Building that Wall
“One who sees Jewish homes ‘in their dwelling’ says [the beracha of] ‘Baruch … Who establishes the border of the widow.’”
Aberaita on our daf teaches this halacha, which is codified in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 124:10. This beracha is one example of numerous berachot taught in our sugya that are made when seeing special people or sights.
When exactly is this beracha meant to be said? What is the meaning that the homes are “in their dwelling,” b’yishuvan, the description of the homes in the beraita?
Rashi defines this as “for example during the settlement of the Second Beit Hamikdash era.” It is not readily apparent what other examples Rashi had in mind when writing this. I’ve heard it explained that Rashi understands the beracha to be one of thanksgiving to Hashem for the renewal of the Jewish nation’s dwelling in and thriving in their homeland. The authors of this beracha lived during the exile that preceded the Second Beit Hamikdash and composed it in anticipation of fulfillment of the prophecy that Klal Yisrael would soon return to Eretz Yisrael.
The Poskim explain Rashi in a variety of ways: one who sees the Beit Hamikdash; one who sees Jewish homes in Israel at the time of the Beit Hamikdash; one who sees Jewish homes in their glory, as they were during the time of the Second Beit Hamikdash. According to the first two definitions, this beracha would not be made today. But according to the third, it might very well be said when seeing certain dwellings in Israel today.
However, Rabbeinu Alfasi, also known as the Rif, explains that this beracha should be made when seeing any Beit Knesset, whether in Israel or in the Diaspora. According to his psak, this beracha would be made nowadays, worldwide.
Although the ruling in Shulchan Aruch is according to the opinion of the Rif, the Mishna Berurah writes that since the intent of the beraita is subject to different views among the Poskim, the beracha should be said without “Shem and Malchut.” From the Aruch Hashulchan it seems that the custom is that the beracha is not said at all due to uncertainty and the rule that “when in doubt about saying a beracha, we are lenient and do not say it.” The straightforward reading of the Aruch Hashulchan implies that there is no custom at all nowadays to say this beracha, even without Shem u’Malchut. However, one may suggest that his intent is to not say it with Shem u’Malchut, but, rather, to say it without — in alignment with the psak of the Mishna Berurah. (Readers are invited to write to the editor with any pertinent feedback.)
The Gaon from Vilna sheds much light on the beracha’s wording and the focus on Hashem’s establishing the “border of the widow” in Eretz Yisrael. The Torah refers to the Jewish People in exile as being “like a widow”, but not actually a widow. (Eicha 1:1) Her “husband” Above may not seem to be with her in exile, but He will eventually be seen as returning to her when she returns to Him. The Vilna Gaon points to a gemara (Megillah 29a) that states Rabbi Elazar ben Hakapar says, “In the future, the shuls and yeshivahs in Bavel (i.e. the Diaspora) will be moved and affixed in Eretz Yisrael.” And when they will be established in Israel, says the Gaon, they will be placed at the periphery of Eretz Yisrael so as not to diminish the residential area available in the center of the Land. The shuls and yeshivahs will be at the border, which explains the word “gvul” — border — in the beracha. They will form a type of “border wall,” so to speak and serve as a barrier for protection of the Jewish people against all potential enemies, both physical and spiritual. (According to this explanation, it seems correct to understand that this beracha will not be made again until the future when there is a final ingathering of the exiles, and the shuls and yeshivahs are permanently established in Eretz Yisrael.)