Monday, November 13, 2006


Last week we discussed the concept of nisayon, and I mentioned that I have a problem where the verb נסה would have one meaning from God to man, and an entirely different one from man to God.

Well, another verb that has that same issue, and has interested me for many years is ברך - the root of the word ברכה bracha - blessing. In this weeks parasha, we find God blessing man (Bereshit 24:1, 25:11), man blessing God ( 24:48), and man blessing man (24:60). God is also described as ברוך baruch (24:27).

There are those that describe bracha from God to man, or man to man as bestowing something on the recipient, but bracha from man to God is considered "thanks" (JPS on Devarim 8:10) or "praise" (Chizkuni on Bereshit 24:27, Abarbanel on Bereshit 27).

However, there are a large number of sources that do not take this approach, and rather say that when man blesses God, there is something "given". (See for example, Sefer HaIkkarim 26, Rabbeinu Bachye's intoduction to Zot HaBracha, Teshuvot Rashba 23, HaEmek Dvar Shmot 18:10, Harchev Dvar Bereshit 24:27). Perhaps the best description is by Rav Hirsch on Bereshit 9:58, discussing the word baruch:

The understanding of this term has been confused because people have objected to take this word "to bless" referring from man to God, in the same meaning as it has when used from God to man. It has been taken to be adjectival like חנון, רחום, so that, like these, it designates the active source, the holder of blessing as of pity and grace. But that does not get us much further, we are constantly called upon לברך את השם ... If the man is active is blessing God, then God must be blessed in a passive sense, He must be receiving blessing from man, one can not get away from it. And why should one have to try and get away from it? At the moment that God made the fulfillment of His Will on earth dependent on the free decision of Man He said to them ברכני , bless me...The whole Torah teaches us nothing else than how we can מברך את השם and that we are to do so. To take it to mean praise or thank God, by which one has lost the true conception of ברך את השם ...

Two other words that some scholars connect to the root ברך are berech ברך - knee, and breicha בריכה - pond, pool. Steinberg says bracha is related to berech, since bowing at the knee is part of prayer. Stahl connects breicha to berech by writing that animals kneel down to drink at the pool, as do people washing clothes.

And for those that missed it, we've previously discussed how perhaps the English word "broker" and the phrase "break a leg" derive from bracha...

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