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Thought for the Day: Three Dimensions of Bracha

I always like to hear a shiur that quotes the Abarbanel.  The commentaries of the Arbabanel tend to be lengthy, so given my long list of priorities, my paucity of time for learning, and my relatively weak Hebrew reading skills, I just can't justify the time investment required.  I am therefore always happy when I hear a reputable magid shiur bringing in an Abarbanel.  You need "reputable", of course, because you are getting a synopsis of the important/main points of a long essay and that is a highly subjective determination.  This is more from R' Ahron Lopiansky.  So when I say "the Abarbanel says", I really mean, "my understanding of R' Ahron Lopiansky's synopsis of what the Abarbanel has to say is".

The Abarbanel says that the word "bracha" is used for more than once concept, and it means different things depending on the context, and by context he means the one using the word and the one to whom the word is being applied.  R' Lopiansky comments that the concept of bracha is an infusion of good, and depending on where you are standing, that infusion look different.  The three contexts are, then, HaShem to man, man to HaShem, and man to man.

From HaShem to man, bracha means "increase" of good.  The implication of "increase", as opposed to just "giving" is that the bracha needs something on which to act.  When Elisha helped the widow by miraculously providing her with oil (Melachim II, 4:1-7), the oil was poured from a small, existing jug  into vessels that she provided.  Of course, the amount of oil poured from that tiny jug was miraculous, but it had to start with something.  In general, HaShem gives us a bracha, it means that we have done something -- however little -- to provide the starting point.

From man to HaShem, as in "Blessed art Thou, King of the Universe, Who has created .. ", the word "bracha" means that we are declaring that HaShem is the One source of infusion of goodness into the world.  By making a bracha, we are announcing -- and thereby recognizing and publicizing -- that HaShem is the source of bracha.  That serves to make ourselves into vessels worthy of accepting and benefiting from the infusion of goodness we are about to enjoy.  Just as the widow could only receive as much oil as she had vessels to contain it, we can only receive as much bracha as we are fit to hold (so to speak).  The Chafeitz Chaim was once brought a list of names of people for a bracha.  He came to the name of someone who had been taking himself further and further "off the derech", and the Chafeitz Chaim just sighed, said that not everyone could receive bracha, and skipped the name.  The Chafeitz Chaim wasn't, chas v'shalom, holding anything back, just noting a reality.

When person "gives a bracha" to another, he is really praising him for some good act and offering a t'fila that HaShem should continue infusing him with good so that he may continue to be a conduit for that good to be dispensed to all of Klal Yisrael.  Shlomo HaMelech says (Mishlei 14:4) that if you have no cattle, then the feeding trough will remain full, but if you have oxen, then you have have an abundance of grain.  Obvious, right?  Right, the lesson being that you have to start by giving up a little (the grain in the feeding trough) to receive a large profit (the abundance of grain).  The Gr"a applies that lesson to giving tzedaka and teaching Torah; you have to spend a little to get a lot.  Those lessons are just as true, but not always so obvious.

The question you should be asking yourself is, of course, should you be learning the Abarbanel yourself, or relying on this venue.  I am absolutely confident that I am not doing the Abarbanel nor R' Lopiansky justice, but all I can do is point you in their direction.

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