It's All Happening at the Zoo

Blessings for Visiting the Zoo

After last week’s article concerning the blessing “ma’aseh bereshit” recited by those traveling throughout the country upon seeing the ocean, a unique mountain or hill, I will now deal with the blessings recited by visitors to the zoo: the blessing “ShCacha Lo BeOlamo” (who has such [beautiful things] in His universe) over beautiful animals, and the blessing “Meshaneh Ha’Briyot” (who makes strange creatures) over a monkey or elephant.

“ShCacha Lo BeOlamo”

Occasionally we encounter special, exciting and fascinating sights. In order to give expression to their spiritual significance, our Sages determined to recite a blessing upon seeing them, thereby connecting them to their divine roots. Included in this, our Sages determined that one who sees particularly nice-looking or strong animals, or especially beautiful or superior trees, or an exceptionally good-looking, or tall, strong person – whether they be Jewish or Gentile – recites the blessing: “Baruch Atah A-d-o-n-o-I, E-l-o-h-e-i-n-u Melech ha’olam ShCacha Lo BeOlamo” (Blessed are You, G-d, our Lord, King of the Universe, who has such [beautiful things] in His universe) (Brachot 58b).

By reciting this blessing, a great tikkun (rectification) is made, for quite often people marvel at exceptionally beautiful, or strong and large creatures – some people even hold beauty or physical strength contests between certain creatures (both humans and animals). It is extremely important to connect these feelings to their roots, and give praise to the Creator, who has such beautiful things in His universe.

Blessings are recited over two types of exceptionally beautiful creatures:

1) An animal unique in relation to others of the same species.

An expert on horses who sees a particularly handsome, strong, or fast horse recites the blessing “ShCacha Lo BeOlamo”. Likewise, if an expert on dogs or cats sees a beautiful or particularly large one, he recites the blessing.

Regarding a person who is not knowledgeable about horses or dogs – even if the animals are unique and have won awards – if one is not impressed by seeing them, he does not recite the blessing. If he is impressed, he does recite the blessing.

Similarly, a person who sees an award-winning cow for producing the most amount of milk – if he is impressed by seeing it, the blessing is recited. If not, the blessing is not recited.

2) Unique species such as parrots and stunning peacocks

The second type of animals, those found in zoos, are species considered particularly beautiful due to their appearance and special colors, such as a large and spectacularly colored parrot, or a peacock with a beautiful tail. Since they are considered beautiful compared to other birds, and people travel distances to take pleasure in their beauty, the blessing “ShCacha Lo BeOlamo” is recited upon seeing them. Similarly, one who travels to see exotic fish, such as those in the Gulf of Eilat, given that they are considered particularly beautiful in comparison to other fish, recites the blessing.

The Proper Way to Bless in the Zoo

A visitor to the zoo should recite the blessing “ShCacha Lo BeOlamo” over the first beautiful species he sees, and have kavana (intention) to exempt all the other beautiful species with his blessing. This pertains to most people, who are not particularly impressed by all the gorgeous species. But someone greatly moved by seeing them, recites a blessing on each one individually.

A person taking children to the zoo, who sees they are particularly impressed by a certain animal, should instruct them to recite an additional blessing. It is best for an adult taking a group of children to visit the zoo to first recite the blessing for himself out loud, and for everyone to answer ‘amen’. Afterwards, each time they encounter a particularly beautiful species, a different child should be honored with reciting a blessing, thereby educating them to bless and admire God’s creatures. Together with this, they will also learn that the accepted practice is for each individual to recite one blessing over all the beautiful animals.

The Blessing “Mishaneh Ha’Briyot” for a Monkey or Elephant

Our Sages determined that a person who sees a monkey or an elephant recites the blessing: “Baruch Atah A-d-o-n-o-I, E-l-o-h-e-i-n-u Melech ha’olam mishaneh ha’briyot” (Berachot 58b; S.A. 225:8). Indeed, there is an opinion that a blessing should be recited upon seeing any unique-looking animal (Rashz”a in Hilchot Shlomo 23:35). In practice, however, according to the opinion of most poskim (Jewish law arbiters), our Sages determined to recite a blessing specifically on monkeys and elephants, because more than any other creatures, their appearance arouses particular astonishment, for although they are animals, they possess a certain resemblance to humans. A monkey is similar to man in the shape of its body and the use of its hands. An elephant is unique among animals in that its skin is smooth and hairless, and uses its trunk like a hand (Meiri, Berachot 58b).

A person who sees a monkey and an elephant together, recites one blessing over both. However, when they are in different locations, as is common in zoos, a separate blessing is recited over each one.

A Blessing Every Thirty Days

Those who have already visited the zoo within the last month do not recite the blessing over animals because if thirty days have not passed, one’s amazement at seeing them is diminished. But if thirty days have passed, even if one sees the same animals again, a blessing is recited. And although in the opinion of Ra’avad, the blessing over beautiful animals is recited once in a lifetime, and his opinion was codified by the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 225:9), this specifically relates to an animal whose second sighting does not evoke a special sense of amazement. But when visiting a zoo, there definitely is a sense of amazement – the fact that people go there specifically to see the animals demonstrates their wonder at seeing them (P’ninei Halacha, Brachot 15:15).

However, regarding a person who visits a different zoo, if he marvels at seeing the animals there anew, he recites a blessing over them, even though thirty days have not passed since his previous sighting.

A Suggestion for Zoo Managers

It would be appropriate for zoo managers to hang attractive signs near the animals which require a blessing upon seeing them – “ShCacha Lo BeOlamo” next to the beautiful parrots and peacocks, and “Meshaneh ba’Briyot” near the elephants and monkeys, and to indicate that one who has already visited the zoo within thirty days should not recite the blessing once again.

A Story of a Widow and a Group of Single Women

Q: Rabbi, we have a talented and pretty daughter, highly successful in her profession, and loved by her friends. But despite all her merits and efforts, she has passed the age of thirty, and is still single. Apparently all the matchmakers, both men and women, who tried to help (some for a hefty fee), have yet to find a compatible man, worthy of her level. How can we find matchmakers who can identify with her, so they can find her the right man?

A: Since I am not familiar with your beloved daughter, I cannot answer your question, but I will tell you a story I heard recently.

In a certain workplace, a group of over ten single women happened to work in the same office. All of them wanted to get married, but could not find their partner. In order to help each other out, they shared all the information they had garnered about potential men. Each woman typically had two or three close friends with whom they confided about their dates, so as to help them analyze the character of the men, and receive criticism and advice. Together they hoped, and together, cried over the letdowns. Nevertheless, in spite of everything, they encouraged themselves not to get disheartened. The years passed on. Some of them were already over thirty, others were not far away – and they remained single.

And then, a disaster occurred: a co-workers of theirs, a mother of four children, her husband passed away. They were shocked. They cried, attended the funeral, and helped her with her children. From time to time they secretly comforted themselves, thinking that maybe their situation wasn’t so bad after all. Perhaps it was better to be single, than a widow with four children.

About a year later, the widow married a widower with seven children of his own. The women were shocked and speechless. What? So fast? How could she agree to accept his seven children in addition to her own four? Hasn’t she suffered enough, without having to take on his seven children? After all she went through, doesn’t she deserve to find a single man, or a widower with only one or two kids at the most, who could support and pamper her?

Nevertheless, they pulled themselves together, honored her decision, and of course – shared in her joy at the wedding. After all, she was their friend, wasn’t she?! At the wedding, they wiped tears from their eyes, were emotional, and felt a little sorry.

And wonder of wonders, in less than two years, the vast majority of them got married – some to divorced men, others to widowers. They say they are happy.

Concerning the Foreign Ministry Strike

In recent months, members of the diplomatic corps have been striking, demanding more pay and better working conditions. It seems that in the current situation, where the State of Israel has failed to explain its position to the world, there is no room for a pay hike, just as a factory suffering from severe losses does not increase its employees wages.

Israeli diplomats neglect our two main arguments. The first is our religious right to the land, particularly the holy places – Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. Perhaps the diplomats fear that raising the confrontation to the level of a religious conflict will only aggravate the situation. However, ignoring and turning a blind eye will not help – in reality, it is a religious conflict. By not mentioning our Biblical right to the land, they abandon the main argument for our right to the land.

The second argument is a moral one. They should have exposed the terrible lies of Arab propaganda. For example, using the incident involving the child Muhammad al-Dura, it could have been exposed how the Arabs spread lies and blood libels, but the Foreign Ministry and diplomats hindered this (as reported in an article by Shimon Cohen on Arutz 7, July 21, 2013).

The Foreign Ministry should have publicized the fact that the vast majority of Arabs living in the Land of Israel are descendants of migrant workers who came here within the last 120 years to benefit from the prosperity that Jews brought to the land.

They should have described the ruthless violence and corruption which prevails in Arab society – how they oppress the poor, the weak, and the Christians. They should have described the enviable conditions and extensive rights the Arabs have living under Israeli rule – a hundred times better than their Arab brethren in all neighboring countries – thereby exposing the ingratitude and lies with which they constantly vilify us. Our friends among the nations of the world complain bitterly about the Israeli diplomats, who are alienated from religion and morality.

As long as this situation continues, it is not right to raise their salaries.

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