I am sitting in my home in Israel and I am very aware that our readership is spread across the globe. We have all been experiencing the Coronavirus over the last few months and we are all in different stages of this unique and historic event. Our primary responsibility, as defined by halacha, is to preserve life and as such we have all curtailed public gatherings, most painfully we have closed down our shuls. Many areas of halacha have been examined in ways that they have never been dealt with before. As religious people I believe that we need to be committed to our religious principles as all times. If the halachik priority is to gather for teffila we need to so, and if the halacha requires us to stay home, then we must do that as well.
I would like to focus upon a different aspect of the pandemic and our religious response to it. The Gemara tells us that David HaMelech established the practice of reciting 100 brachot each and every day in order to help stop a plague. Many people have been suggesting various segulot, mystical if not magical, things to do under these conditions. I believe that the idea of 100 daily brachot is not a mystical solution to the plague but stems from a much more basic place.
The world of brachot is a very complex one. We have many different types of brachot. The Rambam classifies brachot into three groups: those said before deriving pleasure from this world (generally before eating), those said prior to preforming a mitzvah and those that we express thanks to God for natural phenomena. In addition, a bracha is the basic building block of our teffila. Our amida is comprised of 19 brachot and many other sections of the siddur revolve around clusters of brachot.
While each type of bracha is unique and has its own rules, such as when it should be said, who can say it and can you say a bracha on someone else’s behalf, nonetheless they all have some common elements. All brachot start off with the simplest of formula “Baruch Ata Hashem Elokeyu Melech haolam…” We address God as the King of the universe and then we go on to describe the reason that we are blessing Him. The very core of a bracha is the recognition of God and His power in the world. The gemara tells us that any bracha that lacks this formula is invalid. One may note that He created fruit from the trees or brings rainbows, or any other item on our bracha list, but without the core statement it is not a bracha.
The requirement to recite 100 brachot a day means that 100 times each day every one of us declares God’s control of the world! This is an incredible statement of faith multiplied in enormous ways.
What have we learned from Corona? The most basic lesson that we have learned is humility and how vulnerable we all are. The great achievements of mankind have all been ground to a halt on a biblical scale. Had we read a midrash about an event that sent all of humanity around the globe into isolation in their homes, we would have assumed that it is midrashic hyperbole. We have truly come to understand the limits of our abilities. While a plague can teach us negative lessons, what we cannot do and how limited we are; the real challenge is to find the positive lessons to be learned. I think that this is concept of 100 brachot. We are being challenged in these times with reassessing our relationship with God and understanding the extent of the chasm that separates us. The finite mortal meets the infinite God. A simple message; but one that is easily and often neglected.
Reciting 100 brachot a day is actually not very challenging at all. If one is following the standard schedule of a religious Jew it happens almost automatically. There are 24 brachot in the first few pages of the siddur from netilat yadayim through birkot hashachar, another 5 before the Amida, 19 in the Amida of shacharit, 19 in Mincha, 4 before the Amida of arvit, 19 in the amida of arvit, one before going to bed. If one washes and has one meal with bread that is another 6, bringing us to a total of 97 brachot. Any eating, drinking or going to the bathroom during the day puts us over 100 without any effort at all.
If that is the case then we are already doing it, what is the point in assigning it some anti-viral quality? That may be exactly the point. We may be making the 100 brachot each and every day but are we really allowing them to send their message to us? It is not enough to mumble the bracha throughout our day. We are meant to experience the bracha and make it a transformative experience. It is clear that one is not allowed to start a bracha if you don’t know what the end is supposed to be. For instance, one should not start brauch ata Hashem… and wait for his friend to queue him in as to whether it is ha’etz or ha’adama. If that is true about the specifics of a bracha it is definitely true about its very essence “King of the universe”. We cannot say a bracha without full understanding of who we are meeting and talking to. Ata-You. If we speak to God and recognize His control over the world 100 times each and every day then we will have learned something important.
During Corona many people are stuck at home and have a bit more time. Let’s use the time to learn important things. Let’s use the time to dedicate a few extra moments for each and every bracha, pause slightly before a bracha and contemplate who we are talking to. I think that a plague and proper understanding of brachot accomplish the same goal. Our challenge is to live the lesson without having to suffer the enormous cost.
May we all be healthy and we pray for all those in need of refuah all over the world.