January 31, 2013

Yitro: Blessings on Miracles

Moses’ father-in-law Jethro rejoiced when he heard all that God had done for the Jewish people:

“Blessed be God Who rescued you from hand of Egypt and from the hand of Pharaoh, Who liberated the people from Egypt’s power. Now I know that God is the greatest of all deities: the very thing they plotted came on them!” (Ex. 18:10-11)
The Sages learned from Yitro’s blessing when one sees a place where a miracle occurred for the Jewish people, one should recite the blessing “She’asa nissim” — “Who made miracles for our fathers in this place” (Berachot 54).

Yet, this statement is difficult to understand. Jethro did not say his blessing when visiting the Red Sea, but when he met Moses and the Israelites in the Sinai desert. How could Jethro serve as an example for this brachah, which is only recited when seeing the location of a miracle?

Appreciating All Aspects

We need to further examine the concept of reciting a blessing over a miracle. Consider two different situations. In case A, a person was headed for the hospital, and agreed to allow a sick neighbour to come along. The sick neighbour will be thankful for the assistance, while aware that his benefactor was planning to go there anyway.

In case B, realizing that his neighbour was ill and needed to see a doctor, the benefactor made a special trip to bring him to the hospital. Clearly, the sick neighbour will feel much more thankful in this situation, where the assistance was rendered expressly for that purpose.

If we consider the nature of a miracle, we will realize that it is similar to case B. When we bless God over a miraculous deliverance, we feel completely indebted and thankful to God, as this Divine intervention took place explicitly for this purpose.

But there is an additional aspect of Divine deliverance which should heighten our sense of gratitude. When an act is caused directly by God, not only is the overall goal for the ultimate good, but also all ramifications and side-effects that result from it. We should be appreciative not only for the actual deliverance, but also for any accompanying details. This includes the specific location of the miracle, which at some point in time benefited (or will benefit) from the miracle.

This is what the Sages learned from Jethro. A blessing over a miracle should include recognition of the positive benefits of its accompanying details. Besides thanking God for the overall rescue (“Who liberated the people from Egypt’s power”), Jethro also mentioned the details of that rescue — that they were saved from the hands of the Egyptian people, and also from the hands of Pharaoh. For one can suffer at the hands of a cruel people, even if the king is kind; and one can suffer at the hands of an evil king, even if the people are sympathetic. In Egypt, the Jews were the unfortunate victims of cruelty on the part of the people and the king.

Furthermore, Jethro recognized that the punishment of Egypt was in like measure — “middah kneged middah.” “The very thing they plotted came upon them.” The Egyptians drowned Jewish babies, so they were punished by drowning in the Red Sea. Here was an additional detail that reflected the ultimate justice of the miracle in all of its aspects.

(Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, pp. 243-


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