Parashat Ekeb- Putting Life Into Our Berachot
Moshe Rabbenu tells Beneh Yisrael in Parashat Ekeb (10:12), "Ve’ata Yisrael, Ma Hashem Elokecha Sho’el Me’imach…" – "And now, Israel, what does Hashem ask of you…"
The Gemara in Masechet Menahot (43) tells of incident that took place during the time of King David, which relates to this Pasuk. A devastating plague ravaged the country, killing one hundred people every day. No medical cause could be found for the disease, and the situation seemed hopeless. David, with his Ru’ah Ha’kodesh (prophetic insight), came up with a solution. He enacted a requirement that is still observed even today – to recite one hundred Berachot each day. The people obeyed the new law and made a point of reciting one hundred Berachot on a daily basis, and the plague came to an end.
The Gemara adds that David found a Biblical source for this requirement – the aforementioned verse in Parashat Ekeb. The word "Ma" ("What"), the Gemara says, should be read as "Me’a" – "one hundred." Once we read "Ma" as "Me’a," the Pasuk reads, "And now, Israel, Hashem asks of you one hundred…" God asks us for "one hundred," that we recite one hundred Berachot each day, and the Torah here thus alludes to the law enacted by King David in response to the deadly plague.
The question arises, what right do we have to add a letter to the word "Ma" to produce "Me’a"? The word "Ma" is spelled Mem, Heh, and the word "Me’a" is spelled Mem, Alef, Heh. Thus, in order to read "Ma" as "Me’a," we need to add the letter Alef. How can we add a letter to a word in the Torah?
Furthermore, it seems from this account that Beneh Yisrael did not recite Berachot until King David’s enactment. How could that be? Weren’t Berachot being recited already during the time of Abraham, Yishak and Yaakob? One answer is that people were reciting Berachot, but David instituted the requirement to recite one hundred Berachot. But there may also be a much deeper explanation.
True, the people had been reciting one hundred Berachot each day. But they were reciting Berachot without proper Kavana, without concentration. The Sages teach us that a prayer without Kavana is like a body without a soul. The Berachot being recited were "lifeless," they had no spiritual force, because they were recited quickly, robotically, without any attention or feeling. And David realized that these one hundred "dead" Berachot recited each day were the cause of the one hundred deaths the nation suffered each day. He therefore enacted that the people should ensure to recite Berachot with feeling and concentration, to counteract the effects of their "dead" Berachot.
The letter Alef, which has the numerical value of 1, represents God, who is one. The letter is therefore formed by a slanted Vav with a Yod extending from the bottom and another from the top. The combined numerical value of these three letters – Vav, and two Yod’s – is 26, the numerical value of the divine Name of "Havaya." This letter, then, signifies God. David wanted to introduce this letter into "Ma," a word which denotes nothingness. His goal was to infuse the Berachot which were characterized by "Ma" – emptiness and lack of substance – with the people’s spirit, their soul, which is a piece of God Himself. This is what the Gemara means when it says that David read "Ma" as "Me’a." This is precisely what he enacted – that the people should inject their otherwise lifeless Berachot with life and feeling, by reciting Berachot not only with their lips, but also with their souls, with the piece of Hashem within them. This injection of life and spirit into Berachot has the power to transform death to life, to avert catastrophe and save ourselves and our nation from harm.
All Torah observant Jews recite Berachot. On most days of the year, we don’t even have to think about this requirement of one hundred Berachot, because we automatically reach this total through our prayer services and blessings before and after eating and drinking. Too often, however, these Berachot are lifeless, recited by rote, mechanically, without concentration. We mumble the words without thinking what they mean, and sometimes in our haste we fail to even enunciate the words properly. If we truly believed the power of a Beracha recited properly, how Kavana brings life and blessing to the world, our Berachot would be much different.
It does not take long to recite a Beracha properly. It takes just a few moments to pause, think about what we’re saying, and enunciate each word correctly. These few moments are the difference between a "dead" Beracha and a Beracha with life and power. We must ensure to invest a part of our souls into our Berachot, and then, like in the times of David HaMelech, Hashem will protect us from harm and grant us life and prosperity, Amen.