Birchas Chacham HaRazim
Anyone who attended the recent mass Atzeres HaTefillah in Yerushalayim could not help but be moved and awed at the incredible display of achdus to listen to the directives of our Gedolim. With masses packed in, anashim, nashim, v’taf, all the way from the city’s entrance until past Shefa Mall (and that’s only in one direction!), conservative estimates of the attendees were well over the magic number of 600,000 Yidden. In fact, many remarked that that is what Aliya L’Regel must have felt like!
Once a gathering of Jews in one place reaches that number, halacha dictates that an extremely rare blessing is recited: Birchas Chacham HaRazim. In this exceptional bracha we refer to Hashem as the Chacham HaRazim, loosely translated as the One Whose knowledge encompasses the wisdom of the secrets.
The source of this halacha is the Gemara in Brachos, as well as the Midrash Rabba which states that ‘one who sees Ochlosei Yisrael (the population of Bnei Yisrael; defined by the Gemara as meaning 600,000)' makes the bracha of Chacham HaRazim. The Gemara and commentaries explain that when we see so many people in one place we become cognizant that although their mentality and features are not the same, still Hashem knows exactly what is in each and every one’s heart and mind. Only when we actualize such an awareness can we make this unique bracha.
Some meforshim add another reason for the distinctive wording of the bracha. When 600,000 Yidden come together it creates a Hashra’as HaShechina similar to Ma’amad Har Sinai and Klal Yisrael becomes worthy of receiving the Torah and its secrets (razim).
An interesting machlokes related to this bracha is whether it is only recited in Eretz Yisrael upon seeing that many Jews together or if it is applicable even in Chut”z La’aretz. The Gemara’s example of when this bracha would potentially be said is when one sees 600,000 Yidden on Har HaBayis (during Aliya L’Regel on theShalosh Regalim). Some authorities, including the Rambam and Rabbeinu Manoach, as well as the Elya Rabba, understand this to mean that this halacha pertains exclusively to Eretz Yisrael. However, the Beis Yosef rejects the logic, explaining that the Gemara was merely citing a practical example of when one could possibly be able to say this rare bracha. Therefore, when he codified this halacha in the Shulchan Aruch he made no restrictions on the location of the recital of this bracha. This is also how the halacha is cited by the Aruch Hashulchan and Mishna Berura. The Kaf Hachaim suggests that to fulfill all opinions as a compromise resolution, if one sees 600,000 Yidden together outside of Eretz Yisrael, he should still make the bracha, albeit without Hashem’s Name.
Back to the recent Atzeres HaTefillah. Prior to the event, the question was raised whether the bracha can be recited if unable to ascertain whether there truly are 600,000 in attendance. Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein shlit”a came up with a brilliant solution: to read the halacha out of the Shulchan Aruch, as it contains the entire nusach of the bracha! That way even if the full amount was not present, in no way would one have possibly recited a bracha levattalah.
Another one of the main questions pertaining to this bracha was whether it may be recited if one cannot see all of the people together. Certainly a helicopter pilot or one standing on a tall building might be able to witness 600,000 people together at one time, but anyone on the ground surely would not be able to perceive that amount. Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a reportedly ruled that provided we are certain that there are 600,000 people present, even if each individual cannot see the full amount, as long as one can see part of the crowd the bracha is still recited.
It should be noted that the fact that this halacha is not mentioned by many later authorities, such as the Chayei Adam, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, and Ben Ish Chai, implies that they felt that the ability to have that many Yidden gather together to mandate such a bracha in their times was a near impossibility. Baruch Hashem, on this past Rosh Chodesh Adar Sheini, the sheilah became a reality.
Ultimately, at the end of the day, it was obvious to all that indeed 600,000 Yidden in Eretz Yisrael had listened to the voices of the Gedolim and gathered for the Atzeres HaTefillah,and after accepting ‘Ol Malchus Shomayim’ B’Shishim Rebo, the unique bracha of Chacham HaRazim wasrecited over the loudspeakers loud and clear (by Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi shlit”a) and answered with a thunderous ‘Amen’. Truly a fitting testament to Torah Jewry’s unwavering commitment to the Einei HaEidah.
This author wishes to thank his daughter Avigayil for her help with this article.
See Tur and Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 224, 5).
Gemara Brachos (58a) and Midrash Rabba (Bamidbar, Parshas Pinchas 21, 2).
See Rashi, Milchamos Hashem, Meiri, and Maharsha in their commentaries to Gemara Brachos ad loc., and Levush, Aruch Hashulchan, and Mishna Berura to O.C. 224, 5.
See the Mahar”i Chalava’s Imrei Shefer (Bereishis Ch. 12, 13) and Ohr HaChaim (Devarim Ch. 33, 2). See also Kli Yakar (Bamidbar Ch. 26, 2 s.v se’u)who explains the importance and need to ensure Bnei Yisrael contained at least this number in the Midbar before entering Eretz Yisrael.
Rambam (Hilchos Brachos Ch. 10, 11), Rabbeinu Manoach (cited by the Beis Yosef - Orach Chaim 224, 5 s.v. u’midivrei), and Elya Rabba (ad loc. 5). The Rambam’s choice of words ‘HaRoe’h taf-reish elef adam k’echad’ (and not the more commonly used ‘ish’) seems to denote that this halacha is not exclusive to seeing 600,000 men, but rather meaning all people, including women and children. Similarly, the Gemara, when referring to this bracha, only uses the terms ‘Ochlosei Yisrael’, and Shishim Rebo, with no mention that it might be referring exclusively to men.
Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 224, 5), Mishna Berura (ad loc. 8), and Kaf Hachaim (ad loc. 16).
This solution of Rav Zilberstein’s was cited in many frum Israeli newspapers, including the Yated Ne’eman and Merkaz HaInyanim before the Atzeres. Thanks are due to esteemed friend and talmid, Rabbi Yehuda Goldman, CEO of Earth Kosher, for first informing this author of this outstanding resolution.
Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s ruling was cited in many frum Israeli newspapers, including the Yated Ne’eman and Merkaz HaInyanim before the Atzeres. This author has since been informed that Rav Nissim Karelitz shlit”a ruled this way as well in the Kovetz Inyanim section at the end of one of the newer volumes of Chut Shani. It has been posited that an asmachta for this psak can be found in Parshas Balak, that Bilaam attempted to curse all of Bnei Yisrael even though he could only see a portion of them at a time (while knowing that there were at least 600,000 present). If that works for a klala, certainly it should work for a bracha! See Ramban (Bamidbar Ch. 22, 41) and Rabbeinu Bechaya (Bamidbar Ch. 23, end 3). Thanks are due to Rabbi Yehoshua Pasternak for pointing out these sources to this author.
Following Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s ruling, Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi shlit”a, Rosh Yeshiva Ateres Yisroel, recited the bracha publicly for the masses at the closing of the Atzeres HaTefillah.
Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide, rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issues. In any real case one should ask a competent Halachic authority.
L'iluy Nishmas the Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga, Rav Yaakov Yeshaya ben R' Boruch Yehuda, and l'zchus for Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam and her children for a yeshua teikef u'miyad!