Does “Berakhah” Mean Blessing? Originally published December 29-30, 2017

Supposedly deriving from the root meaning “knee,” berekh, and thus reflecting genuflecting, “barukh” means “sanctified,” and sometimes we translate it as “blessed.”  But just as “sanctified” does not mean “blessed,” so “berakhah” does not really mean “blessing.”

Because Hebrew words derive from three-letter roots, they may hold a broader and yet more subtle meaning than words in other languages.  “Berakhah” is a noun referring to a conferring.  Some consider it like a “gift,” as a blessing on someone may be gifted.

We can bless others (such as our children), we can bless our food and other things, and we can bless God specifically.  Rabbis have said that there is a blessing for everything.  (In Fiddler on the Roof, a man asks, “Is there a blessing for the Tsar?” and the answer is, “May God bless and keep the Tsar ... far away from me!”) 

But what are we really doing?  We are thanking God for each of these things, and acknowledging God’s holiness.  We are raising each person and thing toward holiness by our berakhot.

Thus I suppose we could say that “berakhah” does not translate as either “praising” or “blessing.”   Maybe this is one time when we should just use the Hebrew, even though it can sound like we are speaking in code.

A favorite berakhah is the one we say in the morning, about removing sleep from my eyes and slumber from my eyelids, and so on.