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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Eikev 5774 "A Life of Blessing"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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The Chazon Ish, Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz zt’l, served G-d with every fiber of his being. His life was completely devoted to Torah study, prayer, and mitzvah observance.

There was a period during his life when the Chazon Ish was ill and weak and, because of the intensity with which he studied, he was unable to learn anything except studies that did not require intense concentration[1]. During that time, for the sake of his health, he would also not recite blessings before he ate. Normally when the Chazon Ish recited a blessing he concentrated on the words with incredible intensity and therefore during his period of weakness it would have been equally detrimental to his health for him if he would have recited blessings.

The Chazon Ish could not bring himself to recite a blessing without his usual intensity. He was extremely particular to fulfill the law which states that ideally whenever one recites the Divine Name (which is at the core of every blessing) he must do so with fear and trepidation (see Chayei Adam, Klal 5). Since he was unable to recite the blessing without that extreme level of concentration and emotion, for the sake of his health, during that period he was exempt from reciting blessings.

Moshe Rabbeinu exhorted the nation “V’atah Yisroel mah Hashem Elokecha shoel mayimach ki im l’yirah oso - Now O Israel, what does Hashem, your G-d, ask of you? Only to fear Him…”[2]

Medrash Tanchuma writes that during the reign of Dovid Hamelech there was a tragic period when one hundred of his men died in battle every day. Dovid realized that the deaths were a form of retribution. In order to rectify the situation Dovid Hamelech enacted that every individual recite one hundred blessings daily. He based it on a homiletical reading of the aforementioned verse: “Mah Hashem shoel mayimach – What does G-d ask of you”. The word “mah” can be read as “mayah - a hundred”. Thus the verse reads, “Now O Israel, a hundred (i.e. blessings) is what G-d asks of you.”

As soon as Dovid enacted the daily quota of blessings the plague ceased.[3]

What is the significance of reciting one hundred blessings and why did it stop the plague?

Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt’l explains that our task in life is to connect ourselves spirituality with G-d. A person must strive to reach a level where his soul pines to perform mitzvos and to follow the Torah with all his heart and soul.

The revelation at Sinai and the transmission of Torah is often compared to a wedding, a covenant of love between G-d and Klal Yisroel. In regards to marriage the key to preserving peace and harmony in the home stems from there being a pleasant and passionate relationship between both spouses. Often one spouse will say to the other, “I don’t want/need anything. Just please speak to me pleasantly.” The main joy in a home is when they are able to speak to each other devotedly, sincerely wishing each other “Good Morning” and saying “Thank You”, even for mundane things.

Rabbi Pinkus explained that the same holds true in regard to our relationship with G-d, as it were. Moshe wondered rhetorically[4]: What does G-d ask of you? What does He want from you? That you should speak to Him pleasantly at all times.

That is the idea behind reciting one hundred blessings, to thank G-d constantly - to appreciate the wondrous gift of sight and to emotionally declare, ‘Thank You for my vision’, to hold a glass of water and before gulping it down to thank G-d for it. The constant recitation of blessings breeds within a person the greatest level of constant connection with G-d.

Rav Pinkus explained that this is why Dovid Hamelech specifically enacted the recitation of blessings as the means to amass merits to stop the plague. It is analogous to a couple who are extremely angry with one another. When people who are so close and know each other so intimately are at odds the contention is particularly divisive and acrimonious. However, if they can somehow move beyond their anger and animosity and have a pleasant conversation their anger will dissipate and they will be able to repair the relationship.

That was the idea behind Dovid’s enactment. Dovid essentially instructed Klal Yisroel to “speak nicely to G-d” by recognizing all the good He does and to thank Him for it. When one keeps repeating, “Thank You, Thank You, Thank You”, inevitably the anger will dissipate and feelings of love will suffuse instead.

It is a constant challenge for one to concentrate and to savor the meaning and emotion that should be awakened when reciting a blessing. Out of the 620 commandments[5] that every Jew is obligated in, few are as disregarded and underappreciated as reciting blessings. The fact that we are so remiss in regards to blessings is itself indicative of their greatness.[6]

One who is meticulous to recite blessings with even partial concentration will merit tremendous spiritual blessing and feelings of closeness and connection with G-d.

Rav Pinkus related the following amusing personal anecdote to bolster his point: “I want to tell all of you that if you are meticulous to recite blessings with kavana (concentration) it will literally change your life. If you train yourself to thank G-d for all the things that we generally take for granted you will become a happier person and it is guaranteed to have a positive effect on every facet of your life. Because we recite blessings so often they become trite and we recite them haphazardly. So for you to train yourself to say blessings with feeling is a ‘kuntz’[7], although for me it’s not such a kuntz. Please allow me to explain why it’s not such a kuntz for me:

“Some time ago, I was invited to address the Yarchei Kalla[8] in the Ponovezher Yeshiva in B’nei B’rak. The topic that I was given was blessings and so I spoke at length about their great merit and importance. When I finished I went to the home of my brother-in-law who lived nearby in B’nei B’rak. It was a scorching hot day and I poured myself a glass of soda. As I was about to drink it I noticed that my brother-in-law was watching me. I figured he was probably thinking, ‘Shimshi, just gave a whole discourse about blessings. Let’s see how he himself recites a blessing!’ So I was careful to say the blessing with a little added fervor.

That Shabbos the Rosh Yeshiva of the community where I am the Rabbi (Ofakim, near Be’er Sheva, in the south of Eretz Yisroel) was away. Being that he usually addressed the community on Shabbos morning the community leaders turned to me and requested that I speak in his stead. I spoke about the topic that was most fresh on my mind, i.e. blessings. I repeated the entire discourse that I had given a few days prior.

After davening was over and I was about to recite Kiddush prior to the Shabbos meal I noticed that my children were gazing at me. I figured they too were wondering how I was going to recite a blessing after delivering such a speech. I developed a complex wherever I went that people were watching me when I said a blessing. I was forced to accustom myself to saying blessings with concentration and fervor.

“So for me it’s no longer a kuntz to say blessings with concentration. But for you it still is. You’ll see that if you do, it will change your life.”

G-d is surely not at all affected by our blessings. It is we who stand to benefit from living a life of appreciation and awareness of Hashem constantly. Reciting blessings with fervor and concentration is a powerful way to build that connection.

“Now O Israel, what does Hashem, your G-d, ask of you?”

“Now O Israel, a hundred blessings is what G-d asks of you!”

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[1] Such as Tanach

[2] Devorim 10:12

[3] See Ba’al Haturim on this verse and on verse 4:4 where other allusions to the obligation of reciting one hundred blessings daily are mentioned.

[4] as the simple translation of the words reveal

[5] 613 Biblical and 7 Rabbinic (numerical value of the word ‘Keser- crown’)

[6] The more holy and precious something is the more our Evil Inclination works to ensure that we do not take advantage of its greatness and do not fulfill it properly.

[7] lit. trick, i.e. something that requires exertion and effort

[8] an annual mass gathering for Torah study which includes lectures delivered by erudite scholars

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