Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Thunder and Lightning

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

The Talmud teaches that one should recite a blessing upon a number of different natural phenomena, including upon hearing thunder and seeing lightning. As the Mishna states: If one sees shooting stars, earthquakes, thunder, winds, or lightning, one recites the blessing "…shekocho u'gevurato maleh olam" (Blessed is He Whose might fills the world).[1] Interestingly, the Talmud concludes that one may recite either the blessing "…shekocho u'gevurato maleh olam" or the blessing "…oseh ma'aseh bereishit" (Blessed is He who performs the works of creation). The latter approach is codified by the Shulchan Aruch, who writes "on lightening and thunder one recites the blessing "…oseh ma'aseh bereishit" but one can recite "…shekocho u'gevurato maleh olam" instead, should one so desire.[2]

Click here to read moreThe Taz comments that common custom is to recite "…shekocho u'gevurato maleh olam" on thunder and "...oseh ma'aseh bereishit" on lightning.[3] He writes that he is unsure how this custom developed. He suggests that perhaps the noise of thunder is a stronger display of God's "might", considerably more so than a flash of lightning. Indeed, the halacha follows this view and one should recite "shekocho…" for thunder and "oseh…" for lightning.[4] However, one who sees lightning and hears thunder at the exact same time recites only one blessing, that of "oseh ma'aseh bereishit" or "shekocho u'gevurato maleh olam"[5], whichever one prefers.[6]

The blessings should be recited within "toch kdei dibbur" - within a few seconds of hearing the thunder or seeing the lightning. If one was unable to recite the blessing within this time frame, one must wait until their next appearance to do so.[7] The blessings are recited only one time per storm. In the event that a storm had completely cleared away and then returns later the same day, the blessing may be recited once more.[8] One is not required to see the actual lightning bolt in order to recite the blessing – it suffices to only see the flash produced by the lightning.[9]

In some communities there was a custom to omit God's name when reciting these blessings, and hence only "Baruch shekocho u'gevurato maleh olam" or "Baruch oseh ma'aseh bereishit" was recited.[10] Rabbi Chaim Pontrimoli of Izmir explains that the reason for this practice was based on the concern that people might not be aware of the requirement to recite the blessing within "toch kdei dibbur" of hearing thunder or seeing lightning, thereby rendering any blessing recited after this time as a beracha levatala – a blessing in vain.[11] Similarly, there was also a concern that those who were unfamiliar with the halachot of these blessings would recite them more than once per storm, thereby reciting multiple blessings in vain.[12] Therefore, in order to alleviate these fears, some authorities ruled that only the abbreviated form of these blessings should be recited. In this way, one would ultimately discharge the obligation of reciting the blessing and at the same time be free of any concerns that the blessing might be in vain if it was recited more than once or not quickly enough. Nevertheless, Rabbi Pontrimoli concludes by saying that those who are proficient in halacha should recite the blessing in its entirety. It may also just be that the custom of reciting the blessings in their abbreviated form was based on the view of the Raavad that any of the blessings mentioned in the ninth chapter of Masechet Berachot were intended to be recited without God's name.

There is a widespread misconception that one is not to recite the blessing on lightning until one hears thunder, as well.[13] According to this mistaken "custom", one then recites the two blessings one after the other. Not only is this practice wrong due to the delay incurred between seeing the lightning and reciting the blessing, but when one does recites the blessing on the lightning ("…oseh ma'aseh bereishit") it essentially covers the thunder as well, rendering the "shekocho…" blessing recited immediately thereafter a blessing in vain.[14] It may just be that this erroneous practice developed in order to ensure that the lightning that one saw is accompanied by rain and was not "heat lightning", upon which one is not to recite a blessing upon seeing.[15] In any event, if it is clear that the lightning one saw is a component of an upcoming storm the blessing should be recited without delay.


[1] Berachot 54a
[2] O.C. 227:1
[3] Taz O.C. 227:1
[4] Mishna Berura 227:5
[5] Mishna Berura 227:5
[6] Aruch Hashulchan 227:2
[7] Mishna Berura 227:12
[8] Mishna Berura 227:8
[9] Tzitz Eliezer 12:21, Az Nidberu 6:23:2
[10] Ben Ish Chai;Ekev, cited at: http://www.dailyhalacha.com/Display.asp?ClipDate=4/12/2007
[11] Petach Hadevir 227:3, cited at: http://www.dailyhalacha.com/Display.asp?ClipDate=4/12/2007
[12] Petach Hadevir 227:3
[13] Discussed in Piskei Teshuvot 227:6
[14] Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 227:2
[15] Mishna Berura 227:3

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