Halachically Speaking – Beracha on Wise People and Kings

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Halachically[Written By Rabbi Moishe Lebovits – KOF-K Kosher Supervision]

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The Learning from this article should be in memory of my Rebbe, Harav Yisroel Belsky zt”l

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An unfamiliar halacha is the obligation to recite a beracha on wise people and kings, whether they are Jewish or non-Jewish. Does this beracha apply today? What are the qualifications of “wise”? Does this beracha apply to the President of the United States? What are the criteria involved? How often is one required to recite this beracha?

All these and other questions will be dealt with in this issue. We will first deal with reciting the beracha on wise people.

Is this Beracha Still Relevant?

There is a discussion among the poskim whether the beracha recited on a wise person[1] is still relevant today. Some suggest that we are not clear how to define a wise person. Therefore, one can recite the beracha without Hashem’s name.[2] Others say that although our contemporary chachamim might not be defined as wise for certain rules,[3] but regarding the beracha they still are.[4] This is the accepted custom.[5]

The Aruch Hashulchan[6] says that the parameters of this beracha are not clear, so the beracha is not said today.

Beracha on Wise People – Source

The Gemorah[7] says that if one sees a wise Jewish person[8] he recites ברוך….. שחלק מחכמתו ליריאיו.[9] For a wise gentile the beracha is: ברוך….. שנתן מחכמתו לבשר ודם

There are different explanations as to why the nusach is different for a wise Jewish person than for a wise non-Jewish person. The Maharsha[10] explains that a wise Jewish person acquires his knowledge from the Torah which is a part of Hashem, as opposed to the sharpness of a non-Jew. Others explain that the souls of Jewish people are from the throne of Hashem as opposed to a non-Jew’s.[11] The Levush[12] says that the wisdom of the Torah is extremely profound, and we can only understand a small portion of its depth. Therefore we say

שחלק   , which means a portion. However, the non-Jews can only excel in the wisdom that exists in this world. They can acquire all of this wisdom, but they cannot know more. This wisdom is a gift; therefore we recite ,שנתן which means that He gave. As far as making the beracha for a wise non-Jew, the person has to be wise in the wisdoms of the world.[13] It is not common for this beracha to be recited today, since they are very few if any who meet the criteria.[14]

Criteria of a Wise Person

The poskim do not discuss at length the definition of a wise person in regard to these halachos.[15] However, the Shevet Halevi[16] says: a person who is accepted in his generation as wise from Torah and his learning is lishmah. Others say that he has to know kabbalah as well.[17]

Beracha Recited Over the Years

It is reported that when the author of the Tzafnes Paneach (the Rugatchover zt”l) visited Vienna, the citizens recited the beracha.[18] In addition, some recited the beracha on the Chazzon Ish zt”l,[19] and Steipler zt”l.[20] The Steipler zt’l instructed his son to make a beracha on the Brisker Rav zt’l, and maintained that one should recite the beracha on Harav Aron Kotler zt”l.[21] Others have recited the beracha on Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l,[22] as well as Harav Elyashiv zt”l,[23] Harav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach zt”l, Harav Ovadia Yosef ztl,[24] and Harav Chaim Kanievesky Shlita.[25]

Seeing the Wise People Through a Window

Even if one does not meet the person face to face, but only sees him through a clear window, he would recite the appropriate berachos.[26]

Jewish and non-Jewish King[27]

When one sees a Jewish king (at the time of the Bais Hamikdosh)[28] one says

 ברוך….. שחלק מכבודו ליראיו

. If one sees a non-Jewish king he say  

ברוך שנתן מכבודו לבשר ודם.[29]

The poskim maintain that the beracha is also recited on a queen.[30] Although one should not look at women,[31] one may take a peek.[32]

There are different explanations as to why there is a change in nusach between a Jewish and non-Jewish king.[33]

One should make an effort to see both Jewish[34] and non-Jewish kings alike.[35]

What are the Criteria to Make This Beracha?

Some mention that a king is defined as someone who has the ability to order capital punishment.[36]  Others maintain though that if it is a king which is shown honor it is considered a king in regard to this halacha.[37]

President of the United States

There is a discussion among the poskim whether a president of a democratic country would have the status of a king. Some poskim say that since a democratic president does not have the authority to order an execution, the beracha is not recited on him.[38] Many poskim say that one may recite the beracha since the president has the ability to pardon a condemned criminal.[39]

Some maintain that if one sees a president of a country in his royal clothes (not common in the United States) then he can make a beracha if he wishes to do so.[40]

Daily Clothes

There is a discussion in the poskim if one sees a king in normal clothes would it constitute a brachah. This would also apply to the President of a country. Some maintain that one would not say the brachah with Hashems name in this situation.[41]

Watching the President on Television

The beracha is only recited if one sees the president live, not if he sees him on television.[42]  The same is true in regards to seeing a wise person etc.

One who sees the vehicle in which the president is traveling, but does not actually see the president, may not recite the beracha.[43]

When to Make the Beracha

The beracha is not repeated if one sees the same king etc. within thirty days,[44] but if he sees a different king etc. then he may recite another beracha.[45]

Wise King

One who sees a wise king would recite two berochos, one for the fact that he is wise and the other that he is the king.[46]

 


[1] There is another beracha which is recited on a very smart Talmid Chacham (Chacham Harazim) but the Shulchan Aruch left this out which indicates that the beracha is not relevant (Yechaveh Daas 4:16).

[2] Ben Ish Chai Eikev 1:13, Chesed L’alafim 224:12, Kaf Hachaim 224:19, Ohr L’tzyion 2:46:61:footnote 61, Tzitz Eliezer 14:37:3, 22:14:3 (if one recites with the shem and malchos it may be a beracha l’vatala).  See Kaf Hachaim 224:19, Rivevos Ephraim 7:page 249, Har Tzvi 1:115.

[3] Refer to Rambam Hilchos Rambam 6:12, Rama Y.D. 243:2. See Birchei Yosef C.M. 15:3.

[4] Chai Adom 63:5, Yechaveh Daas 4:16, Yalkut Yosef 225:9.

[5] Harav Yisroel Belsky Shlita. Refer to Shevet Halevi 10:13. See Salmas Chaim 54, 207, Teshuva M’ahavah 2:237.

[6] O.C. 224:6.

[7] Meseches Berochos 58a, Rambam Hilchos Berochos 10:11, Tur O.C. 224, Bais Yosef O.C. 224, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 60:9.

[8] This beracha is not recited on a wise Jewish female (Bais Hillel 24-25:page 160).

[9] Shulchan Aruch O.C. 224:6.

[10] Meseches Berochos ibid. Refer to Bais Yosef O.C. 224, Taz 1, Magen Avraham 4, Pri Megadim M.Z. 1, Mishnah Berurah 9.

[11] Levush 224:7.  See Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 60:9.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Pri Megadim Eishel Avraham 5, Mishnah Berurah 10. If they are knowledgeable in the wisdom of avodah zarah then no beracha is recited (Mishnah Berurah ibid).

[14] Teshuvos V’hanhagos 3:76:2.

[15] Refer to Hisoreros Teshuva 2:102, Yevakesh Torah (Berochos) 42, Bais Hillel 38:pages 25-29.

[16] 10:13.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] As per the pesak of Harav Issur Zalman Melzer zt”l (Masei Ish 1:page 42).  See Masei Ish 4:page 114, Halichos Shlomo Tefillah page 294:footnote 157, Pri Baruch page 213, Chut Shani Brachos page 201:footnote 235. Refer to Divrei Yisroel 3:75, Tzitz Eliezer 14:37.

[20] Aleh B’tamar page 60.

[21] Metzuvei V’osa page 415.

[22] Opinion of Harav Elyashiv zt”l quoted in Metzuvei V’osa page 415, see Yevakesh Torah (Berochos) 42.

[23] Bais Hillel 38:page 31.

[24] Bais Hillel 38:page 31:footnote 1.

[25] Metzuvei V’osa page 415. In regards to other gedolim see M’ein Omer 1:pages 416-417.

[26] Sharei Teshuva 224:3.  See Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 60:10, Beer Moshe 2:13, Toras Chaim page 56:9.

[27] Refer to Hisoreros Teshuva 2:102:2 if a Jew is a king over non-Jews (such as was by Yosef Hatzadik in Mitzrayim) what beracha would be recited.

[28] Aruch Hashulchan 224:6.

[29] Meseches Berochos 58a, Tur O.C. 224, Bais Yosef, Shulchan Aruch 224:8, Mishnah Berurah 12, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 60:10.  This even applies to a blind person r’l who knows the kings are passing (Magen Avraham 224:6, Elya Rabbah 6, see Mishnah Berurah 11). Refer to Beer Moshe 2:13 about saying the beracha for the king is in a boat, plane etc.

[30] Betzel Hachochma 2:19, Shevet Halevi 1:35. One should try to see queens as well (ibid). However, see Rivevos Ephraim 3:540:3 who brings other opinions.

[31] Shulchan Aruch E.H. 21:1.

[32] Betzel Hachochma ibid, Shevet Halevi 1:35.

[33] Refer to Maharsha Meseches Berochos 58a.

[34] Meseches Berochos 58a, Tur O.C. 224, Shulchan Aruch 224:9.

[35] Shevet Halevi 1:35. Refer to Teshuvos V’hanhagos 2:139. Also non-Jewish queens (Betzel Hachochma 2:19, Shevet Halevi 1:35, Shraga Hameir 7:81, Beer Moshe 2:9:4, see Avnei Yushfei 1:47:3).

[36] Refer to Magen Avraham 5, Mishnah Berurah 224:12. See Radvaz 1:296, Aprakasisa D’anya 1:32 Teshuvos V’hanhagos 2:139. Even a wicked king one would recite a beracha on (Shearim Metzuyanim B’halacha 60:footnote 5, Avnei Yushfei 1:47:2, see Minchas Elazar 5:7:4).

[37] Teshuvos V’hanhagos 2:139.

[38] Refer to discussion in Minchas Elazar 5:7:3, Yechaveh Daas 2:28, Yabea Omer O.C. 8:22:25,  Yalkut Yosef 225:10, Avnei Yushfei 1:47:1, Ashrei Haish O.C. 1:pages 252-253:4, Teshuvos V’hanhagos 2:139, Bais Hillel 27:pages 25-26, Yevakesh Torah (Berochos) 43, Rivevos Ephraim 3:540:3, 7:54:26,  Halichos Shlomo Tefillah page 294:footnote 60. See Beer Moshe 2:9, Tzitz Eliezer 22:14:1.

[39] Harav Yisroel Belsky Shlita, see Aprakasisa D’anya 1:32, Halichos Shlomo Tefillah page 294:footnote 60.

[40] Yalkut Yosef 225:10:footnote 10.

[41] Nifchar M’kesef 3. Refer to Higyonei Haparsha 2:page 81, Yevakesh Torah (Berochos) 43.

[42] Betzel Hachochma 2:18, 5:8, Yechaveh Daas 2:28,Yabea Omer O.C. 8:22:25, Minchas Yitzchok 2:84, Beer Moshe 2:9:3.

[43] Birchei Yosef 224:3, Yalkut Yosef 225:12:footnote 12.

[44] Shulchan Aruch 224:13.

[45] Magen Avraham 224:10, Mishnah  Berurah 17, Aruch Hashulchan 6, Kaf Hachaim 49.

[46] Halichos Shlomo Tefillah page 294:42.