Brachot 44

In today’s daf (Brachot 44a-b) we explore the laws of the ‘Borei Nefashot’ bracha (which is recited after consuming a wide range of foodstuffs) which, as I hope to explain, is a short bracha that packs a significant philosophical punch!

In terms of the full-text of the bracha, it reads:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְ‑יָ אֱ‑לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא נְפָשׁוֹת רַבּוֹת וְחֶסְרוֹנָן עַל כָּל מַה שֶׁבָּרָאתָּ לְהַחֲיוֹת בָּהֶם נֶפֶשׁ כָּל חָי בָּרוּךְ חֵי הָעוֹלָמִים

‘Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who creates many people with their deficiencies [with the knowledge that] all the things You have created can sustain the life of every person. Blessed [is He] who sustains the life of the worlds’.

As mentioned, we often refer to this bracha as בּוֹרֵא נְפָשׁוֹת (who creates people), yet I believe it is of significance that the Mishna itself refers to the bracha with the longer expression of בּוֹרֵא נְפָשׁוֹת רַבּוֹת וְחֶסְרוֹנָן (who creates many people with their deficiencies) – as if both human diversity and the deficiencies within humanity are central to the meaning of this bracha.

Rashi addresses this point and explains that this bracha involves us  acknowledging how there are foods that we eat which fill our particular needs and so, to use the terminology of Rav Soloveitchik (in ‘Redemption, Prayer, Talmud Torah’), this bracha helps us maintain our ‘need-awareness’.

Yet by having a need-awareness we must necessarily confront our deficiencies which, as the Chafetz Chaim explains (see his ‘Amud HaChessed’), means that we should be aware that there are things we can do that others cannot, and things others can do that we cannot. But rather than our deficiences being a source of frustration, this awareness is – as the Chafetz Chaim points out – a source of blessing, because it drives us to consider how we can assist others in the things they cannot do, how we should accept help from others, and how we can create a society that is underpinned by acts of kindness.

True, it is important to say the ‘Borei Nefashot’ bracha, but it is no less important to live the ‘Borei Nefashot’ bracha and by doing so, acknowledge and celebrate our deficiences, our needs, and our ability to help others as well.