The symbols available on Waze tell us something about our priorities as we navigate the world: avoid traffic jams and the police, always look out for cheap gas. Extrapolating from the Talmud's discussion in Berachot 54a-b, we can argue that Waze is missing a crucial symbol, an icon to indicate that a miracle happened in a given place.
Mishnah Berachot 9:1 states:
הרואה מקום שנעשו בו ניסים לישראל אומר 'ברוך שעשה ניסים לאבותינו במקום הזה'
One who sees a place in which miracles were performed for Israel says, 'Blessed [are You Lord our God King of the Universe] who has performed miracles for our forefathers in this place.'
The Talmud presents a preliminary list of places in which HaShem performed miracles that warrant this blessing, including, for example, the point at which Benei Yisrael crossed the Yarden to enter Eretz Yisrael. Even when they exceeded the bounds of nature, HaShem's miracles took place within the context of our physical world, at specific locations. Those sites still resonate with the wonders He performed in them. Waze may take note of a speed camera, but it is up to us to recognize HaShem's 'ayin roah and His interventions in our world. Our obligation is to recognize what He did in these places when we see them, by making birkat hanissim.
Berachot typically fit into one of three categories: birkot hanehenin permitting benefit from the physical world (eg., hamotzi on bread), birkot hamitzvot preparatory to performing commandments (eg., ‘al netilat lulav), and birkot hashevah to express praise and gratitude to HaShem. In Mishneh Torah Berachot 1:3, Rambam explains the purpose of birkot hashevah, of which birkat hanissim is one:
כדי לזכור את הבורא תמיד, אף על פי שלא נהנה ולא עשה מצוה.
In order to remember the Creator always, even though [one] has not benefited and has not performed a mitzvah.
We can understand birkat hanissim as a vehicle for developing a constant awareness of our Creator in space.
On Hanukah and Purim, we say a nearly identical blessing, focusing on time:
בא"ה אמ"ה שעשה נסים לאבותינו בימים ההם בזמן הזה.
Blessed [are You Lord our God King of the Universe] who has performed miracles for our forefathers in this place.
The Sheiltot of Rav Ahai Gaon (26, first derashah lehanukah) presents the two blessings– birkat hanissim and the she'asah nissim of Hanukah and Purim– together, as two examples of one halachah, sharing a single textual derivation. Ramban makes a similar point, more explicitly. The Talmud Shabbat 23b refers to one who sees Hanukah candles as haroeh (lit., one who sees), and explains that such a person makes the blessing of she'asah nissim when he has not lit candles himself. (Other possible understandings of she'asah nissim, as well as the practical halachic details, lie beyond the scope of this devar Torah.) In Torat haAdam (HaSof, Refuah), Ramban comments:
ואין בין הרואה נר חנוכה לרואה מקום שנעשו נסים לאבותינו אלא שזו קבועה ביומה וזו תלויה במקום…
There is no distinction between haroeh a Hanukah candle and one who sees a place in which miracles were performed for our forefathers, except that this [blessing of she'asah nissim of Hanukah] is fixed in its day and this [birkat hanissim] is dependent on place.
Lighting the candles and hearing Megillat Esther are two mitzvot with an element of pirsumei nissa, publicizing the miracle. As the Ramban himself notes in his hiddushim on Shabbat 23b, beyond lighting the candles, it is a mitzvah to see them in order to publicize the miracle. Hanukah and Purim both highlight not only the miracle of each holiday, but the miracle's having taken place at a specific time of year. Moreover, the later portion of the megillah is particularly sensitive to dates and the mehadrin min hamehadrin practice of lighting a different number of candles every day distinguishes each day of the holiday from the other days.
Although time organizes our physical existence as much as space, it lacks a physical marker. While the dates of Hanukah and Purim mark the timing of their respective miracles, it is the candle lighting and megillah reading that function as physical markers for those miracles that occurred at specific times. It is upon them that we recite she'asah nissim.
Although the blessings on Hanukah and Purim also relate to the mitzvot's elements of pirsumei nissa, the She'iltot and Ramban recognize them as versions of birkat hanissim, so that they likewise fall under the category of birkot hashevah. To return to the Rambam, the ultimate purpose of birkot hashevah is to remember HaShem always.
Chanukah and Purim have long ago made their way into the Jewish calendar, Google calendars included. Even as we recognize them and the distinct miracles they commemorate, our challenge is to learn from the she'asah nissim blessing we make on them to experience time as punctuated by miracles, each day a potential site for new ones.
Yehi ratzon Shenizkeh Chulanu Meheira Leoroשיעורים נוספים ניתן למצוא בקטגוריות הבאות: חגים
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