בריך שמה דמרא עלמא

Blessed is the Name of the Master of the Universe

In the previous post, I referred to the Kabbalistic/Hasidic teaching that God and Torah are One:

“…Torah is not outside of G-d and He is not outside of the Torah, and that is why the sages of the Kabbalah were justified in saying that the Holy One, Blessed be He, is Himself the Torah.” [1

“It was through Torah…that God created the world…Since the power of the Creator remains in the [thing created], Torah is to be found in all things…Since God and Torah are one, the life of God is present in all things…all of Torah is the name of God.” [2]

This teaching is more present in our experience than we might realize.

“B’rich Sh’mei” means “Blessed is the Name” or “Bless the Name.”

We are blessing God, not for giving Torah but for being Torah: Torah is the name of God.

It’s familiar to many people from being said in synagogue when the Ark is opened before the Sefer Torah is removed.

The Encyclopedia Judaica says:

“The kabbalists consider the reading of the Torah a dramatic re-enactment of the theophany at Sinai [based on the Zohar]: ‘When the scroll of the Torah is taken out in public to be read from, the heavenly gates of mercy are opened and the love from above is awakened. A man should then say: ‘Blessed is the Name…’ [B’rich Sh’mei]’…” [3

Elbogen (and Arnold Rosenberg after him) adds:

“[B’rich Sh’mei] first appears in Italy among private prayers; after 1600 it passed into the rite books and then into the prayer books, following the model of Isaac Luria…” [4]

One might say that Rabbi Luria, known as the Ari and the most prominent kabbalist of all, is taking what is only a suggestion in the Zohar and making it mandatory. Why would the Ari so strongly urge the saying of “B’rich Sh’mei?”

The Encyclopedia Judaica correctly notes that the public reading of Torah re-enacts the revelation of God at Sinai. 

Look at the actual language of the text. Look at what we are saying:

The ark is opened, the Torah scroll is before us, and we say: 
“Blessed is the Name of the Master of the Universe.”
Torah is “the Name of the Master of the Universe.” 

What’s more, we then say (silently, perhaps): 
“B’rich Kit’rach v’Atrach.”
“Bless Your (sephirah of) Keter/Crown and Your (sephirah of) Atara/Glow.”
“Atara” is another name for “Malchut,” which is the 10th Sephirah, the Shechinah; the “glow” of the Light of Keter. We are praising God’s entire process of emanation as the Sefer Torah is revealed to us.
Bless Your (process of) Emanation, by which all things come to be without ever being anything other than You.
 

Another possibility: Rabbi Yosef Karo (among others?) regarded the Mishnah — the “Oral Torah” — as also being the Shechinah. Could “B’rich Kit’rach v’Atrach” therefore be understood as: “Bless Your Name (Written Torah) and Your Shechinah (Oral Torah)?” As such, it comprises full expression of God’s “Name.”

Be clear: We are not thanking God for giving us Torah in the same way that we do later with the brachah “Notein Ha-Torah” — “…Who gives us Torah” — as if God gave us a physical object or teaching and then departed.

When the Zohar mentions “the heavenly gates of mercy,” it means the Divine Midah, or quality, of Hesed (lovingkindess). The Midat Hesed is indicated by the Divine Name Y-K-V-K. When Torah was given at Sinai, God’s Reality and Presence were revealed, too. Thus, the Zohar is saying that when Torah is displayed to us in synagogue, God’s Name is simultaneously revealed as well.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslav might have had this in mind when he wrote:

“…Torah…is completely comprised of the Names of God.” [5]

God and His Name being One, and God and Torah being One, Torah is therefore God’s Name, too.

The kabbalists, especially the Ari, meant this quite literally. 

When Torah is being read, the laws and narratives are merely the outer forms, or garments for the Revelation of the Ever-Present Divine Essence: God and Torah are One. It is the Midat Hesed in particular; the Y-K-V-K — the lovingkindess that always allows us to re-unite with God — that we greet and welcome when receiving Torah among us.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, z”l, similarly says:

“…the omnipresent Lord of the Universe is so kind that He abides naturally in everything. No one can possibly remove himself from Him.” [6]

The kindness of which Maharishi writes is called in Jewish teaching God’s “Midat Hesed.” In the Talmud, the term is more about the ways in which the Divine expresses Itself, without ever changing. The “positive things” we experience are said to express God’s Midat Hesed. But the Kabbalah is not talking about particular experiences; rather about the unchanging essence of God. Perhaps one could say that in Talmud, God does loving acts; in Kabbalah, God is Love that is always Loving. The concepts don’t negate or oppose each other.

So, we say “B’rich Sh’mei” because when the Ark is opened and the Torah about to be removed, the Divine Name Itself — the Divine Essence — is being revealed to us, as at Sinai.

The Zohar and the Ari are telling us: Don’t think of Torah as words and laws and stories alone. Don’t think of it as something other than God. Know, appreciate and relish our reunion with God in Torah’s Presence. 

More than blessing God for giving Torah, we are blessing God for being Torah.

It’s understood, though, that understanding and experience of this comes as a result of meditation on the Kabbalistic system of the sephirot. This is called the “Seder Hishtalshelut” — the “Order of Emanation.” Everything emanates from Keter in an orderly sequence, without ever becoming anything other than Keter. 

As Rav Kook wrote:

“The divine emanation, by its being, engenders everything. It is unlimited in its freedom, there is no end to its unity, to its riches, to its perfection, to its splendor, and the influence of its potency and its diverse manifestations. All the oceans of song, all the diverse torrents of perception, all the force of life, all the laughter, the joyous delights — everything flows from it. Into everything it releases the influence of its soul force. Its influence, its honor, its deliverance reaches to the lowest depths.” [7]

The fundamental purpose of this meditation is not to overwhelm the mind with the intricate details of Divine Emanation. It is to show that everything that is emanated, down to the most infinitesimal detail, is, in truth, the One. Meditation itself could be defined as the turning of the attention from all the details of emanation or creation to their source: the Divine One. 

The inclusion of B’rich Sh’mei in private prayers in Italy suggests that this meditation was already being done popularly, even before the time of the Ari and the kabbalistic community in Safed. It was something that was contemplated and thought about all the time; not only in synagogue. 

That the Ari urged its wider inclusion further suggests that kabbalistic learning and contemplation had spread even more widely within the Jewish communities of the world by that time. It also shows that the Ari was attempting to guide the thinking of Jews during services. The power of the idea to effect our level of consciousness comes from how pervasive we make the idea in our lives. But when, through meditation, we assimilate the idea into our own thinking sufficiently, it brings higher levels of illumination to our daily practices and activities. 

For kabbalists — the Ari, for example — this is especially true of Torah. We should not ignore the details; neither should we get lost in them. The words, narratives and laws in Torah — its very meaning — are contemplative aids to help turn our attention to the One Timeless, Changeless Source of All that is always with us, of which we are each an expression, and from which we can never be separated. 

As Joel Goldsmith said:

“We must never be satisfied with anything less than the experience of God Itself.” [8]

I think the Ari would have agreed whole-heartedly.

B’rich Sh’mei indeed!

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[1Scholem, Gershom; On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism; p. 124; quoting
Recanati, Rabbi Menahem b. Benjamin; Italy, 13th-14th c.; Ta’ame Ha-Mitzvoth, p. 3a

[2] Rabbi Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl; Upright Practices; The Light of the Eyes; Green, Arthur, trans.; Paulist Press; © 1982 (and later); p. 49 & p. 94

[3] Encyclopedia Judaica 15:1253; quoting Zohar; Shemot/Ex. 206a

[4] Elbogen, Ismar; Jewish Liturgy: A Comprehensive History; Scheindlin, R., trans.; Jewish Publication Society; © 1993 (and later); p. 160

[5] Rebbe Nachman of Breslav; Likutei Moharan (lesson 1);  Breslov Research Institute, © 1986; vol. I, p. 11 (repeated on p. 12)

[6] Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; The Science of Being and the Art of Living; © 1966 by International SRM Publications; p. 31

[7] Bokser, Rabbi Ben Zion; The Essential Writings of Abraham Isaac Kook; p. 165, quoting
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook; Orot Ha-Kodesh (Lights of Holiness), vol. 1, p. 361

[8] Goldsmith, Joel; The Art of Meditation; © 1956 by Joel Goldsmith; Harper & Row, publ.; p. 60