Every morning after waking up, Jews make numerous blessings on that which they experience. We bless on sight, clothes, shoes, freedom, and more.
The idea of a blessing is an often misunderstood one. People think that the concept of a blessing is a thank you. People think that when Jews say, "Blessed are you God . . . " they are thanking and praising God.
While thanking may be part of the puzzle, certainly it is not the complete picture.
The overall concept of a blessing is an increase, as indicated by the word for blessing in Hebrew, bracha. The word Bracha is from the word braycha, meaning a spring, implying that just as a springflows forth giving its waters in all directions, the concept of blessing is a flowing forth in multitudes.
(Similarly, the root letters of the word bracha are bet, resh, and chaf. The numerical value of these letters are two, two-hundred, and twenty respectively—the second letter in the ones category, tens category, and hundreds category. The symbolic significance of the number two is plurality—the concept of multiplicity. That is to say, a blessing suggests an increase and flowing forth in the realm of multiplicity.)
This means, for example, when we recite the blessing on fruits, "Blessed are you God . . . Creator of fruits of the tree," we are saying that there should be an increase in God-awareness through this fruit of the tree. In particular, through the pleasure we are receiving from eating the fruit, we should experience an aspect of the source of all pleasure—God.
(The understanding that the function of a blessing is as an increase in awareness is further demonstrated by the fact that we only make a blessing on biblical mitzvot [commandments] that the Torah itself attaches symbolic significance to, thereby indicating that there is something specific we are to be consciously aware of when doing that particular mitzvah.)
In this manner, God can be likened to a horseback rider, and the food or experience one is blessing can be likened to God's horse. Just as a rider is brought by his animal from afar, the food or experiences upon which one blesses God serve as vehicles to "bring" God into this world from "afar." That is, through a blessing, God's all-encompassing existence and involvement is clarified in an arena of non-God-clarity.
Therefore, the root letters of the Hebrew word for rider, RoCheV, are the same as those of the word for blessing, BRaCha, since a blessing is a vehicle by which the clarity of God "rides" into this world of non-God-clarity.
According to Judaism, one is to be involved with the physical yet not become engrossed by it; we should own the physical but not be owned by it. That is, we are to appreciate the pleasure God gives us through the physical world yet not become addicted to it—as much as possible not to need it.
As mentioned in previous articles, the world is set up for the purpose of being an arena of potential for God-awareness. That means, everything is holy in potential. If we use this world as a vehicle for acknowledging, appreciating, and thereby bonding with God, we are involved in God-clarity even here where God is not all that clear. However, if we use this world purely for the sake of the physical—without any God-consciousness—we squander its inherent spiritual potential. If one eats the fruit without making a blessing and thereby increasing God-awareness, he is, in essence, becoming engrossed in physicality. He is eating the fruit solely for the body's sake. He is taking the world, which is physical yet infused with spiritual potential, and, instead of using the physical to achieve the spiritual, he squanders the spiritual, losing it in an engrossing of physicality.
Forbidden Versus Permitted
The truth is that this perspective of the world as dually-charged with physical nature and spiritual potential is the backbone of all Jewish law and the entire Torah. Whenever we come across an act that Judaism considers forbidden, what is meant is that this act is already so engrossed in the non-clarity of the world that true God-consciousness cannot be brought out from it; one can only damage one's relationship with God and one's spiritual quest for self-actualization by involvement. (The Hebrew word meaning forbidden, assur, is the same as the word for shackled, since the forbidden act is that which is shackled, imprisoned by the world's non-clarity.)
However, when we come across something permissible according to Judaism, the statement being made is that it can be productive in one's relationship with God and in one's spiritual quest for self-actualization if acted upon in the appropriate manner with the appropriate intent. (The Hebrew word meaning permitted, muttar, is the same as the word for released, since the permitted act is free enough [i.e., "released"] from the non-clarity of the world to be used to access God-awareness.)
It should be noted that if one becomes engrossed in any physical act, even one that is permitted, it is still not the approach of holiness according to Judaism. For example, although a glutton who keeps kosher is not doing a forbidden act in his excessive eating, such a lifestyle is in conflict with the pursuit of holiness. Holiness entails having a mastery over one's self and the world. This means being capable of consuming the physical without becoming consumed by it. And making a blessing is that concept of being involved in the physical with the proper intent and for the proper purpose.