At the beginning of our daily prayers there is a section with fourteen blessings, beginning with the “sechvi” blessing. Where do these blessings come from?
Ten appear at Berachot 60b. The three identity blessings, which we insert as numbers 2, 3, and 4, appear at Menachot 43b (and elsewhere). But that last blessing, “ha-noten la-yaef koach,” is not in the Talmud. Where did it come from? (Admittedly, the phrasing derives from Isa. 40:29, which describes God as: “noten la-yaef koach.”)
One work on the siddur speculated that the blessing was authored by the post-Talmudic Savoraim and that while the simple meaning of the berachah refers to the feeling of refreshment upon awakening, its deeper meaning is the acknowledgement that God gave the Jewish nation the strength to endure the centuries of exile. (The Savoraim preceded the Geonim, and a rough estimate for the beginning of the Geonic period is the second half of the sixth century C.E. See R. Brody, The Geonim of Babylonia, pp. 8-9.)
The idea that the post-Talmudic Savoraim instituted the “ha-noten la-yaef koach“ blessing is an interesting one. But is there any basis for it? A scholar named Moshe Chalamish researched the above blessing extensively and would not agree. His article is at pp. 446-463 of his Ha-Kabbalah be-Tefillah be-Halacha u-be-Minhag (2000). I will summarize his findings.
The earliest source we have for this blessing is not any Savoraic or Geonic source. It is a poem by Ibn Ezra (d. 1167). The poem includes a brief allusion to each of the morning blessings. It is evident from the poem that “ha-noten la-yaef koach” was included in the morning blessings of Ibn Ezra. (The poem can be seen in Y. Levin, Shirei Ha-Kodesh shel Avraham Ibn Ezra, vol. 1, pp. 459-462.)
A bit later, “ha-noten la-yaef koach“ is found among the morning blessings in a manuscript known as Corpus Christi College #133. Based on the method of binding of this siddur, it can be guessed that it was produced in England. Its text reflects the nusach of northern France. The individual who acquired the siddur used the blank pages at its end to record the payments he received from his money-lending business. Based on the names recorded, the siddur can be dated to around the last quarter of the 12th century.
Our blessing is not in the Siddur of R. Saadya (d. 942). Nor is it in the Siddur of R. Amram. It is also absent from Rokeach (c. 1160-1238) and early Sefardic sources such as Rambam (Tefillah, chap. 7). It is also absent from the earliest manuscript of Machzor Vitry. This manuscript dates to the early 12th century.
The Tur, writing in the first quarter of the 14th century, refers to the blessing as one found “be-siddurei Ashkenaz” and gives a beautiful explanation for it. See his OH 46 and the midrash he cites there. (When the Tur uses the term “Ashkenaz,” I assume he means both Germany and France.) By the time the Tur is writing, the blessing is found in manuscripts of Machzor Vitry.
(Ibn Ezra spent much of the latter part of his life living among Ashkenazic Jewry, so the reference to the blessing in the poem of Ibn Ezra is not inconsistent with the blessing having originated in an Ashkenazic region.)
There is a widespread (but not universal) view that blessings not found in the Talmud should not be said at all, or at least can only be recited without “shem” and “malchut” (i.e., what is permitted is: “baruch ha-noten la-yaef koach”). Therefore, R. Yosef Caro writes in his Beit Yosef: “Since [this blessing] is not found in the Talmud, I do not know how anyone had permission to enact it.” In his Shulchan Aruch, he writes: “yesh nohagin le-varech ha-noten la-yaef koach, ve-ein divreihem nir’im” (=their opinion does not make sense).
(It is interesting that R. Caro is more lenient regarding a different blessing not found in the Talmud that he mentions at EH 63. See his Beit Yosef and Shulchan Aruch.)
So how did “ha-noten la-yaef koach“ become an almost universally accepted blessing today, even in non-Ashkenazic communities? (As to Ashkenazic communities, the Rema had glossed in OH 46: “The widespread custom in Ashkenaz is to recite it.” As to Yemenite communities, the blessing does not seem to have taken root there.)
Chalamish concludes that there are many sources that report that R. Isaac Luria (=the ARI) recited the blessing. This helped the blessing spread among Sefardic Jewry, and among the Kabbalists, despite the earlier objection of R. Yosef Caro. (There is also a tradition that R. Yosef Caro withdrew his objection, once he heard that the ARI supported the blessing!)
It is interesting that some authorities, such as Bach, 17th cent., opine that our blessing must have been in the text of the Talmud of those who initially authorized the blessing.
Immediately following Chalamish’s article about “ha-noten la-yaef koach,” he included another article about another such blessing: “magbiah shefalim” (=who raises the lowly ones). Never heard of this blessing? Neither did I until this article (pp. 464-73). Although this blessing is not found in the Talmud, it is already mentioned in Geonic sources from the 9th century such as R. Natronai, R. Amram, and Baal Halakhot Gedolot. (There are also traditions that report that R. Amram eliminated the blessing. This at least shows that the blessing existed in his time.) This blessing is also found in the Siddur of Rav Saadya (d. 942), and in the poem of Ibn Ezra mentioned above. Chalamish collects dozens of other sources in the centuries thereafter that included the blessing.
Admittedly many were opposed to it as well, including eventually R. Yosef Caro. The main reasons for the opposition were: it is not found in Talmud and it is somewhat duplicative of “zokef kefufim.”
But this blessing did not survive (except in the Italian rite). Why not? Chalamish suggests that it did not survive because it did not receive the support of the ARI and his followers. It was not included in their siddurim.
Going back to “ha-noten la-yaef koach,” Rabbi Jachter discussed this blessing in a Jewish Link article in 2017: “[There is a] powerful spiritual message inherent in this beautiful bracha. Many of us who work exceedingly hard to support our families and community occasionally step back and wonder from where do we draw the strength to accomplish that which we have successfully completed. We wonder how were we able to accomplish that which is clearly beyond our physical ability and stamina… We recognize that without Hashem’s help it would be impossible to accomplish that which we have done…[We] endeavor to include it in our daily tefillah as a means to express our deepest gratitude to Hashem for enabling us to accomplish far more than we are innately capable.”
Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. The former saps his strength, but writing articles for the Link restores it. He can be reached at [email protected]. For more articles, please visit his website www.rootsandrituals.org.