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Prayerbook Vocabulary Studies
July 5, 2006
© Rabbi Jack Moline

The first word of every brakhah is "barukh." We often translate it as "blessed" or "praised," but both of those words convey a sense of our own actions. "Barukh" is in the passive form, similar to the usage in "I am well-rested" or "I was over-heated" or "Wow, am I pumped!" Whatever "barukh" means, it describes a state of being, not the result of anyone's activity.

The Hebrew root means one of two things (which may actually be only one thing). Most scholars connect the root bet-resh-khaf to the word for "knee," berekh. A bent knee is an indication of submission or an acknowledgment of our relative standing.

But my teacher, Rabbi Benzion Bergman, connects the word to the Arabic "baraka," meaning a sort of pervasive cosmic power. (In that sense, it is connected to "barak" or lightning.) The notion of conveying a blessing to someone implies the power of the "blesser." The power itself is impressive enough to produce awe – the sort of knee-buckling awe implied by the other meaning.

Perhaps you are connecting bent knees and "barukh" with the first word of the Amidah, where our choreography calls for a stylized bow. That little dance may be closer to the original meaning than we think.

So what is the state of being that we intend when we use the word "barukh?" Rather than play with the intent or connotation of English religious words like "blessed," if they gave me the authority to retranslate all the prayers books, I would use the word "empowered." Implied in that state of being is a tension about what comes next, but an unmistakable sense that whatever is "barukh" is a force to be reckoned with!

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