| Second Thoughts |

Baruch Atah: Another Look

The words baruch Atah introduce a declaration that is freighted with the very essence of the man-G-d relationship

INa recent column, we wrote about the eagerness with which non-frum Jews grasped at the opportunity to receive a brachah, even when they themselves were far removed from mitzvah observance or from thoughts about the Author of all brachos and blessings.

What is a brachah, and what is the meaning of the very first words with which we begin all brachos — baruch Atah? Universally translated as “blessed art Thou,” there is much that lies beneath the surface of these well-known (and often mangled) words.

Let us begin our journey of discovery.

Our Talmudic Sages (Menachos 43b) ordained that a Jew should recite one hundred brachos each day. (Why this number is a subject for a separate discussion.) This is because with each baruch Atah we declare our subservience to the Creator throughout the day, not only when we daven three times daily, but also when we drink a cup of coffee, eat a fruit, have a quick snack or a full meal, are called to the Torah, and many other occasions.

Since this subservience and this recognition are the foundation blocks of being a Jew, it is obvious that brachos should be recited with intentionality — kavanah — with full awareness of the One being addressed and of our relationship to Him. When we slur the words of baruch Atah, we are slurring over the basics of Yiddishkeit. The very frequency and repetitiveness of this recitation, however, makes it even more necessary to make a conscious effort to recite the familiar words with freshness and meaning. Specifically, the very first word is pronounced “baw-ruch,” and not “bruch.” And the name for G-d has three separate syllables: “ah — doh — nai.”

The word baruch has a fascinating etymology. It is similar to the word for “knee,” berech. The connection is clear. G-d is the One to Whom the knee is bent — an acknowledgment of subservience. Thus, baruch Atah means: You are the Master of the universe, the One to Whom the knee is bent.

Baruch is also connected to the word for “source” or “never-ending wellspring”: bereichah (which is also “pool” in modern Hebrew). Thus, baruch Atah, You are the eternal, never ending Source of all of life.

It is striking that almost every brachah begins in the second person (You) and ends in the third person. The brachah for water, for example, opens with baruch Atah, and then veers off from the second person to the third person: shehakol nihyeh bidvaro, “through Whose word everything came to be.” Why this switch? Perhaps it suggests that G-d is sometimes open in His relationship to us, and sometimes hidden in ways that are not obvious to us. G-d is constantly present; occasionally His presence is obvious and close by, but occasionally He seems distant and far away. We sense His presence, but we humans cannot ever know His essence — as G-d says to Moshe Rabbeinu in Shemos 33:20: “u’fanai lo yera’u — My face cannot be seen.” His essence is beyond human comprehension.

On yet another level, the change from second to third person represents the Creator both as our personal G-d, concerned with us as individuals, and at the same time the universal G-d, Creator and Master of all. (For an excellent discussion of the profundities of brachos and prayer, see the book She’ey Nivi: Insights Into Davening, by Harav Aharon Feldman. Full disclosure: he is my brother.)

Thus, the words baruch Atah introduce a declaration that is freighted with the very essence of the man-G-d relationship, and is the very basis of our relationship to the Creator. One would expect that a declaration containing such a powerful message would be limited to a select few. But this is not so. It is remarkable that with the one exception of Bircas Kohanim (the public blessings from the Kohein), every Jew, regardless of his or her personal status, is urged to recite these blessings. In fact, the Talmudic Sages (Megillah 15a) tell us, “Al tehi birchas hedyot kallah b’einecha — Do not take lightly even the blessing of an ordinary person.”

Somehow, most people appreciate a sincere blessing, because the human soul yearns for contact with that which is beyond the material and physical, for that which represents the holy and the transcendent. Which is why, whenever I offer to bless someone (and I am far from being a chassidic rebbe), no one ever says no. And a true blessing means not only that all should go well, but something else even more crucial: May you become aware of the ubiquitous and surrounding presence of the Hidden One in your life.

May we be worthy of receiving a full brachah from the Creator of us all, the One Who is the source of everything, the Master to Whom we are all subservient, Who is both revealed and hidden, known and unknown, seen and unseen , obviously close and seemingly distant — and may we be worthy of returning a proper baruch to Him.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1014)

Oops! We could not locate your form.