Blessed Rivers

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I. Praising for the Rivers

We praise God for the daily blessings He bestows on us. But we must also, the Talmud instructs us, praise Him for His marvelous creations. When you see mountains, valleys or rivers you recite the blessing praising He “who made the act of Creation” (Berakhos 54a). The wonder we experience at seeing such awe-inspiring parts of nature leads to praising God with a special blessing.

But how many people today really feel that way? We see rivers and mountains all the time. We travel the world and see much more incredible natural wonders than the valleys and seas near us. Should we still say this blessing?

II. Not All Rivers

Tosafos (ad loc., sv. al) argues that the blessing on rivers only applies to the four rivers listed in Genesis 2. However, Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 228:2) seems to reject this view. The Magen Avraham (228:3) adopts a slight variation on Tosafos’ view. He rules that we only recite the blessing on big rivers, like those listed in Genesis. Arukh Ha-Shulchan (ad loc., 2) follows this approach, as does Mishnah Berurah (ad loc., 4) who adds that the rivers must be ancient. Shulchan Arukh (ibid.) adds that the river’s flow must remain natural, not having been artificially deviated by man.

Another ruling of Tosafos is also relevant. Tosafos (Berakhos 57b sv. ha-ro’eh) states that these types of blessing are not recited by people who regularly see the objects generating the practice. Someone who has seen a river within the past 30 days may not recite the blessing. The Eliyahu Rabbah (cited in Mishnah Berurah 224:3) goes even further and rules that someone who lives in a place where the objects are common does not recite the blessing even if he has not personally seen it recently. Since such a sight does not invoke wonder to residents, he presumably also is unafffected.

III. Not All Sightings

R. Simcha Rabinowitz (Piskei Teshuvos 228:2) argues that we do not normally recite the blessing on rivers because their flow may have been artificially deviated (based on Responsa Be-Tzel Ha-Chokhmah 2:10). However, R. Eliezer Melamed (Peninei Halakhah, Berakhos, Harchavos 15:4) points out that the above Magen Avraham implies we recite the blessing on big rivers, even without specific knowledge about their origins. Additionally, he asks, why were the Sages of the Talmud unworried about this concern? How would they know whether the rivers they saw had been artificially deviated?

Instead, R. Melamed (Peninei Halakhah, Berakhos 15:4) distinguishes between seeing and viewing. When driving past a sight, particularly when commuting, you generally focus on your destination rather than your environment. You barely even notice your surroundings, much less feel inspiration from them. On such a sighting you do not recite the blessing.

However, when hiking or sightseeing you engage with nature. You look around at the world and experience its beauty and wonder. On viewing a river in such a circumstance (and barring other detailed conditions such as the above), you recite the blessing even if you personally are not impressed. When in a context of appreciating nature, you bless its Creator.

R. Asher Bush (Sho’el Bi-Shlomoh, no. 10) adopts a different approach. He points out that the blessing is optional (based on Eruvin 40b). People today generally only recite the blessing on remarkable sights, such as Niagara Falls. If seeing a particular river (taking into account the various details) inspires you, then recite the blessing. If not, it is up to you since the blessing is optional.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.


  1. Try living in a country where it only rains (at the most) half the year, and riverbeds are often dry. You’ll be in awe every time you see a rushing river.

  2. The rivers of Bavel, the Tigris and Euphrates, have been diverted and manipulated by man since Avraham Aveinu’s time. I find it difficult to believe that the Ba’alei HaGemarah were unaware of this. On the other hand the Tosaphists who lived in Europe where agriculture relied on rain were not familiar with major riparian diversions.

    P.S. Most people who see the Grand Canyon automatically make a berachah. It may not be the one prescribed by halacha but it almost always contains the word “Holy”.

  3. There are rivers that when you look at them are simply astounding and awe inspiring. This is true of the Missouri and al achat kama v’kama the Misissippi. I don’t know exactly at which river you draw the line (the Hudson is pretty amazing from certain vantage points too, though not on the scale of the ones I mentioned), but when one looks at certain rivers, the cited opinion of the Mishna Brura and Aruch HaShulchan becomes applicable in an obvious way.

  4. Another couple options I like, besides saying the optional blessing as you mention, is to say either “Baruch shekacha lo beolamo” (without the name of G-d to ensure we’re not saying a blessing in vain), or to say the phrase “Ma rabu maasecha Hashem, culam b’chachma asita, mala haaretz kinyanecha” (Tehillim 104). I’ve heard Rabbi Lazer Brody recommend saying such phrases, particularly the latter one, when you see anything beautiful (it doesn’t have to be a river, mountain, etc.). There is not a concern that one is saying the blessing incorrectly because they are not really blessings.

    One thing to ponder: in one pasuk in the Gemara it says one is liable to the death penalty for saying “Hey, that’s a beautiful tree” while studying Torah (or perhaps speaking words of Torah.) I’m a little puzzled at this. Maybe it was because the person didn’t praise G-d for beautiful tree? Or was it just a matter of interrupting Torah learning? That wouldn’t explain the death penalty part.

  5. There are some rivers — the Thames snaking through London — for which amazement happens not on first sight, but on living with it over time. It’s tidal and perceptibly lowers and rises over the course of the lunar month.

  6. Interestingly, none of the “rivers” around New York City are really rivers- the East River and Harlem Rivers are tidal straits and the southern half of the Hudson River is a tidal estuary or fjord. (This is one reason it’s not wise to swim in them, Kramer notwithstanding. It’s also why they don’t freeze.)

    The Hudson can be so inspiring that there’s a whole school of art named for it.

    My wife was on a bus heading past the Dead Sea today. The sight of rushing waterfalls (“afikim baNegev”) was so inspiring- it’s been a really good year, precipitation-wise, for Israel- that the bus burst into song: “Ushavtem mayim b’sason…” etc.

  7. An old friend of mine from Passaic and some friends from KGH and elsewhere recently rafted down the Grand Canyon and climbed their way out. The pictures were incredible.

  8. IH: Aren’t tides usually daily?

  9. Q: What is the main factor that affects the height of a tide?
    A: It’s the phase of the moon that has the biggest effect. High tides are highest around the dates of full moon and new moon, with full moon tides generally being rather bigger than new moon tides. The peak actually happens about 2 days after full moon or new moon. Low tides are lowest at these times too.

  10. “My wife was on a bus heading past the Dead Sea today. The sight of rushing waterfalls (“afikim baNegev”) was so inspiring- it’s been a really good year, precipitation-wise, for Israel- that the bus burst into song: “Ushavtem mayim b’sason…” etc.”

    Yes, some things have completely different realities in Israel and thus the halacha makes more sense from the older sources, when communities were actually living in Israel.

  11. @Shmuel:

    Rabbi Yisroel Belsky once told me that he made a b’racha when he flew over the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi.

  12. Shlomo, in the New York area , tides are twice a day that is there are two high tides and two low tides every day.

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