Every blessing we recite throughout the day, whether before we eat, during prayers or when we do a mitzvah, starts off with the words Baruch Atah . . . , “Blessed are You, G‑d.” This begs the question, what exactly are we saying? I can understand blessing people, but does G‑d, the Creator and Master of all, really need our blessing? And for that matter, who in the world do we think we are that we can bestow blessings on G‑d? Isn’t it a tad bit presumptuous?


Your question is a fascinating one. It is also completely understandable, given the imprecise translation of the word baruch. “Blessed” does not fully capture or do justice to the richness of the Hebrew word.

A Pool of Blessings

Rabbi Menachem of Recanati1 (1223–1290), Rabenu Bachya ben Asher2 (1255-1340) and others3 explain that the word baruch is related to the word בריכה or הַבְּרֵכָ֖ה found in Isaiah,4 which means a reservoir of water, in which water (blessings) can be collected and then used as needed.

In this sense, when we refer to G‑d as “blessed,” we mean to praise G‑d as the source of all blessing. Similarly, when we say G‑d is “good,” “wise” or “strong,” we don’t mean to use limiting, anthropomorphic descriptions for G‑d. G‑d, after all, cannot be defined in any way, by any attribute. Rather, we mean to praise G‑d as the source of goodness, wisdom and strength.

Drawing Down

The Zohar explains that “blessing” G‑d is not simply praising G‑d as the source of blessings; rather, it is related to the word hamavrich (הַמַּבְרִיךְ) found in the Mishnah,5 which means to “draw down.” In this sense, the word baruch means to draw blessings from their source.6

Thus, when we bless G‑d, we are asking that He draw down His G‑dly revelation into the world. For example, when we say, “Blessed are you, G‑d, who heals the sick,” we are requesting that G‑d express His revelation by breaking the nature of this physical world and healing the sick. When we say, “Blessed are you, G‑d, who blesses the years” in the blessing for livelihood and produce, we request that G‑dliness become revealed, causing rain to fall and vegetation to grow.7

Increasing Blessing

According to the Talmud, when one person blesses another, the term baruch or berachah denotes “an increase.”8 Thus, in the context of blessing G‑d, it can mean that we wish to draw down His manifestation with abundance.9

The Blessings We Say: Word for Word

The above explanations give us a deeper understanding of the wording of the blessings we make:

Baruch means ”draw down” (and more, as explained above).

Atah means "you" in Hebrew. The word “you” is used when we are talking directly to someone and there is no need to use a name. By addressing G‑d with the deeply intimate “You,” we are referring to the essence of G‑d, which is higher than any name. If we interpret baruch as “coming down,” then "Baruch Atah" would mean "You (G‑d) are coming down!” Thus, the real intent of a blessing is to cause G‑d to come down to us.

A-donai is a substitute pronunciation for the unutterable four-letter name of G‑d. This four-letter name is a compilation of several Hebrew words that mean "was,” “is” “and will be," an expression of eternity. Thus, although we are using a name for G‑d, it is one that reflects G‑d’s transcendence beyond time and space.

Elokeinu means “our G‑d.” We have a special relationship with G‑d, subjecting ourselves to Him and recognizing that there is no true, independent existence other than Him, even in this world, which outwardly seems to imply the contrary. We refer to G‑d as “our G‑d” because it is due to this special relationship that we are able to draw down G‑dliness into the world.10

Melech Ha-Olam means king of the world.” We have drawn down blessings and G‑dliness from the level of Atah, which is beyond names, to the transcendent level of A-donai, to the personal level of Elokeinu, all the way down into the physical world, where G‑dliness is hidden. For the Hebrew word for “world,” olam, is linked to the word helem, which means “hidden.”

In short, when we “bless G‑d,” we are drawing down G‑dliness from G‑d Himself all the way down into this material world, where His greatness is obscured.

Rabbi Yishmael Kohen Gadol Blessed G‑d

This explanation sheds some light on a very intriguing incident recorded in the Talmud. Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha, who served as High Priest in the Temple, related:

Once (on Yom Kippur), I entered the innermost sanctum, the Holy of Holies, to offer incense, and in a vision, I saw Akatriel Ka, the Lord of Hosts (one of the names of G‑d expressing His ultimate authority), seated upon a high and exalted throne.

And He said to me: “Yishmael, My son, bless Me.”

I said to Him: “May it be Your will that Your mercy overcome Your anger,
and may Your mercy prevail over Your other attributes,
and may You act toward Your children with the attribute of mercy,
and may You enter before them beyond the letter of the law.”

The Holy One, Blessed be He, nodded His head and accepted the blessing.

Notice that these “blessings” of Rabbi Yishmael to G‑d do not really contain anything for G‑d. But based on our above explanation, we can understand that the purpose of these blessings was to draw down G‑d’s mercy into this world in such abundance that it would prevail over the other attributes.11

With this incident, the Talmud underscores the idea that we should not take the blessing of an ordinary person lightly. For if G‑d asked for and accepted the blessing of man, all the more so should we value the blessing of another person.

So, whether you’re blessing your friends or G‑d, don’t take it lightly. Every blessing—indeed, every word—accomplishes great things. May we all be blessed with the ultimate blessing—the coming of our righteous Moshiach!