Shiur #05: Berakha Upon a Nes

  • Rav Moshe Taragin


            The gemara in Berakhot (54a) establishes an obligation to recite a berakha when visiting a site at which a miracle occurred.  Although the mishna speaks of national miracles that obligate universal berakhot, the ensuing gemara updates the mishna and obligates personal berakhot for private miracles. 


            The gemara suggests deriving the requirement for this berakha from Yitro, Moshe's father-in-law, who praised Hashem upon hearing of the miracles of yetziat Mitzrayim.  The Penei Yehoshua contrasts this with "classic" berakhot, such as those recited prior to eating or before mitzva performance.  Though the former are not derived from a pasuk but are based on intuitive logic, the berakha upon a nes requires a textual source.  Although the Penei Yehoshua does not elaborate upon the exact difference, his observation may yield an interesting question: should a berakha upon miracles be considered a "classic" berakha, – similar to other berakhot recited upon visual stimuli (such as witnessing various wonders of the universe and reciting she-asa nissim)?  Or, is this berakha a different experience entirely? After all, it uncharacteristically possesses its own pasuk as a source.  Perhaps this berakha entail a THEOLOGICAL obligation to consider the role of Divine supernatural intervention.  When visiting a site of miracles, silence suggests indifference, which in turn reflects a obscuring of Hashem's constant supervision by the veneer of routine.  The MANNER of noting this theological reality is the formula of a berakha.  The basic obligation consists of contemplating the balance between routine and supernatural and not merely offering praise to Hashem akin to standard berakhot. 


            Perhaps the most obvious consequence of the distinction would surround the syntax of this berakha.  For example, would such a berakha require "shem u-malkhut" - mentioning both Hashem's name (Hashem Elokeinu) and his sovereignty (melekh ha-olam)?  The Ra'avad (cited by a response of the Rosh [4:3]) suspends this classic berakha syntax regarding all non-permanent berakhot, such as berakhot on lightning and thunder.  The Rosh rejects the Ra'avad's position.  Perhaps we might consider a compromise position: all berakhot – whether routine or periodic – require the base syntax, including the mention of Hashem and his monarchy.  However, the berakha upon miracles is not a classic berakha but rather an opportunity to appreciate miracles through the medium of a berakha mentioning a berakha.  In this respect, the formula of shem u-malkhut is not required. 


            A second potential difference concerns the timing schedule of the berakha.  Tosafot in Berakhot (54a) claim that the berakha is only recited once within a thirty day span.  If two locations where miracles occured are visited within that span, only one berakha is recited.  Tosafot base this position upon a Yerushalmi, which dictates the thirty day rule for general berakhot of witnessing events and places (birkhat ha-re'iyah).  Many Rishonim dispute this Tosafot, including the Rosh, who rules that multiple berakhot are recited even within a thirty day period.  Perhaps this discrepancy between general birkhat ha-re'iyah, which are limited to once a month by the Yerushalmi, and a berakha upon a nes, which is not limited, reflects a fundamental difference.  Since a berakha upon a nes is not primarily an obligation of berakha but a theological mandate to consider the varieties of Hashem's Providence, we may be obligated multiple times even within a limited schedule. 


            The Kaftor Va-'ferach raises an interesting question regarding the obligation of this berakha.  If a person were to visit the Yam Suf but not the particular entry point through which the Jews crossed, would he be obligated to recite the berakha?  Astonishingly, he rules that only the precise location where a miracle took place mandates a berakha, which would basically eliminate the possibility of reciting berakhot upon the Yam Suf or the Yarden river.  Many disagree with the Kaftor Va-ferach, claiming that the general location would be sufficient to generate a berakha obligation.  Presumably, if this is a classic birkhat ha-shevach praising Hashem upon witnessing a unique event or place, a general encounter with the Yam Suf or the Yarden should instigate an obligation.  In fact, the Bach expands the obligation even further; according to his opinion, seeing ANY lions' den or ANY furnace used to torture non-believers would obligate a berakha, for these locations would recall the miracles of Daniel and Avraham respectively.  Encountering these places would certainly suffice to obligate a birkhat ha-shevach. 


            However, if the blessing constitutes a singular opportunity to contemplate or acknowledge Divine Providence, we may limit it (in the fashion of the Kaftor Va-ferach) to visiting the exact locale of the miracle. 


            The Radvaz questions whether any moment of rescue obligates the berakha or only visiting a site of unmistakable supernatural intervention.  If, for example, a boulder fell near someone, narrowly missing his head, or he slipped from a ladder and escaped unharmed, would he be obligated to recite a berakha in these locations?  The Radvaz cites opinions that obligate berakhot under these circumstances, as well as dissenting opinions.  If the berakha is primarily a blessing thanking Hashem for one's safety, the person may be obligated to respond to these moments of "natural" Providence.  However, if the berakha is basically an opportunity to contemplate Divine intervention, the berakha may be limited to clear and undisguised interventions. 


            An additional question emerges from the Rosh who raises the option of including all miracles within the rubric of a berakha recited upon visiting the site of a particular event.  Should a person mention all past miracles or merely the miracle that occurred at that location?  Simple logic would dictate limiting the syntax of a berakha to the targeted miracle.  Why should a visit to the Yam Suf obligate mention of the miracle of crossing the Yarden?  If the Rosh viewed the obligation as a theological responsibility to mention miracles and thereby appreciate Divine intervention, one may be responsible to list the entire roster of Divine interventions when saying the berakha. 


            A final question concerns whether a child of the beneficiary must also recite a berakha.  The gemara makes no mention of a child reciting a berakha when visiting a site at which a parent experienced a miracle.  The Rif, however (based upon a Yerushalmi), does extend the obligation to children.  Presumably, the extension to children may indicate that this berakha is a form of shevach – thanking Hashem for the particular rescue.  Children who benefited from their parent being saved should also recite this berakha.  In fact, the Be'er Heitev suggests that only children born subsequent to the miracle should recite a berakha, since they received dramatic benefit from the miracle.  Children born prior to the miracle receive minimal benefit and may not be obligated to recite a berakha. 


In contrast, viewing the berakha as a unique moment to contemplate the varieties of Providence may limit the obligation to the person himself.  Why should a child contemplate hashgacha simply because a parent experienced a miracle?