Hidden Blessings

  • Rav Yitzchak Blau
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Understanding Aggada
Yeshivat Har Etzion

Shiur #29b: Hidden Blessings

By Rav Yitzchak Blau

R. Yitzchak said: "Blessing is found only in something that is hidden from the eye, as it says: 'God will command the blessing to be with you in your silos' (Devarim 28:8; ba-asamekha – 'your silos' – relates to the word samuy, hidden)." It was taught in the school of R. Yishmael: "Blessing is found only in something upon which the eye cannot gaze, as it says: 'God will command the blessing to be with you in your silos.'" The Rabbis taught: He who goes to measure (the produce in) his silo should say, 'May it be your will, Lord, our God, that you send blessing in the work of our hands.' If he began to measure, he should say, 'Blessed be the One who sends blessing to this pile.' If he measured and afterward blessed, it is a wasted prayer, because blessing is not found in something measured or counted, but only in something hidden from the eye." (Bava Metzia 42a)

The clue to understanding the three statements above, that of R. Yitzchak, the school of R. Yishmael and the Rabbis, may lie in the last of the three. Apparently, one can hope for blessing up until the point where he has counted his assets and arrived at a precise amount. Thereafter, any request for blessing becomes a wasted prayer. Why can the farmer not measure and then pray? Maharsha mentions the possibility that this gemara builds upon the concept of ayin hara. Once the farmer gives his bounty a number, others grow jealous, yielding negative repercussions. One can explain ayin hara in a metaphysical way or naturalistically by arguing that the jealousy of others often leads to harm without any metaphysical machinery playing a role.

R. Yaakov Reisher in his Iyyun Yaakov, rejects the ayin hara explanation for this gemara. After all, the Rabbis seem to describe the scene of a farmer who measures alone in his silo, without anyone else present to give him the "evil eye." Instead, he argues that divine providence prefers to work with a hidden hand and not in an openly miraculous fashion. Once a measurement has been taken, any shift in the number would mandate an overt miracle. Before the count has concluded, providence can step in to help without broadcasting its miraculous intervention.

R. Yitzchak Arama, in his Akeidat Yitzchak (Emor 113b), offers a terrific explanation of this passage. He says that life's most authentic blessings cannot be found in the quantifiable, such as wealth or possessions. True blessing is located in the realm of the spirit, a realm that does not lend itself to quantification. It is to this critical message, the Akeidat Yitzchak contends, that this gemara refers. Marc Shapiro has translated an address of Rav Azriel Hildesheimer (Torah u' Madda Journal, Volume 9) in which the same idea appears.

Indeed, those of us fortunate enough to enjoy the wonders of friendship, child rearing, acts of kindness, observance of shabbat and festivals, powerful prayer experiences and the depths of learning, understand this quite well. The ultimate blessings are not to be found in the measured or the numbered, but rather in the non – numerical realm of the spirit.

While R. Arama does not address the following point, it seems that his interpretation does not explain the difference between praying before measuring and praying after measuring. Either way, the blessing in question refers to produce, something inherently quantifiable. Perhaps R. Arama’s explanation only works for the earlier two statements of R. Yitzchak and the school of R. Yishmael. Note that the first two statements did not mention the issue of when to pray while measuring. If so, the final quote from the Rabbis teaches us about the workings of providence or about the “evil eye,” but the earlier two citations instruct us as to where life’s blessings truly lie.