I was recently asked to explain the value and significance of "Berachot parties" that are customarily held for the benefit of ill patients. Participants of a "Berachot party" sit around and recite aloud Berachot on various foods, and the others answer "Amen." What is the underlying basis of this custom, and how precisely does it yield benefit to the patient?
It is commonly understood that the significance of these parties lies in the response of "Amen." Responding "Amen" is a very powerful tool. The word "Amen" has the numerical value of 91, which is the combined total of the divine Name of Havaya (26), which signifies divine compassion, and the Name of Adnut (65), which expresses Din (judgment). By answering "Amen," we merge the Hesed (kindness) with Din, thus "sweetening" the judgment. This response thus creates an angel of kindness that advocates on behalf of the ill patient.
In truth, however, the power of the "Berachot parties" extends even further, and the recitation of the Berachot themselves are very beneficial for the ill patient.
The source of this concept is a comment of the Ben Ish Hai (Rav Yosef Haim of Baghdad, 1833-1909) describing a special Tikkun (spiritual "rectification") for ill patients. He lists around 10-15 "Kal Va’homer" arguments that are mentioned in Talmudic literature. A "Kal Va’homer" is a line of reasoning whereby a conclusion is reached based on the fact that this conclusion is true in a different context where it is less intuitive. For example, if a weak person can carry a certain heavy load, then certainly a strong person is capable of carrying it. The Gemara utilizes this type of rationale in many different contexts in Halacha, and it is the first of the thirteen "Middot She’Ha’Torah Nidreshet Ba’hen" – the principles through which laws are deduced from the Torah. The Ben Ish Hai lists a series of "Kal Va’homer" arguments and says that these should be recited followed by a prayer for the ill patient in order to bring a cure (listen to audio recording for precise citation).
What is the connection between the concept of "Kal Va’homer" and invoking God’s mercy for an ill patient?
The holy books say that the thirteen principles of deducing Halachot correspond to the thirteen attributes of God. The first of the thirteen principles, as mentioned, is "Kal Va’homer," and it corresponds to the first of the thirteen attributes – "Kel." The attribute of "Kel" signifies divine kindness, as in the verse "Hesed Kel Kol Hayom" (Tehillim 52:3). And thus, when we make a "Kal Va’homer," we activate this attribute of divine kindness. Indeed, the Arizal (Rav Yishak Luria of Safed, 1534-1572) noted that the word "Kal" means "light" or "easy," alluding to the pleasantness and serenity of Hesed, whereas "Homer" means "severe," and thus refers to judgment. Furthermore, the Gemara often introduces a "Kal Va’homer" reasoning with the term "Din" ("Ha’lo Din Hu"). The Gemara is saying, "There is much judgment in this world! Let us make a ‘Kal Va’homer’ to sweeten the judgment by arousing God’s attribute of kindness." Every time we come across a "Kal Va’homer" over the course of our learning, we have good reason to feel excitement, knowing that we have just activated God’s attribute of kindness in the world.
This concept explains God’s remarks to Moshe Rabbenu after his sister, Miriam, was stricken with Sara’at (leprosy). God told Moshe that if Miriam’s father would have humiliated her, she would not want to be seen for seven days, and thus certainly now that God has punished her, she must be sequestered for seven days. Rather than simply instructing Moshe that Miriam must be quarantined, God makes a "Kal Va’homer." The reason is that God activated His attribute of kindness by making this "Kal Va’homer." Moshe understood that this attribute was aroused, and he therefore immediately prayed, "Kel Na Refa Na Lah." He responded by praying with the Name of "Kel," which had been "awakened" through God’s "Kal Va’homer," and Miriam was cured.
On this basis, we can explain the significance of Berachot parties. The Torah does not command reciting Berachot before eating and drinking. The only beracha explicitly required by the Torah is Birkat Ha’mazon, which we recite after eating – "Ve’achalta Ve’sabata U’berachta" (Debarim 8:10). The Gemara infers the obligation to recite a beracha before eating through a "Kal Va’homer." It reasons that if we are obligated to recite a beracha when we feel satiated, then certainly we must recite a blessing to God before we eat, when we feel hungry or thirsty, and thus experience a sense of dependence on God. As such, every time we recite a beracha, we implicitly make a "Kal Va’homer" and thus activate the power of "Kel." This is why we conduct "Berachot parties" on behalf of ill patients. Besides the power of "Amen," the Berachot themselves have the power to arouse divine kindness on behalf of the ill patient, and we thus hope that the combined merit of the Berachot and the "Amen" responses will bring good health to the patient and to all ill patients among the Jewish people.