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Praising Hashem for All That We See: Birchos HaRe’iyah

Chazal instituted various types of brachos, some of which are recited more frequently than others. There are brachos that are part of davening which are said on a daily basis in all circumstances, while some brachos, referred to as birchos hanehenin – blessings of pleasure, are only recited when benefiting from food, drink and fragrances. And there is a category of brachos recited in order to give praise and thanks to Hashem for various phenomena that we experience, even when one does not have physical benefit. These brachos are called birchos hare’iyah – blessings said upon seeing or experiencing specific circumstances.


This week we will discuss some of the issues that relate to this category of brachos, which present us with many opportunities to thank the Ribbono shel olam.




The first topic that we must deal with is whether we recite these brachos with Hashem’s name. When one recites most brachos, it is necessary to include Shem Hashem, otherwise, the bracha is not valid. For example, before eating an apple, one recites: “Baruch atta Hashem, Elokeinu Melech haolam, borei pri ha’etz.” If he would only say: “Baruch borei pri ha’eitz,” he has not fulfilled his obligation and he must recite the entire bracha. This is because Chazal instituted that one may not benefit from food, drink and fragrances without first reciting a proper bracha.


However birchos hare’iyah are different in two ways. First of all, they were not instituted for the benefit one receives, rather as a vehicle to express gratitude to Hashem (Beis Yosef, Orach Chaim 218). Secondly, these brachos are not said on a regular basis like other brachos. Therefore we need to analyze whether these brachos require reciting, “Baruch Atta Hashem Elokeinu Melech haOlam,” as we do for the brachos of benefit, or whether it is sufficient to simply begin with Baruch and immediately proceed to the closing of the bracha as we do for the bircas hazimun, which is “Boruch she’achalnu mi’shelo” – “Blessed is the One from whom we ate,” and not “Baruch atta Hashem… she’achlnu mi’shelo.” Since this bracha is only recited occasionally, and one has the option of not eating bread, Shem Hashem is not included. Therefore, according to a few Rishonim, Hashem’s name is not required in any of the birchos hare’iyah since one can praise Hashem by just the condensed form of the bracha. For example, “Baruch Oseh ma’ase bereishis,” – “Blessed is He who makes the works of creation.” As another proof to this approach, the following incident is quoted (Brachos 54b): When Rav Yehudah recovered from an illness, Rav Chana and his students came to visit him. They recited the bracha: “Blessed is the One who gave you to us and did not give you to the dust.” This indicates that when reciting this type of bracha, Hashem’s name is not required. (Hasagos HaRa’avad, Brachos, chap. 9; Meiri, Brachos 54a).


The vast majority of Rishonim disagree with this approach and maintain that Shem Hashem is required. They contend that the reason why Hashem’s name is not included in bircas hazimun is because it is an introduction to Bircas Hamazon, which itself consists of four brachos, each one with Shem Hashem. Therefore, Chazal did not feel it necessary to include it there as well. Also, the incident with Rav Chana is not an indication as to the correct formula of the bracha. The Gemara related the story in a concise format, however, Shem Hashem was included (Tosafos, Brachos 54a, s.v. HaRo’eh; Rashba and Rosh, ibid.; Rambam, Hilchos Brachos, chap. 9).


Although we will see later that in some instances these brachos are said without Hashem’s name, we follow the opinion that birchos hare’iyah are recited with Shem u’Malchus – Hashem’s name (Hashem Elokeinu) and His Kingship (Melech HaOlam) (Shulchan Aruch 218:1). Among the Jews of Sefardic descent there are various customs regarding these brachos. Each person should follow his/her minhag. If there is no clear minhag, one may recite the bracha with Shem v’Malchus (Sefer V’Zos HaBracha, pg. 153, in the name of Or LeTzion 12:47; Shu”t Yechaveh Da’as, vol. II, #27.)




Many are familiar with the text of one of the tefilos recited during Kiddush Levanah: “TheAcademy ofRabbi Yishmael taught: Had Yisroel been privileged to greet the countenance of their Father in heaven only once a month, it would have sufficed. Abaye said: Therefore one must recite it while standing.”


This indicates that the reason why one stands during Kiddush Levanah is because he is greeting the Shechinah. The commentators explain this to mean that by contemplating the lunar cycle and how Hashem set all of the planets and starts into motion, one sees His power.


This Gemara implies that when one recites other brachos praising Hashem, it is not necessary to stand, unless he is greeting the Shechinah. Indeed some poskim rule that only the bracha of Kiddush Levanah has that distinction because of its unique importance (See Rambam, Hilchos Brachos 10:17; Pri Megadim, Introduction to Hilchos Brachos #18). This is implied by the Beis Yosef (8:1) who rules that only brachos recited for mitzvos need to be said while standing.


Other authorities contend that one should stand while reciting birchos hare’iyah (Siddur Beis Yaakov [Rav Yaakov Emden]; Shu”t Teshuvos VeHanhagos, vol. III #76; Sefer VeZos HaBracha, pg. 153).


Let us now discuss some of the more common opportunities for reciting birchos hare’iyah.




We find two sets of natural phenomena listed in the Mishnah (Brachos 54a), each one given its own bracha: 1) Upon experiencing comets, earthquakes, thunder, fierce winds, and lightning, one recites: “She’kocho ugvuraso malei olam” – “Whose strength and might fill the world;” 2) When seeing mountains, valleys, oceans, rivers and deserts, one recites: “Oseh ma’aseh bereishis” – “Who makes the works of creation.”


The Gemara is puzzled by this. Since the Mishnah assigned the bracha of “oseh ma’ase bereishis” to the second group, this would seem to indicate that the phenomena of the first group are not “works of creation,” which is clearly not the case.


The Gemara quotes different ways to resolve this problem. One approach, which is used as the basis for the practical halacha, contends that each of the phenomena of the second group happens in a small location (even though it may be observed from a considerable distance). For example, although Mt.Everestcan be seen for hundreds of miles in any direction, it is only located in one physical place. However, each occurrence in the first group, although originating in one place, can be physically experienced over a wide area. For example, even though the epicenter of an earthquake is in one location, its power is felt for hundreds of miles (Brachos 59, Rashi and Tosafos ibid.).


Therefore, on the elements of the second group, one may only recite “oseh ma’ase bereishis,” since “she’kocho ugvuraso malei olam” is not applicable. This is because only the phenomena of the first group, which are physically experienced over a wide area, are manifestations of Hashem’s strength that “fills the world.”


Although this is the halacha (Shulchan Aruch 227:1), the Mishnah Berurah (5) notes that the minhag is to recite “oseh ma’ase bereishis” when seeing lightning and “she’kocho ugvuraso malei olam” when hearing thunder. He points out that this is logical, as one experiences Hashem’s might to a greater degree through thunder. However, he maintains that since one can actually recite either bracha on either phenomenon, if one saw lightning and heard thunder simultaneously, one recites only one bracha, that of “oseh ma’ase bereishis.” If one recites only the bracha of “she’kocho ugvuraso malei olam” instead, he has fulfilled his obligation and should not recite “oseh ma’ase bereishis.”


If one hears thunder before seeing lightning and recites either “she’kocho ugvuraso malei olam” or “oseh ma’ase bereishis,” when he subsequently sees lightning, he recites the bracha of “oseh ma’ase bereishis.” (This is true even if he recited the identical bracha on thunder.)


When hearing thunder or seeing lightning, the bracha must be begun within the amount of time required to say the three words, “Shalom alecha rebbi” – “Peace unto you, my teacher.” If one does not begin the bracha within this time limit, he may no longer do so until the next time he hears or sees the event (Mishnah Berurah 12).




A common occurrence during a thunderstorm is that one does not actually see the bolt of lightning, rather reflected light. The question is whether this is sufficient to enable one to recite the bracha. This inquiry was posed to the Tzitz Eliezer z”l by no less a personage than Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank z”l, and he concludes that since it does not say anywhere “one who sees lightning, recites…” but rather “on lightning one recites…” this indicates that it is unnecessary to actually see the lightning. As long as one is aware that there was lightning, he recites the bracha (Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer, vol. XII, #21; Sefer VeZos HaBracha, pg.153, in the name of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z”l).




Generally speaking, birchos hare’iyah are distinct from birchos hanehenin regarding how often one recites the bracha. While one is required to recite birchos hanehenin before each eating session and it is thus possible to say them even dozens of times a day, birchos hare’iyah are different. Even among this latter category, there are distinctions. Although most birchos hare’iyah are recited once in thirty days, the brachos for experiencing thunder and lightning are said more frequent.


To understand why different brachos are recited with varying levels of frequency, one must keep in mind that when Chazal instituted brachos, they knew that if one were to recite brachos on a constant basis, the bracha would totally lose its meaning. For example, had Chazal required that one recite a bracha rishonah before every bite of food, no one would think about what he was saying. Therefore, with brachos before eating, each eating session needs its own brachos, while brachos over fragrances have different rules since one only benefits momentarily from the smell but feels no satiation afterwards.


Birchos hare’iyah were instituted to encourage people to praise Hashem for various phenomena and experiences. Since the brachos are meant to be a verbalization of one’s hispa’alus – amazement – over these phenomena, Chazal felt that for most of these brachos, a month is a sufficient interval to illicit hispa’alus on the next occasion and one would be motivated to praise Hashem again. However, this is true only if one were to see a second time the same phenomenon, for example, the same mountain range or ocean. Whereas, if he sees a different range of mountains within thirty days of seeing the first, e.g., he sees the Rockies and then the Alps, a new bracha is required. This is because the second range is considered something different, and there is a new hispa’alus over the new phenomenon (Shulchan Aruch 224:13 and Mishnah Berurah ibid.).


Let us now examine how often the brachos over lightning and thunder are recited and discuss why they are different.


The Shulchan Aruch maintains that as long as the sky remains cloudy, the bracha or brachos recited for the lightning and/or thunder remain valid and all subsequent bolts and claps are exempt. If the sky clears completely of clouds and then becomes cloudy again, new brachos are required (Sh.A. 227:2 and M.B. ibid.).


Why is this so? The reason is because as long as the clouds remain, we view all of the lightning and thunder to be the same and there are no new phenomena present. Therefore one bracha exempts all. However, when the clouds clear and then new ones form, the subsequent lightning and thunder are considered to be something new and a new bracha is required.


This is correct regarding thunder and lightning of the same day. However, if one recites a bracha on thunder one day, a new bracha is required on the next day even if the sky did not clear (ibid.). The question is how to define the “next day.” We all know that, generally, in halacha the day starts with the nighttime, which is why of course, Shabbos starts at sundown on Friday. However, this rule is not true for everything. One of the exceptions to this is korbanos, sacrifices. Certain korbanos in the Beis HaMikdash could only be eaten on the day they were offered. If for example, one brought a korban Todah, a thanksgiving offering, on Tuesday, he could eat it on Tuesday and Tuesday night (until chatzos, halachic midnight), even though technically, Tuesday night is already considered to be Wednesday.


Another example of this is regarding thunder and lightning. If one recited a bracha on thunder or lightning during the day, he would not recite the bracha again that evening, unless the sky cleared in the interim. This is true even though the night is generally considered to be a new day (Sefer VeZos HaBracha pg. 154).


On the other hand, if one recites the bracha over thunder and lightning at night, and then goes to sleep, a new bracha is required in the morning. This is true even though the night and the following day are considered the same day. The reason for this is because sleep is considered “hesach hada’as” – one’s mind has been totally diverted. This is similar to the halacha that one must recite birchos hashachar every morning. The brachos recited yesterday cannot exempt one for today since he slept in the interim (Ma’amar Mordechai quoted in Kaf HaChaim 227:14).




We quoted a Mishnah earlier that instructs people to recite the brachaOseh ma’ase bereishis” upon seeing oceans. An additional opinion cited there is that when one sees the “yam hagadol,” he recites a different bracha, “she’asah es hayam hagadol” – “Who has made the great sea.” The Rishonim explain that these two opinions are not disagreeing with each other; rather each one is speaking about a different ocean (Beis Yosef 228). Thus one recites a special bracha on the yam hagadol but recites the general bracha of “Oseh ma’ase bereishis” on the oceans.


The question debated in the poskim however, is which ocean is called the yam hagadol. The Shulchan Aruch (228:1) defines it as “the ocean one passes through to Eretz Yisrael and Mitzrayim,” an obvious reference to the Mediterranean Sea. In this sense, it is called “yam hagadol” since it borders Eretz Yisroel, which lends it importance (Mishnah Berurah 228:2; Sifri Devarim 1:7). However, many Acharonim disagree and maintain that the yam hagadol is the ocean that encompasses the entire world (Magen Avraham 1). This would include all of the major oceans: the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Indian, etc. According to this understanding, the name “yam hagadol” indicates the fact that it is the biggest of the oceans.


There are different opinions regarding the practical halacha. The Aruch HaShulchan (228:4) maintains that since we do not know which ocean is the yam hagadol, one should recite “she’aseh ma’ase bereishis” on all oceans. According to Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak (vol. I, #110), on the large oceans that encircle the world one recites “she’aseh hayam hagadol.” However, when one sees the Mediterranean he says, “Oseh ma’ase bereishis” and then adds, “she’aseh hayam hagadol.” By concluding with these three words, one “covers all bases.” How does this work?


There is a well-known Halachic concept that one may retract or correct a statement within the time span of “toch kedei dibbur” – within the amount of time it takes to say “Shalom alecha, rebbi.” A common application of this is during aseres yemay teshuvah when one is required to say HaMelech HaKadosh in Shemoneh Esrei. If he mistakenly says HaKeil HaKadosh and corrects himself within toch kedei dibbur, it is sufficient. The same concept applies here. Since we have a doubt regarding which bracha one recites when seeing the Mediterranean, by reciting one bracha and “correcting” himself, he has certainly recited the correct one. If the required bracha was “Oseh ma’ase bereishis” – it was said; and if “Oseh hayam hagadol” is the correct bracha, he “corrected” himself, and thereby recited the correct text.




As we mentioned earlier, birchos hare’iyah are a method of praising Hashem for His creations. Therefore, in order to recite these brachos, one must be in a situation where he is amazed over the phenomena sufficiently to praise Hashem. This rule has several practical applications.


If one sees the ocean at night and therefore cannot fully contemplate it, he should not recite the bracha (Sefer VeZos HaBracha, pg. 154, in the name of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z”l). Similarly, if one sees it from a distance, the bracha should not be recited (ibid., in the name of Rav Shmuel Wozner, shlit”a).


A person does not have to recite the bracha immediately upon seeing the ocean or mountain. Rather, he may do so as long as the impression lasts (Halichos Shlomo 23:26).


Although the requirement of feeling awed as a prerequisite for reciting the bracha applies to all natural phenomena, the poskim specifically discuss it in relation to seeing mountains, which brings us to the next part of our discussion.




The Mishnah quoted earlier tells us that one recites the bracha of “Oseh ma’ase bereishis” upon seeing mountains. The Aruch HaShulchan (228:1) comments, “It is obvious that [in order to recite the bracha] we require mountains that are unusually high, such as the Alps, the Pyrenees, Mount Kazbek (in the Georgian Caucasus mountains) andMount Ararat.”


It would seem that the aforementioned list includes those great mountains for which a bracha is certainly required. However, if a person is not accustomed to seeing mountains and therefore is unimpressed by those of lesser height, he should recite a bracha. This idea can be seen from an incident related about the Steipler Rav z”l. When he came to Yerushalayim the first time, he recited the bracha when he saw the mountains. However, on subsequent trips, he did not, as they did not impress him anymore (Sefer Orchos Rabbeinu, vol. II, pg. 117).


What should one do if he sees one of the natural wonders that usually require a bracha, but is not sure whether he is moved sufficiently to recite the bracha?


In this situation, as with all brachos, there is a rule of “safeik brachos lehakel” – whenever there is a question whether a bracha is required or not, we rule leniently and the bracha should not be said.




This rule of “safeik brachos” also has ramifications in another area of birchos hare’iyah. Because of this rule it has become customary not to recite a bracha on rivers. The reason is because one of the necessary conditions for the bracha is that the natural phenomenon exists as the original work of creation. This is inherent in the words of the bracha, “Oseh ma’ase bereishis,” – thank you Hashem for making the works of creation. If the river came into existence after bri’as ha’olam, is man-made, or if one is viewing a section of the river that was altered by human intervention, one does not recite a bracha. This is also true if one has a doubt regarding any of the above-mentioned possibilities (Mishnah Berurah 228:4-5). Although the Pri Megadim maintains that one does not have to assume that the average river was changed, the Mishnah Berurah is in doubt regarding what to do on a practical level (Sha’ar HaTziyun 8).




Although it would seem that once there is a safeik whether one recites the bracha or not, no bracha is said, nevertheless the poskim provide us with three suggestions:


1) One should recite the bracha without Shem u’Malchus, for example: Boruch Oseh ma’ase bereishis. Although we discussed earlier that according to the majority of opinions the birchos hare’iyah are said with Shem u’Malchus, in a situation of doubt one must rely on the minority opinion and recite the bracha without Hashem’s name (VeZos HaBracha, pg. 155).


2) There is a disagreement in the Gemara (Brachos 20b) whether or not thought is equivalent to speech (“hirhur kedibbur dami”). Meaning, if one says something in his mind, do we consider it as though he actually verbalized it. Although in most cases the halacha is that we do not treat thought as speech, in a case such as this, where there is a doubt if one is obligated in the bracha, we rely on the opinion that it is treated like speech. Therefore, one should say the bracha in his mind, and it is considered as if he recited the bracha. On the other hand, there is no prohibition of bracha levatalah, a bracha recited in vain, since this only applies to a bracha that was verbalized (Kaf HaChaim 157:10; Tzelach, Brachos 20b; Pri Megadim 185, Eishel Avraham 1; VeZos HaBracha, pg. 88).


3) The poskim also discuss a third option when one is in doubt whether a bracha is required. One should say (using Shem HaShem) the possuk (Divrei HaYamim I 29:10 [also recited in Pesukei d’Zimra]), “Vayevarech Dovid es Hashem l’eini kol hakahal, vayomer Dovid, baruch atta Hashem, Elokei Yisroel, Avinu mei’olam ve’ad olam,” and then add the closing words of the bracha in question, for example, “Oseh ma’ase bereishis.” (Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh De’ah 328:1).




It is related that a talmid of Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a brought a visitor from Chutz La’Aretz to Rav Chaim for a bracha. When the talmid introduced the newcomer, he mentioned to Rav Chaim that the guest came from Gibraltar. When Rav Chaim heard this, he became very excited. His talmid asked him, “Rebbi, why all the excitement?” Rav Chaim responded, “There is a disagreement among the poskim over which ocean one may recite the bracha of “she’asah es hayam hagadol,” the Mediterranean or the other oceans. Gibraltar is one of the few places where one can recite this bracha according to all opinions, since it is there that theAtlantic and the Mediterranean meet, and both can be seen simultaneously.”


This is what a Gadol b’Yisroel thinks about – how Torah affects everything in life, and how everything in life, even distant, foreign countries, has to be perceived through the Torah’s perspective. Ashreichem Yisroel!


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