Can people bless G-d?

Question: How it is that a person can be in a position to bless G-d, as implied by the prayer from the traditional Jewish communal liturgy, “Bless the L-rd Who is blessed,” which Rabbi Moshe Weiner approved for your booklet of recommended Noahide community prayer services?

Ask Noah

Answer: (by Rabbi Sholom Ber Bloom and Dr. Michael Schulman)

This is a very important question to ask, and not limited to the prayer that you mentioned in your question (“Bless be the L-rd Who is blessed”). It concerns any blessing that we make, such as the blessings before eating or drinking in which we bless G-d for giving us bread, fruit, wine, etc.

In order to understand this subject, we first have to understand how we are able to praise G-d at all. Who are we to think that we understand the greatness of G-d, so the extent that we can praise Him adequately? G-d is infinite, so seemingly any praise that we finite people give to G-d should be considered an insult, since G-d is infinitely greater than any praise we could give Him. In fact, in Exodus 14:11, the Torah describes G-d as being “fearful in praises.” Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki (known by the acronym “Rashi”) explained that on the basic level, this verse means that “people are afraid to declare Your [G-d’s] praises, lest they say less than they really are.” Similarly, it is related in the Talmud that a certain person, while leading the prayer services in the presence of the sage Rabbi Hanina, decided to add more praises about G-d than were included in the standardized liturgy. After he had finished, Rabbi Hanina rebuked him by saying, “Why are you adding all those [additional] praises? For even if you will mention all of the praises in the world, you would be insulting Him, for G-d is infinitely higher than the praises that you are ascribing to Him.”

The answer is that in fact, the reason we have certain praises of G-d in our prayers is because Moses, the greatest prophet of all time, praised G-d with certain descriptions as recorded in the Torah, and subsequently the Men of the Great Assembly (the sages of the Great Sanhedrin when the Second Temple was built, who established the standardized public prayer services for Jews) included those praises in the prayer services for various spiritual reasons. But if Moses had not revealed to us that it is permitted to say those praises, which is the reason why the Men of the Great Assembly included those praises in the prayer services, we wouldn’t have the audacity to mention them. This same principle was applied in using other praises of G-d that are found in the other Books of the Hebrew Bible, which are from the subsequent Biblical prophets.

So now back to your question: how can man be in a position to bless G-d? You are right that on our own we wouldn’t have the right to say such things. But the words of these praises and blessings to G-d were put into the Hebrew Bible by the prophets, and into the authorized prayer services by very great and holy sages who were blessed by G-d with “ruakh ha’kodesh” (holy inspiration), and they understood the mystical (kabbalistic) meanings of these statements. Therefore, based on their authority, we are able and permitted to recite them.

However, to answer your question to the best of my abilities and understanding, the Hebrew word which we translate as “blessing” is “brokha.” This has the same root as the word “mavrikh,” which means “to bring down.” In kabbala it is taught that when one gives someone else a sincere blessing, his intention is to focus on a level of G-dliness which will enable the spiritual blessing to be manifested in a physical way (as for example, at the end of the Book of Genesis when Jacob blessed his sons, and at the end of the Book of Deuteronomy when Moses blessed the 12 Tribes). So when we say in the prayer liturgy, “Bless (bor’khu) the L-rd Who is blessed (mevorach),” we are asking for G-d to “bring down” (mavrikh) into this physical world a level of G-dliness which is the spiritual source of all blessings.

Question: How is it that we bless G*d? It still seems that it is saying it is something we can do, and G-d is the “direct object” of that action (in grammatical terms).

Answer: Here is one way to understand this. When you bless someone, you are wishing for him to have something that’s in addition to what he has now. When we acknowledge and bless G-d for His influence in this world (e.g., “Blessed are You … Who brings forth bread from the earth,” or “Blessed is the G-d of the universe, from Whose bounty we have eaten” – as Abraham taught to his idolatrous guests – etc.; or when we proclaim G-d’s blessedness in our prayer services), through that act of verbal recognition we are bringing about additional recognition and acceptance of G-d’s Presence in this world. This creates, step-by-step, more of a dwelling place for G-d’s Presence in this world, and this which we have thereby accomplished will be openly revealed in the Messianic Era. That completed dwelling place is what G-d is presently (still) “lacking,” and through our “blessing” Him, that is what we are providing to Him.