The Bracha and the Blessing
What is the difference?
By Nachum Mohl
We normally translate the Hebrew word "bracha" as blessing. But, indeed, is a bracha the same as a blessing? Looking up the word blessing on dictonary.com we are told that a blessing is:
- the act or words of a person who blesses.
- a special favor, mercy, or benefit: the blessings of liberty.
- a favor or gift bestowed by God, thereby bringing happiness.
- the invoking of God's favor upon a person: The son was denied his father's blessing.
- praise; devotion; worship, esp. grace said before a meal: The children took turns reciting the blessing.
- approval or good wishes: The proposed law had the blessing of the governor.
But the concept of a "bracha" is not quite any of the above. Allow me to explain.
To really understand a word in Hebrew we need to investigate the Hebrew root. In Hebrew all words are related through their root. Most Hebrew words are made up of a three letter root. From these basic three letters, the Hebrew word is conjugated. However, it goes deeper than this; words with similar root letters are related. This is so, because unlike other languages, each Hebrew letter has a divine power to create. Therefore using the letters in a sequence can create or describe a concept.
The word bracha is related to the word barak, barad, breicha, and lehavriech. Barak is lightning, barad is hail, breicha is a pool (water) and lehavrieh is a process that farmers do when they take their grapevines and put part of the vine underground to sprout roots thereby beginning a new planting.
Now what we learn from all of this is something interesting about a bracha. What most of these words have in common is a downward motion that is with the exception the word breicha, a pond or pool which also figures in our analysis. Let us begin now:
When we pray we use the word baruch at the beginning of a blessing, baruch atah Ad-onai Elo-hainu
Now what do we mean by this? Are we blessing G-d? Of course not, G-d does not need our blessings; He is perfect and lacks nothing. What we are doing is something else; we are trying to bring G-d's goodness and abundance down from being concealed and hidden in the upper worlds and down into our material world.
The word G-d in Hebrew is usually written with two names: Ad-onai Elo-hainu as in the example of the bracha above. What is the difference between these two names? Ad-onai refers to G-d in His essence, the way He really is to Himself, all prevailing, existing beyond the limits of time and space, to whom yesterday, today and all the tomorrows exist at the same time, to whom space has no meaning that here, there and everywhere have no distance between them since He embodies all place. This is the name of G-d that we never pronounce since it is a concept that we can never fully understand. The true nature of G-d is unlimited and we are limited creatures and therefore it is impossible for the limited to understand the unlimited, except to say that it is beyond limitations that we have.
The name Elo-hainu is a derivative of Elo-heem another name in Hebrew for G-d. Yet this is the name that the sages have told us is the expression of nature. This is the aspect of G-d that relates to the world through the laws of nature and natural forces and occurrences.
We who live in the world are used to referring to the events that happen as natural occurrences since they are based on nature. These are the laws that G-d fixed in the creation from the beginning of time. They are basically unmovable and unchangeable. This is the realm of Elo-heem, the realm of G-d as He exists firmly in nature.
However above this layer, this world of nature, is the real G-d, the maker of nature and the director of nature. This is the G-d as we call Him Ad-onai. It is to this aspect of G-d that we desire to relate, to connect and to beseech. When we pray we are acknowledging that G-d, Ad-onai, descends into the lower worlds, that He is the force behind Elo-heem, the façade of nature.
When we ask for a blessing we are asking G-d to take from His heavenly repository of abundance (his pool or his pond Hebrew: breicha) and to send it down to us who live in this lowly dark world of the material. This is the bracha, the coming down of that needed material assistance from G-d.
Whether blessing and bracha are the same is perhaps a futile discussion, but for certain, there is a difference in the definition and it is well worth while knowing the differences between a blessing and a bracha.
from the Februrary 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine