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The Non-Blessing Blessing
by Rabbi Heschel Greenberg
In addition to the dietary laws of Kashrus, the Torah—and the rabbinic laws that are extensions of the Torah— commands us to not eat even a crumb without first blessing G-d. In addition, when finished with eating a meal that consisted of one or more ounces of bread, we are commanded to recite Grace after Meals, as mentioned in this week’s parshah: “And you shall eat and be satisfied and bless G-d your G-d.”

The Talmud extends and generalizes this requirement for a blessing over a meal of bread to consuming any food or beverage. There is a blessing one must recite after eating an olive-sized piece of cake, for example, or drinking wine or eating one of the five fruits associated with the Land of Israel (grapes, dates, figs, olives and pomegranates). All other foods (fish, meat, eggs, etc.) and beverages (including water, when drunk to quench thirst) require a generic blessing, called Borei Nefashos:

“Blessed are you, G-d, our G-d, King of the Universe, Creator of numerous living things and what they lack, for all that He has created in order to sustain the life of every being. Blessed is [He Who] is the life of the worlds.”

The Talmud (Brachos 37a) makes a startling statement with respect to the Borei Nefashos, referring to the blessing as “v’lo klum”—nothing! In other words, as Rashi explains, relative to the more formal and lengthy blessing one recites after eating foods made from other grains (wheat, barley, oats, rye and spelt), the generic blessing of Borei Nefashos is regarded as “nothing.”

However, why should the generic nature of this blessing reduce it to a nothing? And if it is indeed regarded as nothing, why did the Sages even bother to institute such a blessing? Why didn’t they make it more specific?

Most people recognize the need to show gratitude to G-d when they receive significant blessings. However, when G-d’s blessings relate to things they deem “nothing” or unimportant, most people fail to express any gratitude.

It is precisely for this type of often overlooked benefit that our Sages instituted the Borei Nefashos blessing. Even when the benefit seems boring, routine or non-descript, one must still think G-d for it.

The word for gratitude in Hebrew, hoda’ah, is also a cognate to the words that mean agreeing or conceding. The root is also connected to the idea of confession of one’s sins (Vidui). The common denominator in all these three forms of the word – gratitude, conceding and confessing – is that they require acknowledgement of the “other” and a willingness to contract one’s own subjective existence to allow for the other to prevail. This state is referred to in Chassidic parlance as Bittul, generally translated as self-abnegation.

Perhaps, this is the deeper meaning of the Talmudic expression that the generic blessing of Borei Nefashos is “nothing.” This generic blessing calls on the one who recites it to express pure gratitude even when one’s own pleasure is negligible. The blessing is only about gratitude to G-d.

This trait of total self-abnegation—a glimmer of which is expressed through the blessing of Borei Nefashos—is ascribed to Moshiach. Moshiach will be identified by an extreme humility that expresses itself in an unbounded expression of gratitude to G-d and others.

One of the ways to hasten the full revelation of Moshiach and our ultimate Redemption is to engage in gratitude; thanking G-d for both the discernible miracles, as well as the generic miracles. Our gratitude for both the absolute necessities of life that we enjoy without thinking, as well as the extraordinary miracles that we are witness to in recent times, is expressed in the non-blessing blessing of Borei Nefashos.


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