Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 25 July 2020 / 4 Av 5780

The Morning Blessings: Blessing Nine: That Sinking Feeling

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
Library Library Library

“Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who spreads out the earth upon the waters.”

At first glance, the language used for the ninth blessing is a bit of a mystery. “Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who spreads out the earth upon the waters.” There are two immediate questions that spring to mind. First, the most obvious question seems to be: What is the connection between this blessing and the rest of the Morning Blessings? We have seen the way that the blessings have developed up until now, with each blessing leading sequentially and logically to the next one. And now, all of a sudden this blessing seems to be a complete non-sequitur. Secondly, technically speaking, the earth is not spread out upon the waters. If anything, it is the opposite — the waters of the seas and the oceans sit in the earth, and not the other way around as the blessing states. What makes it even more puzzling is that the Rabbis teach that this blessing is a watershed (pun intended) moment in the recitation of the Morning Blessings.

Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer, 1720-1797, known as the Vilna Gaon (the Genius from Vilna), explains that the Morning Blessings up until now have taken us from our starting point of nothing more than being aware of the difference between good and evil (the first blessing) — to the point where we are fulfilling the commandments (the eighth blessing). But from here on, the blessings are going to focus on our connection to G-d, and the way that this connection has the capability to impact each person in a personal and fundamental fashion. Essentially, the first eight blessings are teaching us how to be practicing Jews, whereas the last seven blessings are designed to convey to us how to become believing Jews. But where do we see this concept in the words of our blessing? And in what way do the waters of the world strengthen our belief in G-d?

More than two hundred years ago, the Vilna Gaon taught that at the center of the earth’s core is a liquid mass. This means that the weight of the whole world is supported by “water” (a generic term for any liquid). Only much later, in the twentieth century, did scientists corroborate his understanding, by discovering that the outer core of the earth’s center is a molten mass.

The Vilna Gaon explains that every moment of the world’s existence is dependent upon G-d. Without the Divine desire for its continuity, the enormous weight of the planet would cause the earth to sink in on itself and implode. According to the Vilna Gaon, both questions that we had at the beginning can be resolved with one answer. The peculiarity and the seeming inaccuracy of the language used for the blessing’s composition teach us that the world exists only at the behest of G-d.

Thus, having reached the point where we are certain of our ability to fulfill the physical commandments of G-d, we are now ready to embark on a voyage of exploration into our spiritual commitment to G-d. And the very first stop in our journey is a blessing which emphasizes that the continued existence of the world rests solely in the Hands of G-d. Every single moment of its being is entirely dependent upon G-d. And, consequently, without G-d’s continual Will that there be a world, the world would cease to exist.

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