In last week’s column, we discussed some background and common examples of birchos hare’iyeh – brachos recited when experiencing various natural phenomena. In particular, we focused on the brachos of “Oseh ma’aseh bereishis” – “Who makes the works of creation” and “She’kocho ugvuraso malei olam” – “Whose strength and might fill the world.” This week we will take a look at other birchos hare’iyah that many people are not so familiar with.
Not only did Chazal institute brachos to be recited upon experiencing certain works of nature, but they also formulated certain brachos to be recited when one sees special individuals. Two such brachos are: “She’chalak mei’chochmaso liy’rei’av” – “Who has apportioned of His wisdom to those who fear Him,” recited when seeing an eminent talmid chacham; and “She’nasan mei’chochmaso l’basar vadam” – “Who has given of His wisdom to flesh and blood” upon seeing non-Jewish scholars (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 224:6-7).
Upon examining the text of these two brachos, as well as those recited when seeing Jewish and non-Jewish kings (which we will discuss shortly), one notices a variation in text. The brachos for Jewish talmidei chachamim and Jewish kings use the word, “she’chalak,” – “who has apportioned,” while the brachos for non-Jews use the word, “she’nasan” – “who has given.” What is the difference? The commentaries explain that since Am Yisroel is considered to be “cheilek Hashem” – Hashem’s portion, i.e., Hashem’s nation, different brachos were formulated for Jewish and non-Jewish scholars and kings (Mishnah Berurah 224:9).
Many poskim contend that we can no longer recite the bracha of “she’chalak mei’chochmaso” with Shem u’Malchus – Hashem’s name and Kingship. This is because it is unclear how much Torah knowledge that a person has to have in order to recite the bracha when seeing him (Shu”t Teshuvah Mei’Ahavah, vol. II, #236; Ben Ish Chai, Parshas Eikev #12, Aruch HaShulchan 224:6).
However, other poskim maintain that as long as the talmid chacham is distinct in his knowledge of Torah, one may recite the bracha with Shem u’Malchus upon seeing him (Chayei Adam 63:8; Kaf HaChaim 224:18; Shu”t Shevet HaLevi, vol. X, #13.3). Indeed, we find that many Gedolei Yisroel recited the bracha when they met other Gedolim who were famous for their Torah knowledge. For example: Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach accompanied Rav Dovid Baharan when he visited the Chazon Ish, and reported that Rav Dovid recited the bracha (Sefer Halichos Shlomo chap. 23); in a well-known incident, the Tchebiner Rav recited the bracha when he met Rav Gustman; the Steipler Rav instructed his son to recite the bracha when he seeing the Brisker Rav (Orchos Rabbeinu, vol. I, pg. 227); A talmid chacham related to this writer that Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita instructed him to recite the bracha when seeing Rav Elyashiv shlita. (For other examples, see Sefer Piskei Teshuvos, 224 footnote #17.)
The Mishnah Berurah (224:10) maintains that one may recite the bracha of “she’nasan mei’chochmaso” only when seeing a non-Jewish scholar who is an expert in seven specific sciences. These sciences are: grammar, mathematics, geography, medicine, music, theology (recognition of Hashem) and astrology. (See Sefer Midbar Kadeimos [Chida], ma’areches ches; Sefer Piskei Teshuvos 224:5). There is another opinion which contends that it is not necessary for the non-Jew to be proficient in all seven areas, rather even if he is an expert in one of them, a bracha may be recited when seeing him (Bircas HaBayis 29:5). Nevertheless, due to a different issue, it is almost impossible to recite this bracha anymore. This is because according to some opinions, it is not proper to praise Hashem regarding the intellect of a non-Jew who is a kofer b’ikar (an atheist). They maintain that the bracha of “she’nasan mei’chomaso” may only be recited over a non-Jew who abides by the shevah mitzvos Bnei Noach (Shu”t Teshuva Mei’Ahavah, vol. II, #277; Shu”t Minchas Elazar, vol. V, #7).
KINGS AND PRESIDENTS
As mentioned earlier, Chazal also instituted to recite a bracha when seeing a king. When one sees a Jewish king, he says, “Boruch she’chalak mi’kevodo li’rei’av” – “Who has apportioned of His glory to those who fear Him,” and when seeing a non-Jewish king, “she’nasan mi’kevodo l’basar vadam,” – “who has given of His glory to flesh and blood” (Shulchan Aruch 224:8).
In our Western societies it is uncommon to see kings. Additionally, most of the kings who remain in the world do not have the same powers that kings of earlier generations had. Thus the question addressed by the poskim is whether the bracha can be recited on kings who are basically figureheads or on presidents who are heads of state.
Regarding rulers who are granted autonomous powers, meaning that no one can overrule them, and who also have power to judge and put people to death, the Radvaz (#296) maintains that one should recite the bracha of “she’nasan mikvodo.” However, when seeing local ministers whose decisions can be overturned by the central government, one should recite the bracha without Shem u’Malchus (Magen Avraham 224:5).
At first it would seem that no bracha is recited when seeing heads of state in democratic countries whose decisions are dependent on legislative or judicial branches of government, as they cannot be compared to a king whose word is final. However, since many heads of state have the power to accept or reject petitions for pardoning someone who is to be executed, it can be considered as though he has the power to put someone to death. Based on this, many poskim maintain that one may recite the bracha of “she’nasan mikvodo” upon seeing such a head of state, even if elected for a limited term and does not carry the title of king (Shu”t Afarkasta De’anya #32; Shu”t Shoel v’Nishal, Orach Chaim vol. I, #73).
On the other hand, some poskim contend that in order to be able to recite the bracha on a king, he must appear as a king. If he is not dressed in his royal garments, but instead looks like anyone else in the street, one may not recite the bracha. This idea can be derived from the text of the bracha: “who has given from His glory.” If that element is not apparent, the bracha is not recited with Shem u’Malchus. Thus, since Western heads of state do not dress differently than the common population, one would not recite the bracha. (Shu”t Nivchar Mi’Kesef, vol. I, #3; Shu”t Yechaveh Da’as, vol. II, #28).
A LIVE BROADCAST
If one sees a king on a live broadcast, can he recite the bracha?
The Gemara (Rosh HaShanah (24a) writes regarding the witnesses who come to testify that they saw the new moon, that if they saw the moon’s reflection in water, they may not testify. It is evident from this that viewing a reflection is not considered as seeing the original. Thus many poskim contend that even if one were to see a king dressed in his royal garments in a live broadcast, a bracha is not recited, since we do not consider this as “seeing” (Shu”t Betzeil HaChachmah, vol. II, #18; Shu”t Be’er Moshe, vol. II, #9; Shu”t Yechaveh Da’as ibid.).
A MITZVAH TO SEE
While we are on the topic, it is interesting to point out that the Gemara (Brachos 58a) maintains that one should attempt to see non-Jewish kings. Rashi explains the reason that if he merits to see Melech HaMoshiach, he will be able to discern that the honor awarded to those who perform mitzvos is much greater than the honor given to royalty of the nations of the world (Shulchan Aruch 224:9).
The Magen Avraham (224:7) provides two indications as to the importance of seeing a king. As we all know, a cohen is prohibited from coming in contact with a dead body. Some forms of contact are forbidden according to Torah Law, while others are Rabbinically prohibited. One example of the latter is that a cohen may not come within four ammos of a dead body or grave (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De’ah 371:5). The Magen Avraham writes that that the Gemara indicates that this restriction, which is only Rabbinic, is waived in order to see a king. Additionally, if one already saw a particular monarch, he should not interrupt his Torah learning to see him again, unless the king will have a larger or more impressive entourage.
KNOWER OF SECRETS
Another of the birchos hare’iyah is the bracha, “Chacham HaRazim,” where we praise Hashem for being the “Knower of secrets.” Unfortunately, unless the organizers of the Daf Hayomi Siyum can find a much bigger hall specifically in Eretz Yisroel, we will have to wait for Moshiach to come in order to recite this bracha. This is because the bracha is only recited when seeing 600,000 Jews in one place, and according to the Rambam (Hilchos Brachos 10:11), only in Eretz Yisroel. (Brachos 58a; Shulchan Aruch 224:5).
The Maharsha (Brachos 58a) explains the reason why a bracha was instituted specifically when seeing 600,000 Jews. Chazal determined that 600,000 represents the maximum number of possible opinions and levels of intellect. Thus, since it is only Hashem who comprehends and fathoms this entire gamut, we praise Him for it through this bracha.
WHEN MOSHIACH COMES
As an interesting aside, it is worthwhile to point out that a question was sent to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z”l by the noted Yerushalmi tzadik, Rav Shmuel Hominer z”l (author of Sefer Olas Tamid on Tefilah, and other sefarim). Although, Rav Shlomo Zalman’s response is important in its own right and deserves a discussion of its own, what is fascinating to note is the very question. Rav Hominer writes the following:
“Hashem should soon grant us the privilege of greeting Moshiach, and we will recite four brachos: 1) Boruch Chacham HaRazim, since there will certainly be 600,000 people there and many more; 2) Boruch She’chalak mei’chochmaso liy’rei’av (since he will be a great talmid chacham); 3) Boruch she’chalak mi’kevodo li’rei’av (he will be a king); 4) Boruch she’hechiyanu (we will be happy to see him). The question is whether it is possible to include she’chalak mei’chochmaso u’mi’kevodo liy’rei’av in one bracha, or perhaps this would be changing the text of the bracha that the Sages instituted?”
The very fact that someone is “thinking ahead” and wondering what does the halacha say regarding Moshiach’s imminent arrival, demonstrates a mindset that should be emulated.
Another bracha included in the birchos hare’iyah is the bracha of “meshaneh habriyos” – “Who makes the creatures different.” The Aruch HaShulchan (225:13), explaining the rationale behind this bracha, writes that just as one is obligated to recite the bracha of shehecheyanu on a new fruit, so too he recites a bracha upon seeing a new and unusual creature. However, in this case the bracha of shehecheyanu is not appropriate, therefore one recites meshaneh habriyos.
Although the Gemara lists various types of deformities in humans and unusual types of animals, such as elephants and apes, which require this bracha, in practice it is almost impossible for one to recite this bracha. The reason for this is because one only recites this bracha the very first time that he sees the unusual creature, when the novelty makes an impression. On any subsequent sighting, he would recite, “baruch meshaneh habriyos” without Shem u’Malchus (Shulchan Aruch 225:8-9 and Mishnah Berurah ibid.). Indeed, the Chayei Adam (63:1) maintains that since we are accustomed to seeing these types of creatures on a regular basis, the minhag is not to recite this bracha.
Additionally, even if one did not actually see these unusual creatures, it is possible that if one saw pictures of them he would no longer be able to recite this bracha. This is because, as we mentioned, the bracha is recited only at the first sighting, since this is when it makes the biggest impression. However, if one already saw photos of them, the novelty has worn off (Sefer Sha’arei Bracha, chap. 21, footnote #43).
Another bracha that has fallen into disuse for the same reason is the bracha of “she’kacha lo b’olamo” – “that He has such in His world.” This bracha is recited on exceptionally beautiful creatures, whether human or otherwise. Since, we are accustomed to all types of creatures, it is impossible to recite this bracha (Chaye Adam ibid.). However, one should say it without Shem u’Malchus if he indeed sees such a creature (Mishnah Berurah 225:32).
Incidentally, the Mishnah Berurah (33) points out that although this bracha is to be recited even upon seeing an exceptionally beautiful non-Jew, it is still prohibited to say, “How beautiful this non-Jew is.” The reason for this is that there is a mitzvah in the Torah of “lo sechaneim” (Devarim 7:2). The Gemara explains (Avodah Zarah 20a) that this includes three prohibitions: 1) Not to sell property to non-Jews in Eretz Yisroel, 2) not to give them gifts (we discussed this a few weeks ago in the article about Nitel Nacht), and 3) do not ascribe to them “chein” – beauty.
BLESSING HASHEM FOR MIRACLES
After Moshe related to Yisro all of the miracles that Hashem performed for Klal Yisroel, Yisro proclaimed, “Blessed is Hashem who saved you from the hand of Mitzrayim and from the hand of Pharoh” (Shemos 18:10). The Gemara (Brachos 54a) derives from here that when one sees a place where a miracle occurred either to Klal Yisroel, to himself, his parents or his teacher, he recites a bracha. Even though Yisro did not see the actual place where the miracles occurred, he was able to recite a bracha since he saw Klal Yisroel, who experienced the miracles (Avudraham).
The Mishnah (ibid.) lists numerous places where miracles were performed for Klal Yisroel, and if one sees any of them, he recites the bracha of “she’asah nisim la’avoseinu bamakom hazeh” – “Who has performed miracles for our fathers in this place.” These include: the place where they crossed Yam Suf, where they crossed the Jordan River, the Arnon River Pass (Bamidbar 21), the hailstones of Beis Choron (Yehoshua 10), the rock that Og wanted to throw on Klal Yisroel, the walls of Jericho that were swallowed into the ground, the rock on which Moshe sat during the war against Amaleik and the furnace into which Avraham Aveinu was thrown in Ur Kasdim.
Although this bracha is obligatory, one cannot recite the bracha since we do not know where these miracles took place. This is especially true according to the opinion which maintains that it is not sufficient to see the general area where the event occurred, rather one must see the exact place (Kaftor VaFerach, chap. 7, quoted in Biur Halacha 218, s.v., kegoan).
Nevertheless, since we are aware of the general area of some of these miracles. Therefore, when one sees the Red Sea, the Jordan River (opposite Jericho), the walls of Jericho, and Har HaCarmel (where Eliyahu HaNavi performed miracles [Melachim I 18]), one should recite the bracha, “Boruch she’asah nisim la’avoseinu bamakom hazeh,” without Shem u’Malchus” and give thanks to Hashem for all the kindness He bestows on us (ibid.).
It is worthwhile to point out that although the Shulchan Aruch (218:8) maintains that when one sees the pillar of salt that was once Lot’s wife, he recites the bracha of “Dayan HaEmes,” this is not applicable today since we do not know its location. Even though some tour guides will claim to recognize it, there is no tradition about where it is located (Piskei Teshuvos 218, footnote 31).
MIRACLES FOR THE INDIVIDUAL
If an individual was saved from a dangerous situation in a miraculous fashion, he recites the bracha of HaGomel (Sh.A. 219). The next time that he returns to the place of the miracle, he recites, “Boruch she’asah li nes bamakom hazeh,” – “Blessed is He who did a miracle for me in this place;” with Shem u’Malchus. Similarly, if a period of at least thirty days has passed from the last time that he was there, he recites the bracha again (Shulchan Aruch 218:3)
Not only is the person to whom the miracle occurred required to recite a bracha, but his offspring, both male and female, also have an obligation. A son or daughter would recite, “Boruch she’asah nes l’avi (or l’imi) bamakom hazeh” – “Blessed is He who did a miracle for my father (mother) in this place;” while a grandchild would substitute the word “l’avosai” – “my fathers” for “l’avi” (Mishnah Berurah ibid.).
Regarding the actual obligation of offspring to recite this bracha, a distinction is drawn between children and later generations. Children are obligated in the bracha whether they were born before the miracle occurred or afterwards. This is because they are giving honor to the parent by reciting the bracha. However, grandchildren and subsequent generations are not obligated unless the ancestor they are descended from, i.e., the child of the rescued person, was born after the miracle took place. The reason is that had the miracle not occurred, that child would not have been born (ibid.).
Let us give an example. A miracle occurred to someone by the name of Yaakov, thus saving his life. At the time of the miracle, he already had a son, Levi. After the miracle happened, Yaakov’s wife gave birth to his second child, Yosef. Both Levi and Yosef are obligated to the recite the bracha when seeing the place where the miracle occurred to their father. Additionally, since Yosef’s descendants owe their existence to the fact that a miracle occurred to Yaakov, they are all obligated in the bracha. However, Levi’s descendents do not recite the bracha (ibid.).
A TEACHER IS LIKE A FATHER
Just as one recites a bracha when seeing the place where a miracle occurred to his father, so too when his teacher experienced a miracle. However, this only applies to what is called “rabbo muvhak” – his teacher from whom he learned the majority of his knowledge. In this case, when reciting the bracha, he says, “Boruch she’asah nes l’rabi bamakom hazeh” – “Blessed is He who did a miracle for my teacher in this place” (Sh.A. 218:6 and M.B. ibid.). It is reported that when Rav Chaim Volohziner came to the bridge where the mother of his Rebbi (the Vilna Gaon) was saved in a miraculous fashion as an infant, he recited this bracha (The Vilna Gaon, Mesorah Publications 1995, pg. 31). Presumably, since the Rav Chaim viewed himself as a “son” of the Gaon, it was as if a miracle occurred to his “grandmother.”
SEEING THE PROTAGONIST
Not only does one recite a bracha when he sees the place where a miracle was performed to his father, ancestor or teacher, but also when he sees the person who experienced the miracle. This is similar to what we mentioned above regarding Yisro, who blessed Hashem when he saw those who experienced the miracle (Rama 218:6).
HOW BIG A MIRACLE?
We must still determine what type of miracle requires the bracha of “she’asah li nes.”
One opinion maintains that the miracle must be supernatural in nature, similar to what occurred in Mitzrayim or like the incident in the Gemara (Brachos 54a) where someone was walking in a valley and became extremely thirsty, and a spring of water appeared miraculously (Shulchan Aruch 218:9; Avudraham, quoted in Mishnah Berurah 29).
There is another opinion that even if the laws of nature were not changed, rather he was saved from obvious death in the nick of time, this is also considered a miracle, and a bracha is required (Sh.A. ibid.; Biur Halacha, s.v., veyeish choleik).
The poskim cite several examples in order to highlight the difference between these two opinions.
A person is confronted by an armed robber, which is clearly a case of sakanas nefashos. Just then, a group of people (or better yet, a police car!) turns the corner and witnesses the scene, thus causing the mugger to flee. According to the first opinion, even though the person was saved from a potentially fatal situation, no bracha is recited since it was not openly miraculous. However, according to the second opinion, since Hashem arranged that the rescuers came to his aid, he must recite the bracha the next time he passes that place (Biur Halacha ibid.).
If someone is run over by a car in such a manner that should be fatal, but he miraculously survives, this is considered to be a supernatural event and even the first opinion would agree that a bracha is recited. The Sha’ar HaTziyun (28) explains that this situation can be compared to someone who falls into a lion’s den and lives to tell the tale.
The Acharonim recommend that one who is saved in a miraculous fashion should distribute tzedakah among Torah scholars according to his financial capabilities, and say the following: “I am giving this to tzedakah, and may it be Your Will that it be considered in place of a Todah offering that I would be obligated to bring during the time of the Beis HaMikdash.” It is also considered proper to recite the parsha of the Korban Todah (Vayikra 3:1-5; 7:11-22; 7:28-38 [Biur Halacha 1:5, s.v., u’parshas olah]). Additionally, he should try and do something for the public welfare. Every year on the day that he was saved, he should contemplate what occurred, give thanks to Hashem and recount His kindness (Mishnah Berurah 218:32).
YOUR MIRACLES THAT ARE WITH US EVERYDAY
Although Chazal only instituted a bracha for supernatural or overt miracles, one must also give thanks to Hashem for all of the “little” miracles that occur on a daily basis. One merely has to open his eyes and look and he will see how Hashem is always watching over us.
A kollel yungerman was about to board a bus to Bnei Brak when he realized that he was missing ten shekalim of the thirteen shekel fare. He decided not to board, but rather to return home and get the missing money. Before leaving the bus stop, his neighbor pulled up in his car to inquire why he had not taken the bus. After hearing the explanation, the neighbor said that he was driving to Bnei Brak and invited his friend to come along. As they drove down the highway, they caught up with the bus. A short distance later, they were horrified to see the bus slip off the road and fall into the wadi below. The yungerman, realizing that he was just saved from serious injury, if not worse, started to cry. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a tissue. Inside the tissue he found his “missing” ten shekel coin (Aleinu L’Sha’bei’ach, vol. III, pg. 128).