Barukh She-Amar Elucidated I

EnglishA prominent fixture of the morning service is the ברוך שאמר. Together with its twin, the ישתבח, (see The Anatomy of a Beracha on this blog for an elaboration on the notion of “a blessing that leans onto another one,” which is why I call these each other’s twins) they frame the central recitation of Psalms and Hymns, setting the tone for our encounter with G”d, as we afterwards pronounce blessing after blessing, expressing our awe, giving thanks and petitioning G”d for our and our community’s needs. The section framed by the two blessings of ברוך שאמר and ישתבח is called פסוקי דזמרא – “Verses of Praise.”

The ברוך שאמר blessing is most sublime, intent on arousing within us the understanding that the chasm between Man and G”d is indeed infinite, which also serves to underline the miraculousness of prayer. Unlike human speech, Divine speech is not a mere communications vehicle, but a creative force. It is the manifestation of Divine Will. ברוך שאמר והיה העולם – “Blessed is He Who spoke and” with no additional efforts or actions “the world” suddenly “was.” Every one of the Six days of Creation begins with the words ויאמר א־להים – “And G”d-Almighty said …” (Genesis ch.1; Mishna Avot 5:1) Ten times these words appear in the Account of Creation, leading our Sages to remark that the universe was created in ten utterances.

In speaking about these Divine Utterances at the onset of the Verses of Praise, we are obviously meant to on the one hand become aware of the difference between human and Divine speech, but on the other hand realize the power of speech, and hence, the power of prayer.

Angelic Origins, or Even Higher?

It is an old blessing, according to the work Tola’at Ya’aqov (Zolkwa, Austro-Hungarian Empire, 1800; 14b – HebrewBooks.org) and Ilya Rabba (Ora’h ‘Hayim  §51), quoting Sefer Heikhalot – an early mystical work -, it was revealed in a note from heaven – perhaps hinting that it is part of the angels’ devotional praise of G”d, according to Tola’at Ya’aqov, it is even greater, the manifest Divine Presence’s praise for G”d -, and instituted as part of the daily service by the Men of the Great Assembly. Ba’H, TaZ, Mishna Berura and others quote this excerpt from Tola’at Ya’aqov approvingly. As a consequence of its great sublime character, we recite it while standing (Or Zaru’a).

Thus, while this prayer is not attested in either the Babylonian or Jerusalem Talmud, it is recited, using practically the identical wording, in all Jewish communities, whether Ashkenazi, Sefardi, Italian, Persian or Yemenite (note: the last three are neither Ashkenazi nor Sefardi, being older than either of these two!), which testifies to its early, yea, ancient incorporation in the morning prayer service.

A Detailed Look at the Preamble

The ברוך שאמר prayer consists of two parts, a preamble, containing eleven statements beginning with the word ברוך (“blessed is/are”), followed by a “long blessing” (see The Anatomy of a Beracha on this blog for a typology of blessings) that stresses praise and hymn.

There are three extensive primary commentaries to this prayer: one by Rabbi El’azar Rokeach (Ashkenaz, 13th Cent.), and two by David ben Josef Abudraham (Sefarad, 14th Cent.), one from his own pen, and one he quotes in the name of the Ba’al haMelamed (I’ll appreciate any tip identifying this source).

Unsurprisingly, the three sources are largely in agreement, providing Scriptural support for the particular praises in that blessing, but occasionally they disagree. Abudraham’s and Melamed’s texts seem to have differed from our currently standard texts and being somewhat longer; perhaps Sefardim adopted the Ashkenazi text, containing exactly 87 words, under influence of Rabbi Isaac Luria, who attached significance to this exact (Ashkenazi) tradition of the ברוך שאמר. The table shows the preamble translated according to the three commentaries.

The preamble reads:

Abudraham Ba’al Melamed Rokeach
Blessed is He, … Who spoke and then world was; בָּרוּךְ שֶׁאָמַר וְהָיָה הָעוֹלָם,
Blessed is He, בָּרוּךְ הוּא,
Blessed is He, … Who performed the act of creation; Who is the author of creation; Who maintains creation; בָּרוּךְ עֹשֶׂה בְרֵאשִׁית,
Blessed is He, … Who substantiates what He announces whose word is deed בָּרוּךְ אוֹמֵר וְעוֹשֶׂה,
Blessed is He, … Who fulfils what He decrees Whose wondrous decrees become fulfilled Whose decrees become fulfilled בָּרוּךְ גּוֹזֵר וּמְקַיֵּם,
Blessed is He, … Who has mercy upon the earth בָּרוּךְ מְרַחֵם עַל הָאָֽרֶץ,
Blessed is He, … Who has mercy upon the individuals בָּרוּךְ מְרַחֵם עַל הַבְּרִיּוֹת,
Blessed is He, … Who will repay [in the World-to-Come] goodly reward to those who fear Him בָּרוּךְ מְשַׁלֵּם שָׂכָר טוֹב לִירֵאָיו,
Blessed is He, … Who lives forever and endures to eternity Who lives in this world and endures in the next world Whose [strength] endures forever and Whose word is everlasting בָּרוּךְ חַי לָעַד וְקַיָּם לָנֶֽצַח,
Blessed is He, … Who redeems and saves בָּרוּךְ פּוֹדֶה וּמַצִּיל,
Blessed is His Name בָּרוּךְ שְׁמוֹ.

We already mentioned the insistence on maintaining the particular reading containing exactly 87 words, for which, as a mnemonic device, the verse (Song of Songs 5:11) רֹאשׁוֹ, כֶּתֶם פָּז, “His head is of the purest gold,” is mentioned, on account of the word פָּז, which has the numerical value of 87.

[NOTE: that verse was never taken to inherently mean anything about the prayer at the “head,” i.e. the beginning, of the Verses of Praise, because that verse in Song of Songs describes the lover, who invariably represents G”d. While the terms “head” and “head of the purest gold” are obviously metaphorical and require non-antropomorphic exposition, as provided by numerous commentaries, that verse was surely never taken to refer to anything but the Divine Lover of Israel. Mention of that verse in connection with Barukh She-Amar is explicitly as a siman, a mnemonic device, which also helps underline that the words of Barukh She-Amar are golden, sublime, worthy of our fullest attention.]

In addition, the preamble, together with the blessing (which we will explore in a future post) contain thirteen times the word “Blessed is,” of those, eleven are in the preamble, and those are not followed by any enunciation of the Divine Name. Hence, Rabbi El’azar Rokeach saw allusions in both the counts of eleven and thirteen, here. (See below)

Moreover, the preamble, so intensely contemplating Divine Speech, reflects the teaching that Creation was brought about through ten utterances (see, for example, Mishna Avot 5:1), say Abudraham and Tola’at Ya’aqov. (See below)

The Inherent Symbolism Explained

For Rabbi El’azar Rokeach, the thirteen “Blessed is” statements symbolize the thirteen methods of exposition of Scripture (“Beraitha deRabbi Yishma’el”), while the eleven occurrences of “Blessed is” statements that are not followed by an enunciation of the Divine Name, also symbolize the eleven verses (Leviticus 5:15-25) of the section dealing with admissions of treachery, the misappropriation of either temple property or private property. Others suggested alternative symbolisms for the thirteen “Blessed is” statements.

While Rabbi El’azar Rokeach does not elaborate on the significance of these symbolisms, it stands to reason that he means that true blessing and true praise of G”d happens through Torah exegesis, and that the proper application of human speech in prayer, the reluctance to speak G”d’s Name in haste, constitutes the very opposite of, and hence a reparation of, the sin of treachery (though obviously speech and prayer do not fulfil the prior, non-optional requirement to compensate defrauded victims).

Abudraham finds allusion to the Ten Utterances with which the universe was created, in the unified literary unit composed of both the preamble and the blessing together. Tola’at Ya’aqov finds the allusion in the ten expressions of praise in the actual blessing, sans preamble. However, our text differs slightly from Abudraham’s – whose text of ברוך שאמר had well over 87 words (I counted 107 words) -, and from Tola’at Ya’aqov ‘s, whose text, a cross between the Avudraham’s and and the Rokeach’s, does contain exactly 87 words.

Nonetheless, some (anyone know a source?) find that it is the preamble that reflects this particular teaching, because it consists of ten statements beginning with the word “Blessed is.” Actually, there are eleven such statements, but Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks claims that the second line (“Blessed is He!”) was not part of the ten praises, being originally a congregational response. (However, considering that the phrase is present in both the Rokeach and the Abudraham, I am somewhat skeptical. The phrase is indeed missing in Tola’at Ya’aqov, but he is missing some others, too, so that there are only eight praises in his preamble, which precludes him from being a source for Rabbi Sacks’ statement. So, if you know a source that supports Rabbi Sacks’ interpretation, please comment. Thank you!)

However, while there is disagreement regarding how we find a reference to the Ten Utterances in teh Barukh She-Amar, the thematic inclusion of Creation through Divine speech is not in question: it is explicitly part of the preamble (“Blessed is He Who spoke and then the world was)

Postscript

In a future instalment, I hope to elucidate the second part of Barukh She-Amar, the actual blessing. I am also thinking of showing the different texts of ברוך שאמר side by side. Meanwhile, having studied this material, the recitation of ברוך שאמר is no longer the same for me; in the recitation of this prayer, we reach for heaven. I pray you feel so, too.

–Arie Folger

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3 Responses to Barukh She-Amar Elucidated I

  1. Micha says:

    Beautiful.

    Personal opinion, the Avudraham assumes the tefillah is to be comprehensible to the common person saying it, so his translation reflects what people would expect it to say. Whereas the Rokeiach is much more loyal to the tenses and specifics of the words.

    E.g. “oseh vereishis” is in the present tense. “Who does the beginning-of” more literally says the Rokeiach’s “Who maintains creation”. But the Avudraham’s “Who performed the act of creation” doesn’t requiring into detouring as far into philosophy.

    BTW, speaking of the signficance of the numbers, why 11 terms specifying our relationship to the G-d we are blessing?

    -micha

    • Arie Folger says:

      Rabbi Micha Berger wrote:

      Personal opinion, the Avudraham assumes the tefillah is to be comprehensible to the common person saying it, so his translation reflects what people would expect it to say. Whereas the Rokeiach is much more loyal to the tenses and specifics of the words.

      That might fit their respective views of prayer, as Avudraham, of the Sefardic school, seems to be less conservative about precise wording. The source for that is IIRC in his section of the שמונה עשרה (standing, silent devotion). However, as a counterargument, I challenge you to track how the Avudraham sees the Ten Utterances reflected in the Barukh She-Amar; anything but simple to follow.

      On the tense of ‘Osse Vereishit, you make an excellent point. That is why the explanation of the Melamed, which Avudraham quotes, is a perfection of Avudraham’s own translation: we recognize that G”d is the sole Actor of Creation. It is historical, but in the present tense.

      Or, I could quote a certain Rabbi Micha Berger (do you have a blog post on the following issue, so I can link to it from here?) and say that, since G”d is above time, not to be contained in the spatial and temporal dimensions, everything is always in the present for G”d. However, I admit that it would be an anachronism to suggest that that is what Avudraham meant, unless I can have a more explicit quote.

  2. Micha says:

    Yes, I did blog about G-d and Time. I think it’s key to understanding very large sections of theology. Such as (but not limited to) resolving the conflict between G-d knowing the future and free will, or how the difference between nature, providence and miracle isn’t all it seems to be.

    Also, when you get to it, a primary theme of “Yotzeir Or”, which is also about creation in the present tense.

    -micha

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