Yeshivat Har Bracha

Revivim, rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Blessings over Landscapes and Animals

The blessing over sights was established for one sight every thirty days, since for most people excitement is renewed in such a period of time * Someone who sees several types of magnificent landscapes on the same day, blesses each one separately * It would be appropriate for zoo managers to put up signs instructing the public which blessings are to be recited upon seeing certain animals

During these days, when many people are traveling around the country, it is appropriate to go over the laws of Birkot Ha’re’e’yah (the blessings over seeing certain phenomena). Every day, we praise and thank God for the wonderful world he created for us in Birkot HaShachar (the Morning Blessings), in the blessings of reading the Shema, and in prayers. However, in addition to the regular order of prayers and blessings, sometimes we encounter special, exciting and awe-inspiring sights, and in order to express their value content, our Sages enacted reciting a blessing over seeing them, and thereby tie them to their faith-based roots.

After Thirty Days

In order to recite the blessings of sight, two conditions must be met. First, the appearance be special and awe-inspiring for the majority of people. Second, that the seer has not seen it for thirty days, for then there is a newness in his vision. And although some people are so receptive that they are stirred after not having seen the unique landscape even after a week, and on the other hand, others are so indifferent they are not enthused even after a year – our Sages determined to bless in accordance with the excepted practice among the majority of people, that after thirty days have passed, they are stirred once again.

Sea ​​and River

For seeing a sea such as the Mediterranean Sea, as well as a sea such as the Sea of ​​Galilee and the Dead Sea, the blessing ‘oseh ma’aseh Bereishit’ (that God made the works of creation) is recited. On oceans that surround continents, the blessing ‘she’asah et ha’yam ha’gadol’ (who made the great sea) is recited. There are no blessings on an artificial lake, since it was created by man.

On rivers, the blessing ‘oseh ma’aseh Bereishit’ is recited, provided they are at least as big as the Euphrates which is called “gadol” in the Torah. Throughout the State of Israel, we do not have a river big enough to recite a blessing over it.

Mountains, Hills and Desert

A blessing is recited over mountains that are particularly high in relation to their surroundings, such as the Hermon, Arbel, Tabor, Masada, and Sartaba. A blessing is also recited over hills with a special appearance even though they are not high, including steep and pointed cliffs, such as the cliffs of the Judean Desert.

The desert is a barren and desolate place, where little rain falls. A blessing is recited provided its appearance elicits an extraordinary reaction, such as hiking in it and all the surrounding areas are deserted, or going to a lookout point to observe the arid expanses.

Vision from Afar

One who sees a special sight that elicits excitement in most people, is obligated to recite a blessing even if he himself is not moved by the sight. And if he sees it from a distance – if such a sight still arouses excitement in most people, he should recite the blessing, and if not, he should not recite a blessing. The meaning is excitement from the very sight, that is, from the enormous size of the sea or the mountain, and not from the fact that, despite the distance, one manages to see the sea or the mountain. Therefore, for example, one who sees the Mediterranean Sea, the Edom Mountains, or the snow-covered Mount Hermon from Har Bracha, does not recite a blessing.

Time of Reciting the Blessing

The blessing must be said within the duration of the vision, or at the latest, while saying three words after the end of the vision. If one did not bless then, and did not see the vision again during that day – he lost the opportunity to recite the blessing for thirty days.

When several people see an impressive sight, it is better for each of the seers to recite the blessing for themselves, than to fulfill their obligation by hearing the blessing by one of them. However, when a group goes on a trip, since they look together at the impressive view, it is possible for one to recite the blessing aloud for everyone, especially when there is a concern that some of the group do not know how to recite the blessing.

Numerous Blessings in the Same Day

Although a blessing is not recited over seeing the same sea or the same mountain within thirty days, one who sees different landscapes even on the same day, recites a blessing once more. Consequently, on a trip from the center of the country to the north, if one has not seen the sea for thirty days, while driving along the coastal road and he sees the sea – he should recite the blessing “oseh ma’aseh Bereshit“. If he sees the Carmel – he should recite a blessing again. When he gets to Mount Tabor – he should bless once more. When he reaches the Sea of ​​Galilee – he should bless once again. Similarly, a traveler in the Judean desert, when he enters the desert – he should recite a blessing over the desert, and if he later sees a particularly large mountain – he should recite a blessing over it as well. And when he arrives at the place of the impressive cliffs – he recites a blessing over them as well, as is the law over hills. However, if he later sees more special cliffs there, the blessing he initially blessed on the cliffs includes them all, since they are in the same area, and of the same type. And if he sees several landscapes together, even of different types, such as he sees Mount Arbel and the Kinneret together – he should recite one blessing over both of them.

Routine Sightings

Our Sages enacted these blessings as obligatory. However, a question arose: in the past when people walked on foot, or travelled on a donkey, usually, seeing an impressive landscape along the way aroused excitement. However, today it is common that people go to work and pass by landscapes every day, and the question is, whether over this kind of sighting a blessing should be recited. For example, a person who lives in Jerusalem and needs to travel to his business or to a family event in Haifa, when he reaches the coastal road, to the places from which he can see the sea – does he have to bless “oseh ma’aseh Bereshit” over the sea? And then, when he sees the Carmel, must he bless over it “oseh ma’aseh Bereshit“?

Answer: In such a situation, the decision is in the hands of the individual. If he decides to observe and admire the sight – he should recite the blessing, but if he does not want to do so – he does not bless.

One Who Lives Near the Sea or a High Mountain

One who lives near the sea or a high mountain, or is used to traveling near it – because there is no novelty in his view, he does not recite a blessing. And even if by chance thirty days pass without him looking at it, he should not bless, since having easily been able to see it, there is no novelty in seeing it. However, if he leaves his place for thirty days, and when he returns, wants to stare at the sea or the mountain – he should bless. And of course, on seeing a different sea, or another mountain, one should bless.

Beautiful Creatures

Our Sages determined that one who sees particularly nice-looking or strong animals, or especially beautiful or superior trees, or an exceptionally good-looking, or tall, strong person – whether they be Jewish or Gentile – recites the blessing: “Baruch Atah A-d-o-n-o-I, E-l-o-h-e-i-n-u Melech ha’Olam She’kacha Lo Be’Olamo” (Blessed are You, G-d, our Lord, King of the Universe, who has such [beautiful things] in His universe) (Brachot 58b).

By reciting this blessing, a great tikkun (rectification) is made, for quite often people marvel at exceptionally beautiful, or strong and large creatures – some people even hold beauty or physical strength contests between certain creatures (both humans and animals). It is extremely important to connect these feelings to their roots, and give praise to the Creator, who has such beautiful things in His universe.

Blessings are recited over two types of exceptionally beautiful creatures:

1) An animal unique in relation to others of the same species.

An expert on horses who sees a particularly handsome, strong, or fast horse recites the blessing “She’kacha Lo Be’Olamo”. Likewise, if an expert on dogs or cats sees a beautiful or particularly large one, he recites the blessing.

Regarding a person who is not knowledgeable about horses or dogs – even if the animals are unique and have won awards – if one is not impressed by seeing them, he does not recite the blessing. If he is impressed, he does recite the blessing.

Similarly, a person who sees an award-winning cow for producing the most amount of milk – if he is impressed by seeing it, the blessing is recited. If not, the blessing is not recited.

2) Unique species such as parrots and stunning peacocks.

The second type of animals, those found in zoos, are species considered particularly beautiful due to their appearance and special colors, such as a large and spectacularly colored parrot, or a peacock with a beautiful tail. Since they are considered beautiful compared to other birds, and people travel distances to take pleasure in their beauty, the blessing “She’kacha Lo Be’Olamo” is recited upon seeing them. Similarly, one who travels to see exotic fish, such as those in the Gulf of Eilat, given that they are considered particularly beautiful in comparison to other fish, recites the blessing.

One who sees a particularly handsome, large, or strong person, or an athlete with particularly notable achievements – recites the blessing. However, if the special beauty was created by plastic surgery, or the outstanding strength is thanks to the use of steroids – since it is not natural, a blessing should not be recited. And out of modesty, a man should not recite a blessing over a particularly beautiful woman.

One should not recite a blessing over the same creature once again, but if after thirty days, he sees another creature of the same kind, a little different in appearance and no less beautiful – he should recite the blessing (Peninei Halakha: Berachot 15:12-13:9).

A Visit to a Zoo

A visitor to the zoo should recite the blessing “She’kacha Lo Be’Olamo” over the first beautiful species he sees, and have kavana (intention) to exempt all the other beautiful species with his blessing. This pertains to most people, who are not particularly impressed by all the gorgeous species. However, someone greatly moved by seeing them, recites a blessing on each one individually.

A person taking children to the zoo, who sees they are particularly impressed by a certain animal, should instruct them to recite an additional blessing. It is best for an adult taking a group of children to visit the zoo to first recite the blessing for himself out loud, and for everyone to answer ‘amen’. Afterwards, each time they encounter a particularly beautiful species, a different child should be honored with reciting a blessing, thereby educating them to bless and admire God’s creatures. Together with this, they will also learn that the accepted practice is for each individual to recite one blessing over all the beautiful animals.

The Blessing “Mishaneh Ha’Briyot” for a Monkey or Elephant

Our Sages determined that a person who sees a monkey or an elephant recites the blessing: “Baruch Atah A-d-o-n-o-I, E-l-o-h-e-i-n-u Melech ha’Olam mishaneh ha’briyot”. Indeed, there is an opinion that a blessing should be recited upon seeing any unique-looking animal. In practice, however, according to the opinion of most poskim (Jewish law arbiters), our Sages determined to recite a blessing specifically on monkeys and elephants, because more than any other creatures, their appearance arouses particular astonishment, for although they are animals, they possess a certain resemblance to humans. A monkey is similar to man in the shape of its body and the use of its hands. An elephant is unique among animals in that its skin is smooth and hairless, and uses its trunk like a hand.

A person who sees a monkey and an elephant together, recites one blessing over both. However, when they are in different locations, as is common in zoos, a separate blessing is recited over each one.

A Suggestion for Zoo Managers

It would be appropriate for zoo managers to hang attractive signs near the animals which require a blessing upon seeing them – “She’kacha Lo Be’Olamo” next to the beautiful parrots and peacocks, and “Meshaneh ba’Briyot” near the elephants and monkeys, and to indicate that one who has already visited the zoo within thirty days should not recite the blessing once again.

A Blessing on the Settlement of the Land

According to the takana (ordinance) of our Sages, one must recite the blessing “matziv gevul alamna” on all Jewish communities in Israel seen for the first time, and after that, as long as one did not see it for thirty days, recite the blessing once again, in keeping with the accepted rules of ‘berachot ha’re’iah’.

However, since one of the major stipulations of ‘berachot ha’re’iah’ is that the sight being viewed must be awe-inspiring, consequently, one should not bless over communities whose observation is not stirring because one has already seen it a number of times, or because the location had long been inhabited by a large Jewish population and forgotten that it was once desolate.

The Blessing is recited over Communities in Which the Redemption of the Land is Evident

Therefore, in areas not yet settled appropriately where efforts must still be made to fulfill the mitzvoth of yishuv ha’aretz so that the Land remains in our hands and not in the possession of any other nation or left desolate – even if one sees an established community there, he should recite the blessing. This includes the following areas: Judea and Samaria, the Golan Heights, the Negev, and parts of the Galilee and Jezreel Valley.

It seems that even those who are not so moved about seeing the community – the first time one sees it, he should recite the blessing, for anyone who sees houses in places where the redemption of the land is evident, is considered as ‘seeing the houses of Israel when inhabited’, i.e., settling the land, and setting the boundary of the widow.

After Thirty Days

One who sees an established community in which the redemption of the land is evident, such as Alon Shvut, Karnei Shomron and Katzrin, after thirty days have passed since seeing it last – if one marvels anew at their settling of the land – he should recite the blessing; if one is not moved, he should not bless. And if one returns to the community a second time and sees they have built an additional neighborhood, he should recite the blessing.

But in the new communities in those areas, or in established communities facing greater difficulties in settlement, such as the communities of Itamar and Elon Moreh in Gav Ha’Har, and Otniel and Ma’on in the southern Hebron hills, in all probability the excitement of seeing them is greater, and as long as thirty days have passed, one may recite the blessing. However, even in places such as these, if one is not moved, a blessing should not be recited the second time. However, if in the meantime more houses were built, one who sees them should bless.

Similarly, a Jew who comes from abroad and sees the big cities for the first time, if he marvels at the return of Israel to their land – he should bless. Likewise, one who sees for the first time a newly built city, if he marvels at the strength of the settlement in it – he should bless. And in Jerusalem, the city of our holiness and glory, whoever admires its building, and sees some new buildings that add a small neighborhood to Jerusalem – even though he has already been to Jerusalem many times, he should recite the blessing “matziv gevul alamna“.

Joy and Comfort

I encountered a number of joyous events recently. About two weeks ago, a group of girls finished studying the ‘Peninei Halakha’ series. The study began about six years ago with my daughter Milcha, and after she got married and moved to Beit El, Ilanit Weinberger continued the studies. The study takes place mainly on Shabbats and holidays. The grand finishing party has not taken place yet.

A week ago, two additional groups of girls finished studying the entire Tanakh for the second time, as part of a daily chapter study, about half an hour to forty minutes a day. The class is taught by Hana Steinbach and Hodia Rosenberg. The study takes place all year round without exception (on Tisha B’av they study Lamentations). Even though the study is called a ‘daily chapter’, in practice the girls finish on average a chapter and a half. At the conclusion itself, parents and grandparents participated.

At the same time, there are two groups of boys who study a daily chapter in the Tanakh, and another two groups who study a daily chapter in the Mishnah. It turns out that the organization ‘B’nei Zion’ encourages daily Tanakh study that takes place in about thirty other places. The coordinator of the organization that participated in the party whispered in my ear that in Har Bracha, the number of participants in the study is much greater than in the other places.

Towards the end of the summer break, there is going to be a concluding event of about a hundred boys in the ‘Peninei Halakha’ books as part of the Har Bracha branch of the Ariel movement. Beyond happiness and contentment, one may learn from this that the systematic engagement with the value of learning Torah is effective.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

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