On eating bread
Blessed are You Adonai our God, Sovereign of the world, Who brings forth bread from the Earth.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, הַמּוֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן הָאָרֶץ.
On smelling a pleasing scent
Blessed are You Adonai our God, Sovereign of the world, Who creates pleasing scents.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא מִינֵי בְשָׂמִים.
On seeing the sea
Blessed are You Adonai our God, Sovereign of the world, Who made the great sea.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁעָשָׂה אֶת הָיַּם הַגָּדוֹל.
On eating fruit
Blessed are You Adonai our God, Sovereign of the world, Who created the fruit of the trees.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָעֵץ.
On seeing an unusual natural phenomenon, such as lightning, a very tall mountain, or a very large river
Blessed are You Adonai our God, Sovereign of the world, Who does acts of creation.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’, אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, עוֹשֵׂה מַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית.
On hearing thunder, winds of a storm, earthquakes, etc.
Blessed are You Adonai our God, Sovereign of the world, Whose power and might fill the world.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁכֹּחוֹ וּגְבוּרָתוֹ מָלֵא עוֹלָם.
On eating a fruit for the first time in a year, wearing new garments, and doing a mitzvah for the first time in a year, such as lighting Chanukah candles
Blessed are You Adonai our God, Sovereign of the world, Who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this season.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה.
Foundations for Planning
- How do Jewish practices reflect Jewish values?
- How do Jewish rituals and practices enrich the way I experience my life and the world?
- How does being Jewish affect what I do in my daily/weekly life?
- Why/how might Jewish practices be meaningful for me even if I don’t define myself as “religious”?
- How do these blessings teach us the importance of gratitude?
- How do prayers affect the way we observe the world?
- How can we strengthen our “muscles” of seeing the positive and giving thanks?
- How do prayers encourage us to be more aware and present in our daily lives?
The blessings above are some of the birchot hanehinin (“Blessings of Enjoyment”). Birchot Hanehenin are blessings recited over a sensory experience that a person has from the world. These include blessings over food and drink, blessings over scents, blessings over new things in our...
The blessings above are some of the birchot hanehinin (“Blessings of Enjoyment”). Birchot Hanehenin are blessings recited over a sensory experience that a person has from the world. These include blessings over food and drink, blessings over scents, blessings over new things in our lives, and blessings over seeing something impressive or hearing something extraordinary. The source of the mitzvah to bless over things we enjoy is found in the Talmud:
“It is forbidden for a person to derive pleasure from this world without saying a blessing. Anyone who partakes in this world without saying a blessing is considered to have stolen from God.” (Masechet Brachot, daf 35, page 1).
The text teaches us that we must treat everything we enjoy from the natural world as something that is not ours and therefore, as with anything that has been gifted to us, we should give thanks for it and not take it for granted. We learn from this how we should relate to nature from a place of wonder and enjoyment rather than from ownership or as something to be taken for granted.
The term “Blessings of Enjoyment” may be misleading because, in addition to things that we enjoy, they also include things that may make a strong impression on us (such as a blessing over seeing an important person or an extraordinary view), as well as blessings over hearing bad news, earthquakes, and more.
- Underlying birkot hanehenim is our pleasure, wonder and excitement from the world. Show the students pictures of things that inspire pleasure, wonder and interest. For example: A tree trunk, a lightning storm, an interesting plant or animal, a spider’s web, droplets of water, etc.
- Write the following words on a dice: “Good”, “beautiful”, “interesting”, “surprising”, “unique”, “important”.
Ask the students to toss the dice and choose a picture that they think represents the word they were given. Have them explain their choice.
Ask the students to describe what feelings arise when they view these items.
- Play “I spy with my little eye”, only this time using things we love in nature. “I love something….” (filling in the sentence with a shape, color, flavor, feeling etc.) Unlike in the original game, players should suggest things from their imagination, not necessarily items found in their immediate environment. The teacher can go first to illustrate. For example, if she chose an apple she can say: “I love something red and round” and make a movement of biting. Explain that in Judaism, there are blessings recited over all sorts of things that we enjoy, as well as blessings recited over unique and extraordinary things in the natural world.
Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.
- Over what things do we give thanks when reciting these blessings? What senses are aroused when these blessings are recited?
- The blessing “Who made the great sea” is recited upon seeing the sea, and the blessing “Whose power and might fill the world” is said upon hearing thunder. What pleasure is derived from these things? What is good about them? Why do you think we recite a blessing over them?
- How do blessings recited over things that we enjoy on a daily basis, such as an apple or bread, affect our relationship with those items?
- Over what other positive thing in this world do you think we should recite a blessing of enjoyment? Are there things that we should not bless? Give examples and explain.
- What things in nature inspire wonder in you? What is the connection between wonder and gratitude?
Birkot Hanehenim teach us to observe the world from a place of wonder. Use this activity, focused on observing nature and our environment, to understand the experience of wonder and how it can affect the way we look at the world and enrich our everyday experiences.
- Take the students to a natural environment and ask them to collect five beautiful or interesting items, such as a unique branch, a beautiful stone, a seed, a leaf, etc. The students can show the class the items they collected and explain why they were drawn to those specific items. Talk about how everything in nature is special and that if we observe the world from a place of wonder, we can see the richness found in nature and in our lives, and from which we derive pleasure. Ask the students to choose one of these items and make up a blessing for it.
- Take the students to an area in nature. Divide the students into pairs: one partner will be the “guide”, the other the “tourist”. The “tourist” should walk with eyes closed as the “guide” leads them. When the “guide” sees something beautiful, they should bring the “tourist” close to that item and squeeze their hand as though clicking a camera. The “tourist” should then open their eyes for two seconds, look at the item, and close their eyes again.
Explain how focusing our perspective on something that inspires wonder, similar to when we walk around holding a camera with the intention of photographing something beautiful, brings our awareness to the beauty surrounding us on a daily basis that we often don’t notice. In a similar vein, birkot hanehinim help us to focus our perspective on beautiful or special things found in nature.
- For classes in which students have their own phones, suggest the following activity that can be done at home: Photograph five interesting things over which a blessing can be recited.
- To prepare for the lesson, or as an activity done after it, ask the students to create a “Wonder Journal”, in which they document at least three interesting or beautiful items they witness over the course of a day for which they are grateful. The students can then choose one item from their list and write a blessing over it. (The blessing can be worded in any manner they choose, not just according to the traditional template. For example, they can write: “I am grateful for….”)
- Older students: To understand how we can express gratitude, teach the following story from our Sages (Chazal):
Rabbi Shimon Ben Halafta sat on the top of a mountain, and because he was hot, said to his daughter: “My daughter, wave this fan over me and I will repay you with a gift of perfume. Suddenly the wind blew, and Rabbi Shimon exclaimed, “How many gifts of perfume do I owe to the Master of the wind?”
(Talmud, Bava Metzia 86a)
Discuss: Why did Rabbi Shimon want to give his daughter perfume? What emotion do you think he felt that made him want to repay the act? Who is the “Master of the wind” in this story? Is it possible to offer the “Master” perfume as an act of thanksgiving? If not, in what way could we express our gratitude towards them?
Connect this to your lives: What do you do when you feel gratitude towards someone? Consider at least three ways in which you could offer thanks to someone.
- Teach Birchot Hashachar (the morning blessings), in which we give thanks for the act of waking up in the morning. Discuss the similarities and differences between Birchot HaShachar and Birchot HaNehenin. What is the connection between noticing the good and giving thanks?
- Older students: Read Hanna Senesh’s poem/prayer “A Walk to Caesarea” in the resource What is Prayer (for ages 12 and above). Ask the students to consider other poems or songs that express gratitude for the pleasures and wonders of life.