The Covid pandemic brought to the fore discussion of various spiritual remedies for pandemics, one of which is reciting 100 brachos a day. However, besides serving as protection from disease and merit for longevity, reciting 100 brachos a day is a regular obligation. What is the reason behind it, and what is its nature – Biblical, rabbinic, or perhaps just a praiseworthy practice? Is there danger in not reciting 100 daily brachos? Is one obligated to keep track of the number of blessings he recited? How are 100 daily brachos easily attainable? Is there any point in aiming for the highest possible number whether or not the 100-brachos mark is achieved? How does one amass 100 brachos on a weekday, Shabbos, or holiday? Which brachos do not count towards the 100 brachos mark? Are women included in this obligation? And what about children before Bar Mitzva?
In this week’s parasha we read: “And now, Yisroel, what does the Lord, your G-d, require of you? Only to fear the Lord…” (Devarim 10:12). The Gemara (Menachos 43b) teaches: “Rabbi Meir would say: A person is obligated to recite one hundred blessings every day, as it is stated in the verse: “And now, Yisroel, what [ma] does the Lord your G-d require of you”. This verse is interpreted as though it said one hundred [me’a], rather than ma. Rashi explains: “Read here one hundred” – Hashem requests that one recite 100 blessings every day.
Why does the Gemara resort to a word-changing interpretation rather than employ the simple understanding? In general, only when the simple understanding of the pasuk does not make sense, chachomim had to employ the tool of “al tikri [Do not read]” – and introduce a semantically related word: such as instead of mah — meah. However, here what is so difficult with the simple understanding of the pasuk?
The Maharsha explains that the word “mah” – “what” implies that G-d wants something small and simple from us, whereas the answer at the end of the pasuk indicates that G-d wants us to fear Him – no small matter at all. Fearing G-d is a work of a lifetime, not something to be sneezed at. Therefore, this pasuk requires invoking of the tool of “al tikrei” and “mah” is explained as “meah” – 100 because that is not so very difficult.
The Keren Ora (ibid) and Ben Yehoyada (ibid) add that by reciting 100 daily brachos one can reach fear and awe of Heaven.
The Obligation — Torah or Rabbinic
The Halachos Gedolos (Mitzva 25) counts the obligation to recite 100 daily brachos as one of the 613 mitzvos. The Rambam, however, who does not count it, maintains that this is a rabbinic mitzva. The Pnei Aharon (mentioned in the Chida, Yosef Ometz, 3) explains that the Halachos Gedolos sees it as a Torah obligation. The Chida, however, points out that in general the Halahcos Gedolos mentions rabbinic mitzvos alongside Torah obligations. Therefore, his listing does not indicate his view of the mitzvah and perhaps he, too, agrees with the Rambam.
Rabbenu Bachye (Kad Hakemach, Bracha) proves that the ordinance was introduced in Moshe Rabbneu’s lifetime.
Rav Natrunai Gaon (quoted in the Ra’avia, volume I, 146; Tur, Orech Chayim 46) writes that the deduction is only an allusion to the ordinance from a pasuk, and the obligation is rabbinic in nature. Since this is also the Rambam and Tur’s approach and no other poskim clearly differ on the matter, this mitzva has a rabbinic status.
There are various approaches to when and why this ordinance was introduced:
1) The Midrash (Bamidbar Raba 18;21; Tanchuma, Korach 12; and others) and Geonim (Rav Naturnai Gaon, quoted above) write that during King David’s reign, 100 people would die every day in Jerusalem. King David, through heavenly inspiration, introduced this ordinance – to recite 100 daily brachos. As a result, the plague stopped. This is how they explain the pasuk in Shmuel II (23:1) “And these are the last words of David; the saying of David the son of Yishay, and the saying of the man raised on high [al]” the word al has the numerical value of 100 – King David introduced the ordinance to recite 100 brachos a day.
2) Rabbenu Bachye (Kad Hakemach, Bracha) and the Manhig (chapter 1) write that this ordinance was first introduced during Moshe Rabbenu’s lifetime but forgotten, then reintroduced again in King David’s lifetime (and subsequently forgotten again).
3) The Yere’im is of the opinion that Anshei Knesses Hegedola [time of second Beis Hamikdosh] introduced this ordinance the first time. (Siddur Rav Amram Gaon writes that it was introduced during the era of the Tana’im and Amoraim – i.e. only after the Anshei Knessess Hagedola).
Some commentaries (Rav Amram Gaon, Birkos Hashachar; Shibolei Haleket 1; Rabenu Bachye, Kad Hakemach, Bracha; Hamnhig, 1, and others) write that this ordinance was first introduced in earlier times, but then forgotten until it was reintroduced during the Mishnaic era. The Prisha (Orech Chaim 46:16) writes that King David was the one who revealed the necessity to recite 100 blessings, while later sources defined the exact laws.
As Much As Possible?
Rabbi Avraham Genechovsky (Bnei Re’em 33) inquires about the significance in the number 100 — when one cannot reach one hundred brachos, should he just do the best he can? And if he recited more than 100 – is the more the better?
The Shela (Yoma, end of Amud Hateshuva) quotes the Seder Hayom that on Yom Kippur it is impossible to reach the 100-bracha mark, therefore one should try to smell fragrant spices at least once an hour, and whatever else is possible, one should do. This proves that where 100 is unattainable, the more the better is the correct approach.
On the other hand, Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch (Teshuvaos V’hanhagos, volume IV, the Brisker’s Rav’s practices, 42) writes that Rabbi Chaim and Rabbi Yitzchak Ze’ev of Brisk were careful to be called up for Maftir (who recites 8 brachos in total) every Shabbos in order to reach the 100-bracha mark. On Yom Kippur, however, Rabbi Yitzchak Ze’ev would not receive an aliya because even if he were to receive both the Maftir’s of Shachris and Mincha he still would not reach the 100-bracha mark, and in his opinion, there was no reason to aim for “the more, the better” without reaching 100.
As to going beyond the 100-bracha mark, Rav Naturnai Gaon writes (Orech Chaim 9, Brody-Ofek) that the more brachos, the greater the reward.
While it might seem like a big issue, for the regular Jewish man on a week day who prays three times a day, the 100-brachos mark is easily attainable and only requires awareness. Note: as with any Torah calculation, the number of daily brachos is counted from one evening to the following evening. (Maariv before sunset or Birkas Hamazon for Seudah Shlishis after sundown presents a question towards which day the brachos are counted. In this case, making them up is praiseworthy.)
The Mishna Brura makes the following calculation (46:14) to illustrate how the 100-bracha mark is achieved:
- Hamapil 2. Al Netilas Yadayim 3. Asher Yotzar 4-6. Birkas HaTorah 7-22 Birkos Hashachar 23. Tzitzis 24-25. Tefillin 26. Baruch She’omar 27. Yishtabach 28-35. Krias Shema morning and evening, and Yiru’u Eineinu 36-92. Shmone Esrei three times a day, and till 100 with two daily bread meals.
This calculation is correct for people in chutz la’aretz who recite the blessing of Yiru Einenu, and for Ashkenazim who count Birkos HaTora as three brachos instead of two and recite two blessings on Tefillin and obviously, only to those who eat two daily meals with bread.
Today, even though it is accepted to eat 3 daily meals, they may not include bread. Other blessings, though, are recited on food and drink, as well as Asher Yotzar after using the bathroom.
In any case, weekday prayers amount to 89 daily brachos, leaving 11 brachos to be added with food and drink.
Shabbos and Yom Tov
Shabbos and holiday prayers have a different set of calculations because the blessing of Yiru Eineinu is not recited, tefillin are not worn, and the prayers contain less brochos (28 brachos instead of 57). This leaves one 32 brachos short of 100. On the other hand, the addition of Kiddush and three meals with bread add up to 78 brachos for Ashkenazim and 77 for Sfaradim. One who recites Birkas Hamazon on a cup of wine adds 6 brachos (or 4) to the calculation.
On Yom Tov, while there are only two meals, there are special holiday brachos – Shahecheyanu, Hallel, Matza, Maror, Lulav, Succah, Shofar, etc.
The Gemara writes that Rabbi Chiya Bar Aviya would make up for the missing brachos on Shabbos and holidays with brachos on fragrant plants and sweets between meals. The Shulchan Aruch (Orech Chaim 290:1) and Chida (Machzik Bracha, ibid) derive from this that while it is commendable to do so, it is in not obligatory. The Sdei Chemed (8:34), though, maintains it is a full-fledged obligation. Rav Elyashiv ruled (Pninei Tefila, p. 70) that while it is certainly a mitzva, it is not a full-fledged obligation.
The difference in opinion is explained by Rav Moshe Sternbuch (Teshuvos V’Hanhagos volume II, chapter 129): some opine that the ordinance was for people to recite 100 brachos a day and the Sages, in order to assist in it, designed the daily prayers to accommodate this requirement. However, on special days it is our obligation to independently reach the 100-brachos mark. The other opinion sees the daily prayers as the core of the obligation, and on special days, since the siddur was not designed that way, adding to the number of brachos, while praiseworthy, is not obligatory.
Rav Moshe Sternbuch’s ruling follows the latter opinion — the core obligation is the prayers as they appear in the siddur, and while calculating and adding brachos to reach the number 100 is a praiseworthy practice, it is not obligatory.
The Mishna Brura (46:14) warns people not to recite unnecessary brachos just in order to reach the 100-bracha mark, and that one should rather refrain from reciting a blessing than to purposely stop eating in order to recite the blessing again, or smell fragrant spices without smelling and enjoying them. Rather, one who cannot reach the 100-bracha count can rely on opinions that see the brachos for Krias HaTorah as a fulfillment of a public obligation, not a private one. As a result, the person who got the aliyah serves as an emissary for the congregation, and one who carefully listens to the brachos and answers amen can count them to reach 100 brachos. (When this calculation includes Mincha, it can reach 28 brachos.)
The Mishna Brura (46:18) writes that on Yom Kippur, even if we include the brachos on Krias HaTorah, we are still 3 blessings short. Therefore, one should try to smell fragrant plants the at least three times. He adds that it is possible, if desperate, to also count the chazzan’s brachos when he repeats the Shemone Esrei if one is careful to listen to the entire bracha and answer amen (=28 brachos).
Rashi is of the opinion that not only full brachos count towards the 100 brachos but also certain praises to Hashem such as those that appear in Ein Ke’Elokeinu. This is the reason for reciting the prayer (which is only recited by Ashkenazim in Chutz Lo’oretz on Shabbos and Yom Tov). Therefore, one who wishes to rely on this opinion can count an additional 20 blessings by reciting Ein Ke’Elokeinu.
The Maharil (Yom Kippur 24) notes that the custom is not to recite Ein Ke’Elokeinu on Yom Kippur because we say so many other praises in the other parts of the prayers that we reach many more than 100 praises.
The Mishna Brura quotes other poskim as saying that unless it is impossible, it is better to reach the 100-blessing count with full blessings, not praises.
Ladies and 100 Blessings
Contemporary poskim are disputed if ladies are obligated to recite 100 daily blessings or not. Rav Eliyashiv (Pninei Tefilla, p.70) and Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yelakut Yosef, Dinim Le’Isha Velabat chapter 6) rule that ladies are obligated to recite 100 blessings a day because the mitzva is not considered a time-related mitzva (from which ladies are exempted).
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichos Shelomo chapter 22:25), Rav Wosner (Shevet Halevi volume 5, chapter 23), Rav Moshe Sternbuch (Teshuvos V’ehAnhagos volume II, chapter 129) and others opine that women are excused from this obligation for two reasons: one, because it is considered a time-constrained mitzva because every day brings on a new obligation. In addition, since the Sages excused women from standard prayer and the majority of blessings result from the prayers, this proves that women are exempted from the obligation to recite 100 daily brachos.
Rav Elyashiv ruled that a lady who is busy with her young children and is not obligated to pray Shmone Esrei three times a day and therefore does not reach the 100 brachos count is not obligated to eat (or engage in other activities) to enable her to reach the 100-blessing count.
Rav Elyashiv was asked if it is correct to educate children to recite 100 brachos a day. He answered that other educational issues take precedence.
It is very important to recite 100 brachos a day. The poskim (Bach, Orech Chaim 46; Pri Megadim, Mishbetzot Zahav ibid) write that it can protect one from death. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichos Shelomo 22) would advise ill people to make sure to recite 100 blessings a day. The Keren Ora, Ben Ish Chai and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach write that by reciting 100 daily brachos one gains fear and awe of Heaven and attachment to Hashem, as is explained in the Gemara.
The mitzva is attained by reciting the daily blessings and prayers as they appear in the siddur. It is advisable for everyone to spend the time and count once to see if he reaches the 100 required blessings on a weekday and on Shabbos, and if one finds himself lacking – to find ways to make up the difference, perhaps by eating certain foods or smelling fragrant spices, listening to the aliyos, reciting Ein Ke’Elokeinu or careful listening of Chazaras Hashatz.