Talmudic Sages fleshed out practical Jewish law from laborious analysis of our written and oral Torahs, both given by God to our teacher Moses at Sinai, some 3300 years ago. (Think of the Sages as a body of holy, righteous people dedicated to discerning and fulfilling the will of God). Jewish law was designed to perpetuate the God-consciousness that had been seared into our ancestors by supernatural revelation at Sinai, after our miraculous redemption from Egyptian bondage. (If you’d like to know how I’m so sure about those events, I welcome you to read “Solving the Jewish Mystery” and “Two Orthodox Jews, Three Opinions” in the soon to be re-released Making Meaning Out of Madness: A Jewish Journey. About this, I harbor no doubts.)
Finding a contradiction between two statements in the written Torah, “the earth and all that it contains belong to the Lord” (Psalms 24:1) and “the earth He gave to mankind” (Psalms 115:16), the Sages reconciled the duality with blessings. After Jews affirm God’s ownership and mastery of the earth, we can partake of its bounty with God’s permission, so to speak. Acknowledging God as our Provider, we bond with Him, cultivate gratitude for the gift of nourishment, and elicit His grace.
The numerological values of the letters of the Hebrew word for “bless” allude to God’s enhancement and multiplication of the substance being blessed through our words. “Baruch” or bless is comprised of the letters ‘beis’ (ב) (2); ‘reish’ (ר) (200); and ‘chaf’ (כ)(20). These numbers, each containing a two, represent levels of doubling of the letter ‘aleph’ or one, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Since the word “bracha” (blessing) is etymologically related to the words “breicha” (wellspring) and “berech” (knee), we reveal with our blessings our dependence on God (as if thanking Him on bended knee) as the Source of our sustenance. By making blessings over food, alone or in the company of others, we invite God to share our table, making a mundane meal into a holy, special occasion.
For more information, visit www.aish.com. Credit to Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb for his Preface in Guide to Blessings, by Rabbi Naftali Hoffner.