Bracha #9 – Birkas HaShanim (Blessing for the Years)
As we will see in Mitzvah #433, there is an obligation for us to try to get closer to God through prayer. To help us fulfill this, our Sages established a prayer to be recited thrice-daily, corresponding to the prayers of our Forefathers. This prayer is called the Amidah (because it is recited standing); the weekday version is also called Shemoneh Esrei, the Eighteen Benedictions (although a nineteenth has since been added). Once a week for nineteen weeks, we will review the contents of the 19 blessings of “Shemoneh Esrei.”
In the ninth bracha, we ask God to bless the year for us with abundant produce. Why do we have to specify “for us?” Because it does us little good if the trees are full of fruit and the fields are full of grain but we are unable to afford it or a warlord hoards it all (to offer two examples). So we request not only that the crops be bountiful but also that we be able to enjoy this bounty. In short, this is a prayer for parnasah, the ability to earn a livelihood.
Not only do we request the ability to partake in an abundant crop, we ask that it be “for good.” Did you ever read a story about someone who got his wishes granted but they went awry? Well, everything one can ask for can be for good or bad. Fire can warm one or burn him. Water can satisfy one’s thirst or drown him. Similarly, a prosperous year can sustain us and enable us to do God’s will, or we can allow it to make us materialistic and miserly. It’s not acceptable for us to make a comfortable living if we allow it to distance us from God and His Torah. We therefore ask that we receive a livelihood specifically for our good.
We ask that God place His blessing on the face of the Earth. In the winter months, we insert extra words so that we ask God to place dew and rain for blessing on the face of the Earth. Precipitation in its various forms is crucial for the harvest – but what’s a blessing in the winter could destroy the crops in the summer! We therefore ask that God please provide dew and rain at the appropriate times to facilitate a healthy crop.
There is a difference of opinion as to the next clause. Some authorities have “v’sabeinu mituvecha,” “satisfy us from Your good,” speaking to God. We wish to be satisfied in an appropriate fashion, specifically from Him. Others, however, have “v’sabeinu mituvah,” “satisfy us from its good,” referring to the land, specifically Israel. One should follow one’s own custom or ask his rabbi.
The blessing concludes with a request that God bless our current year like “the good years.” This could apply to past years of plenty, but it could also refer to years that have not yet come, as described in the second chapter of the Biblical Book of Joel. There, God says not only that He will fill our granaries and our wine vats but also that we will be satisfied, we will praise Him and we will never again know shame. Now those are some good years!