בָּרֵךְ עָלֵינוּ ה’ אֱלקינוּ אֶת הַשָּׁנָה הַזּאת וְאֶת כָּל מִינֵי תְבוּאָתָהּ לְטובָה. בקיץ – וְתֵן בְּרָכָה בחורף – וְתֵן טַל וּמָטָר לִבְרָכָה עַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה וְשבְּעֵנוּ מִטּוּבָהּ. וּבָרֵךְ שְׁנָתֵנוּ כַּשָּׁנִים הַטּובות. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’, מְבָרֵךְ הַשָּׁנִים:
Bless [on] us, O Lord our God, this year and all its kinds of produce for good (From Passover to December fourth/fifth say: And give a blessing) (From December fourth/fifth to Passover say: Give dew and rain for a blessing) upon the face of the land and satisfy us with Your goodness and bless our year as the good years. Blessed are You, O Lord, Who blesses the years.
This blessing deals with issue of making a livelihood
בָּרֵךְ עָלֵינוּ ה’ אֱלקינוּ
One of the first things we must recognize is that our sustenance does not come by our hand. It’s obvious that you don’t generate your intelligence, or even your health. But we’re all capable of getting a minimum wage and putting basic necessities in our mouths, and it’s the easiest one to take credit for. In the capitalist culture of our day, capital is allocated capital where it is perceived as deserved, so if you make any money, you can feel quite confident that you have earned it.
But have you really?
Like all the prayers, the placement in the order of prayer correlates to something about its essential nature. This is ninth blessing, corresponding to the letter ט – closed on the bottom and open on the top, quite literally shaped like a cup or vessel. It reflects our duty to create vessels open to receiving blessings from Heaven, and it’s one of the harder things to do.
אֶת הַשָּׁנָה הַזּאת
It’s worth noting that we don’t ask God to bless us, or the year, but rather, to bless on us this year – בָּרֵךְ הַשָּׁנָה הַזּאת / בָּרֵךְ עָלֵינוּ ה’ אֱלקינוּ אֶת הַשָּׁנָה הַזּאת.
We have asked for wisdom, repentance, redemption, and health, and we now address our financial wellbeing. The other prayers aren’t requests for wisdom on us, but for our wisdom, etcetera.
But unlike wisdom and health, for example, your wealth is not an element of you – it describes you, but is not you. Some things are part of who you are, some things are just what you do
Wealth is not a part of you, or at least should not be. Perhaps when it becomes a part of you, it stops being the blessing we hope it will be.
The focal point of this blessing is quite clearly the seasonal agricultural cycle. It touches on the year, the crops, the dew, and the rain. And yet, the prayer concludes with God as Master of Years, when we might reaonably expect it be in keeping with the agricutlturl atheme; perhaos Master of Crops – mevarech hatevuah.
So for some essential reason, the year is different and more important than the object of agriculture.
There’s a minimum a person needs to be considered wealthy, or at least not poor. In our sages time, they benchmarked that someone who couldn’t buy their needs for the entire year is allowed to ask for charity.
Apart from the liquidity to buy what you need, part of financial wellbeing includes security, which is not the same thing. You can have nothing and live securely, and you can have everything and be utterly insecure. Someone worth hundreds of millions might lose a few million and get depressed and cut back on his charity.
We ask God to bless us with the security of knowing that we are going to be ok, to bless on us that this year and its crops will be ok, that if tomorrow’s wheat fails, we’ll live on something else.
Everyone else too
Part of the prayer is for ourselves, but part is for everyone else as well. We live in a globalized world that is intimately interconnected – if one supply chain fails, it has knock on effects everywhere.
A person can be accustomed to something, beneath which is unthinkable, hedonic adaptation.
We ask God to bless all the different kinds of things people count on to put food on the table, including the things we cannot fathom.
Theres a law to support someone who loses their business at the level they are accustomed to – Dei machsoro. These levels are artificial boundaries we give ourselves permission to enjoy, and we don’t need to justify them, the levels are subjective.
We cars, computers, and smartphones, and that doesn’t mean we’re spoilt. That’s just what people like us do! Our culture determines what is acceptable; you’re not wrong for getting pasta at restaurant when you could have made it at home for less.
Its ok to be comfortable, and we don’t have to give up things we are comfortable with. The trouble only starts when our comforts become a part of us. Sometimes people lose money and get terribly depressed at their loss, when in the objective sense, they’re the same as every one else now. But that doesn’t stop the fact that they lose something, it hurts. So we add a caveat that it be for the best – לְטובָה. Upon us, but not us – Aleinu.
Dew and rain
We adapt our prayers to the seasonal nature of agriculture, asking for rain and dew as blessings. Dew is the moisture that appears every day, and is always a blessing – vein bracha. On the other hand, we need to request that rain appear as a blessing – gishmei bracha – because it isn’t always.
Rain can be blessing or curse. Plants need the right amount of moisture at the right time. Too much rain ruins a crop, not enough rain ruins a crop, and rain at the wrong time ruins a crop.
Dew is gentle – its never the wrong time or wrong amount, so always a blessing
In the material world as well, a big windfall once a year isn’t great, and having a huge yield when your stores are full is not great. Investors can have a real problem when they have too much capital to deploy and no good opportunities to invest in.
We ask for the rain to be good so that everything about it be good as well. We hope to find financalal wellbeing, but getting it when you need it is important as well.
Al Pnei hadama not al hadama. The flood washed away topsoil
The Gemara tells a story of the legendary sage, R’ Chanina ben Dosa, who had a rpeutation that
all his prayers were answered in the affirmative. In one instance, R’ Chanina was walking with a candle in the rain, and he sighed that everyone was happy it was raining but he was sad – and the rain stopped. He got home with his candle, and sighed that everyone was sad the rain had stopped yet he was happy – and the rain resumed.
One of our core prayers affirms that God is close those who call on God truthfully – Karov hashem lchol korav lchol Asher yirauhu vemes. R’ Chanina’s core trait in prayer was to be truthful – he was telling the truth in both scenarios. In the first, he felt sorry for himself, and in the second, he felt sorry for others. It was the same problem, but defined in different ways – him as opposed to others.
One of the powers of a prayer is to help us define the problems before us, and perhaps helping us formulate them differently .
When R’ Chanina was caught in the rain, it may have been good for everyone but it wasn’t good for him, so he couldn’t truthfully pray for what they needed – it was a zero sum problem, where someone had to lose for someone else to win.
But problems don’t have to be zero sum; there are positive sum problems where everyone can win. Instead of my business canniballising from your sales, people can simply buy more from both! Far too often, we begrudge people success because it’s at our expense, when it really isn’t like that.
Al Pnei hadama
Reward and punishment is a cornerstone of Jewish belief – ani maamin. While we can’t really understand how it works – tzadik vra lo / schar mitzvah bhai alma leka, our sages suggest that plenty of good deeds have tangible effects in the real world that exist apart from the heavenly metaphysical part that is reserved for the hereafter.
Our sages use a metaphor of a heavenly treasury that awaits us when we pass on the to the world to come, and they were terrified of depleting it for currency to use in this world. Story of golden table leg.
We don’t have to understand the divine financial system to understand that we’d prefer to have our blessings come from our own hands, from the good deeds we do as opposed to miracles or special favors – Al Pnei hadama.
We want our blessings to come from here, rather than squander the precious worlds we’ve built, and in harder times, we should remind ourselves that we’re not depleting what matters – keen kayemes Lolam haha.
Asking God to satisfy us with goodness is a great sounding request that is actually pretty meaningless; God is good and everything God does is God, and we can still be miserable and unhappy.
It’s not a request for God’s goodness to satisfy us; it’s a request for us to be satisfied with the goodness God sends our way. It’s a prayer to not be needy and high maintenance, to be satisfied even if the world isn’t at our fingertips.
Some children will be overjoyed with a birthday cake and a toy, and others will have a tantrum if they don’t get to buy the entire store. It might be great to get everything you want – but you still want to person in the first example, not the second – Sabeinu mituvecha.
The Gemara talks about our great mother Sarah’s bread, and its legendary property of being blessed in people’s stomachs – mevarech bmeiav, a property also shared by the manna. (Double check).
There are times in our lives we just need some more than we’ve got, and other times where we need to be happy with less. Not to suggest that we need to settle for less – it is human nature to strive, and your spirit must always persist. But that being said, it is possible for people to need less, even if they don’t always want less.
There’s a certain amount that you need, and god can make that amount less – Sabeinu mituvecha.
וּבָרֵךְ שְׁנָתֵנוּ כַּשָּׁנִים הַטּובות
All too often, people often have selective memories, and fondly remember the good old days.
But we never seem to notice when we’re in them.
So we fervently ask to recognize the good times to be now, not to wait til later; prospectively today, not only in hindsight.
Our nature seems to be to have something and want more – Yesh mana ratza masayim
A poor man has something that kings do not. A poor man is only ever a few coins short of what he wants, and if a king can’t get what he wants, it must be very out of reach.
The more you have, the more you want. If you only need one bite today, you need one bite tomorrow; if you have five today, you need five tomorrow as well.
But in truth, good times in hindsight is a good blessing as well. It is entirely possible that in the ashes of misery, the seeds of the future are already growing underground, well on their way to blessings down the road – hazorim bdima Brian yiktzoru.
Even in hard times, you can be certain that there are blessings in play you will be able to look back on, even if they’re out of sight.