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Monday, January 23, 2006

The blind man and the King

The Gemara (Berachot 58a) lists several blessings one recites upon seeing various people or groups of people. One of the blessings listed is said upon seeing a king. The Gemara teaches that Rav Sheshet, who was blind, said the blessing when the king passed by. The obvious question is how can a blind man say a blessing that one says upon seeing something. The halacha is that for all such blessings a blind man is exempt. Why then is the blessing said upon seeing a king an exception to this rule?

The Maharsha and the Magen Avraham (O"H 224:6) explain that for this blessing, even a blind person is obligated as long as he somehow senses the king is there. The question then is, why not apply the same reasoning to the other blessings that depend on sight. Should a blind man not, according to this logic, make a blessing upon hearing the sound of the ocean?

I believe that the answer is that the very presence of a king has an impact on the individual. The awareness that we are in the presence of an individual who has in his hands the power over life and death has a tremendous effect on our consciousness. We become aware of our own powerlessness in the world and thus we react in the only Jewish way possible - we verbally and mentally recognize that the king's power is nothing but a reflection of that which is given to him by the King of kings. We recognize that our sense of awe must be constantly directed towards the true Master of the universe who is the only One Who truly has power over life and death. The emotion we feel in the presence of the king must make us more aware of the presence of the true King - this is something that a blind man can appreciate as well.