Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg
June 14, 2004- Number 5764-31
Blessings for Different Occasions
What is a blessing? According to the Talmud it is any prayer that begins with a formula that mentions both the name of G-d (the four letter name that is never pronounced, that we vocalize as “Adonai”) and the G-d as ruler of the world (in Hebrew “Malchut”). The standard blessing format “Praised are You, Lord our G-d, Ruler of the Universe…” meets this criteria and is the basis for all blessings. Note that the Amida, the most ancient prayer in our Siddur, does not meet this criteria in its opening words. This is because the Amida predates the standardization of the blessing format.
Blessings have two forms, the short form, which opens with the phrasing above, and the long form which begins the same way, but ends with a “summary” (in Hebrew: Hatimah) that begins with “Praised are you Lord….” and concludes with a summary of the meaning of the blessing. When one long blessing follows another, we do not need to repeat the opening blessing and the Hatimah serves to keep the blessings separate.
Blessings are considered to be a way of showing our gratitude for all that G-d does for us in life. The Sages insisted that we recite 100 blessings a day as a way of understanding how dependant we are on G-d for almost every aspect of our life. I should add here that with the blessings that are recited as part of the liturgy of Shacharit, Mincha and Maariv, as well as with the Birkat HaMazon recited after meals, we can easily cover 100 blessings a day.
We are told that there is a blessing for everything in Judaism and this is very true. What does not have a specific blessing assigned to it, can be remembered in a series of generic blessings. For example, the Daily Amidah has no less than 19 blessings that refer to almost every aspect of our needs that we share with G-d. The 15th blessing is a generic blessing asking G-d to hear our prayers, those we say and those we feel in our hearts.
There are few sources that have EVERY possible blessing listed. Most are not easily available. Any good Siddur has a list of the most common blessings collected in a section on blessings. Siddurim that are specific for certain occasions may not carry these lists of blessings, but every “all purpose” Siddur will certainly have this list. You can find it in the large Sim Shalom (the complete version for Shabbat and Weekdays) beginning on page 708. There are blessings for all kinds of foods; i.e. spices, fruits, vegetables, wine, bread, cake and cookies, for eating the first fruit of the season and a generic blessing for all foods that don’t fit easily into one category or another. There is a blessing for smells; i.e. fragrant trees, spices, fruits and oils: blessings for natural events; i.e. seeing a storm, hearing thunder, seeing a rainbow, spring flowers, seeing the ocean or seeing something beautiful in nature. There are blessings for seeing special people, i.e. seeing a learned person, a head of state, or an exceptionally beautiful person. There is a blessing to be recited when hearing good news, and one for hearing bad news. There is a blessing for visiting a place where miracles occurred for our ancestors and when our own personal miracles occurred. There is a blessing for affixing a mezuza to a house, and for wearing new articles of clothing. There are blessings to recite when we witness a birth and a different blessing when we are confronted with death. Even in death we have a reason to thank G-d.
The Rabbis call the one who uses this world and does not thank the Creator, a theif.
Next week: Wedding I: Who can marry and who can not