Moshe Ben-Chaim and Shaya Mann
Last week I was studying with my close friend Shaya Mann. As always, we get quite caught up in our discussions. I cannot think of a time when our studies did not yield fruits. Speaking of which, somehow our conversation was redirected towards the topic of blessings over fruits, and other matters. We wondered at the basic need for blessings in general. We took three examples: blessings over food, beautiful people, and deformed creatures.
We referred back to the Talmud, which states, “Rav Chanina son of Rav Pappa said, ‘one who benefits in this world without blessing God, is as one who steals from God’.” (Brachos, 35b) This makes sense. One must realize that all from which we benefit, is due solely to God’s creation, and kindness. Benefiting without recognizing God through blessings is as though we have stole. We feel we are entitled to the fruits of the Earth, when in fact we are not. Our mission in life is not physical gratification, but knowledge of God. And even in the simple activity of eating, if we forsake this realization, we are taking something for another reason than intended by God: we are stealing from Him.
We asked: “Why must we bless God when we see a beautiful person, trees or fields? What is the nature of this blessing?” The text is as follows, “Blessed are You, God, our God, King of the universe, Who has created such as these in His world.” Shaya explained this as similar to the blessing over foods: we must not benefit without blessing God. He explained that blessings over foods are physical benefits, whereas blessings over beauty are psychological benefits. Qualitatively, however, there is no difference in their nature. In both cases, we derive some type of pleasure; be it physical satiation, or psychological pleasure when witnessing those beautiful creations, which engender this positive affect.
We then examined the blessing over seeing deformed or unnatural people or animals: “Blessed are You, God, our God, King of the universe, Who distorts the creatures.” This is certainly not a blessing over a pleasurable experience, as our reaction is usually repulsion. Why then do we make a blessing?
Not all blessings are similar. Many objectives are achieved by our various blessings. I suggested that this blessing has another objective.
I asked, “Why are we repulsed?” The answer is based on our value system. “Repulsion” is indicative of that which we feel does not conform to what we value. We do not place value in those creatures, which repulse us. We feel we gain nothing from them. However, this is a corrupt value system. We feel that if we do not agree with something, that our determination is an objective and true one. We feel we are correct. We feel our notions are true. This is where this blessing comes in.
Blessings exist to address and correct our false values. In place of walking away from a distorted animal or person with disgust, the Rabbis instituted this blessing to realign our notions with truth: God may distort His creations. He is the Creator, and no human may advance his own opinions as more accurate that God’s. If God feels it is necessary to create distortions in His creations, He has full right to do so, and ours is to observe and understand, not ridicule.
Blessing help us place our false notions in check: be they notions about entitlement to food, or God’s rights as the Creator…directing us to reevaluate our opinions. We must be this introspective in all areas.