of this specific blessing.
Rav Saadia Gaon stated clearly and numerous times, "man has no power over the elements".
(Read the article by Rabbi Reuven Man on this topic: When a tzaddik should get angry