Berakhot 54

A blessing for miracles.

Our daf today begins with several mishnayot detailing various extraordinary moments (both good and bad) that require a blessing: encountering locations of past miracles, witnessing natural wonders, receiving bad news, building a new house. We are supposed to go through the world with our eyes and ears open to the possibility that any moment might be ripe for a blessing.

Today, we’ll look into the Talmudic discussion about miracles. The Mishnah states simply that locations of communal miracles become perpetual sites of blessing:

One who sees a place where miracles occurred on Israel’s behalf recites: “Blessed [are you, Lord our God, ruler of the universe] who performed miracles for our forefathers in this place.”

The editors of the Talmud, as is their wont, are not content with such a simple rule. It seems obvious to them that the site of a major community miracle is a place to recite a blessing. But what places where individuals experienced private divine intervention? A story:

Once when Mar, son of Ravina, was walking in the marketplace of Mehoza [in Babylonia] a wild camel attacked him. The wall cracked open, he went inside it, and he was saved. Ever since, when he came to the reeds he recited: Blessed [are you Lord our God ruler of the universe] who performed a miracle for me in the reeds and with the camel. And, when he came to the marketplace of Mehoza he recited: Blessed [are you Lord our God ruler of the universe] who performed a miracle for me with the camel and in the reeds.

This is one of a series of stories the Talmud tells of individual miracles, including narrow escapes from wild animals and a fortuitous spring, and the blessings recited afterward. The rabbis conclude that in addition to reciting a blessing over a location where a miracle was performed for the masses, individuals are also required to recite a blessing over the locations where they themselves were the beneficiaries of heavenly intervention.

The editors of the Talmud do not feel the need to prove, via biblical proof text, the requirement for an individual to say a blessing over their own private miracles. It seems obvious that if God saves you from a lion or camel, the least you can do is bless God’s name when you return to the spot of your salvation.

However, the Talmud does provide a Biblical source for the requirement to bless over locations where Israel experienced miracles as a collective. Recall that in Exodus 18:10, Jethro, Moses’ Midianite father-in-law, having heard of all that God did for Israel, arrives in the camp and declares, “Blessed be the Lord who delivered you from the Egyptians.” Like Jethro (who was not himself an Israelite) Jews recite a blessing for a miracle performed for Israel — even if they were not present when it occurred.

Jethro, non-Israelite priest of Midian, becomes an exemplar of that most Jewish of notions: all Israel is bound up with one another and a miracle experienced by some is wrought for all. We are thankful for every miracle given to our people because in some deep way we share the good that happens to the people of Israel — wherever, or whenever they are.

Read all of Berakhot 54 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on February 26, 2020. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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