By Rabbi Aryeh Ginzberg
When a person reaches the age of 60, which the Mishnah in Avos describes as the age of “ziknah,” by then he should have a solid understanding of the basics of the primary mitzvos, like Shabbos, yom tov, tefillah, taharas ha’mishpachah, and berachos. At least that’s what I thought, until a 20-year-old yeshiva bachur with an elevated neshamah taught otherwise.
While the concept of berachos is familiar to all, the depth of the understanding and appreciation of them is limited to a small group. Chazal in several places (Menachos 43b; Berachos 33b) explain that the pasuk that says, “Listen, Yisrael, what does Hashem ask from you?” refers to the 100 berachos that a person is obligated to say every day. This is a fundamental requirement as well as the most efficient method to develop a close connection to our Creator.
When a person makes a berachah before doing something or getting pleasure from one of Hashem’s creations, in essence he or she is stopping to reflect that everything that one has is from HKB’H; it’s all His, and we therefore will cleave to Him and come to recognize our place in this world, and it will increase our connection to the One Above.
It is written in the Midrash Rabbah (Parashas Korach) as well as the Midrash Tanchuma that the source of the 100 berachos a day comes from Dovid HaMelech, who enacted this takanah when there was a terrible plague where 100 people were dying each day with no way to stop it. Dovid enacted the requirement of 100 berachos a day and the plague stopped.
Where did Dovid get this idea from? The Midrash says that there was a similar plague in the days of Yehoshua bin Nun and he established the 100 berachos a day that stopped the plague in its tracks. Many years later, Dovid HaMelech followed the same formula and put forth this takanah to stop the people from dying.
It wasn’t a greater adherence to tzitzis, tefillin, or the laws of kashrus that was selected to be used to counter the plague that affected everyone; it was specifically the concept of berachos that was selected to give Klal Yisrael the extra needed z’chusim, as only berachos create that extra connection, that extra bond with HKB’H.
The Birchei Yosef (Orach Chaim) brings from earlier generations that one who makes 100 berachos a day is guaranteed a place in olam ha’ba. The poskim (sefer Yosef Ometz) refer to ancient sources that teach that someone who says 100 berachos a day will be protected from the 98 curses in the Tochachah. The Kol Bo says that it is befitting that the gematria of the word “modim” is 100, which speaks to the essence of what berachos are all about.
We know of the stories of many gedolim who credited their commitment of saying 100 berachos daily as the source of their great achievement in their own spiritual growth. It’s what Hashem wants from us, and it will bring us much deeper into the orbit of our Creator.
Yet it is something so obvious and so easy to perform that we neither focus nor take it seriously enough; we make berachos without ever thinking of what we are saying or when we are saying it. The sefarim speak about the importance of Elul and to use this time to refocus our energies and attention on the 100 berachos that we should be saying every day.
Every once in a while you meet someone who shows you how saying a berachah is really supposed to be done.
This past summer I had the great fortune to spend some time in San Diego with the incredible Werner family of KMR fame. Along with all the other guests, I am inspired by their generosity, kindness, ruach, and hospitality. It is always an incredible privilege and treat to spend a Shabbos with their family. However, I also received some incredible inspiration from having the opportunity to listen to Rabbi Simcha Werner, the patriarch of the family, recite the morning birchos ha’shachar and birchas haTorah. The kavanah, concentration, and clarity of his recital of the daily berachos was inspiring and sad. It was inspiring to hear how an old-time Yid with incredible yiras Shamayim recites his berachos as a direct communication with his Creator. And sad in that I say the same berachos each day but they are so far from that appreciation of what a berachah is all about. I purposely moved my seat one morning to where he was sitting, just to be able to be in a position to listen to those berachos being said. When I mentioned to his oldest son, my friend Rabbi Shia Werner, how inspired I was by his father’s beautiful berachos, he laughed and said, “This is nothing. Wait until the month of Elul — then you will really hear how a berachah is supposed to be made.”
The story is told about an elderly woman who was all alone in the world, bedridden and suffering from constant pain. It was erev Rosh Hashanah and she asked that someone go to one of her neighbors, the rosh yeshiva of Chevron, Rav Yecheskel Sarna, zt’l, and ask him to come see her as she has a question for him. When he arrived, she asked him to please give her a berachah for arichas yamim.
He asked her, “You are alone and in constant pain, and of course I will be pleased to give you a berachah, but why would you want to live like this any longer?”
She quickly responded, “Rosh Yeshiva, what is your question? As long as I am alive, I can take a cup of water in my hand and make the berachah of “shehakol nehiyeh bidvaro.” Isn’t that worth living for?”
Rav Sarna stood at the front of the beis midrash in his yeshiva moments before tekiyas shofar and couldn’t stop crying as he related this story to them, how an old sickly woman just taught him a life lesson on the significance of just one berachah. It is indeed worth living just for that.
In the last few weeks, thousands of Yidden throughout the world were taught an incredible lesson on the significance of just one berachah, one that we recite several times a day, and that lesson came from a 20-year-old yeshiva bachur from his hospital bed. Yosef Chaim ben Devorah Leah was an outstanding bachur in yeshiva who has been facing some serious medical challenges over the last few months. While his guf may have been confined to a bed these last few weeks, his lofty neshamah has been making its impact throughout the Yiddishe world. As a z’chus for his refuah, he has shared the simple idea of standing still when reciting the berachah of Asher Yatzar. This is a berachah that we recite multiple times a day—often while on the run or doing anything else except for focusing on this special berachah. Standing still for a few minutes for the recital of the berachah would give us an extra few seconds to appreciate the incredible chesed that Hashem does for us in allowing our bodies to function properly. Since Yosef Chaim shared with us his idea in a special video, I personally have developed a completely new perspective on this important berachah.
I think the remarkable insight of Rav Lipa Geldwirth on this berachah that he shared with Yosef Chaim is an important one to think about. In the words of this berachah, we say “that we would be unable to stand in front of Your presence,” which is really something to think about. We just came out of the bathroom after fulfilling the most basic human need that exists (no different from the needs of the other creations) and all of a sudden we are talking about standing in front of the Shechinah! How did we go from a bathroom activity to standing in front of HKB’H a few seconds later? The lesson is that no matter what a Yid is doing at one moment, the potential to be in the presence of the Shechinah is possible immediately afterwards. This is the special koach of a Yid.
It’s an incredible lesson I had never given a thought to in all these years until Yosef Chaim ben Devorah Rochel decided to inspire Klal Yisrael with his heartfelt bakashah. I am indebted, Klal Yisrael is indebted, and no doubt k’vod Shamayim is also indebted for all that was done on its behalf. All those z’chusim will surely bring Yosef Chaim a quick and complete refuah sheleimah along with the other cholei Yisrael. May it happen speedily in our days.
This article was written as a z’chus for an aliyas neshamah for Sarah Chaya bas Rav Aryeh Zev.