Is There a Blessing for a Hurricane?
By Yehuda Shurpin
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When a hurricane hits, we pray that everyone should be safe and secure, dry and warm. And we pray for the security of their property. But we also say a blessing. Every act of nature is a G‑dly act, but a hurricane, after all, is an awesome demonstration of our smallness and the vast power of our Creator, right before our very eyes.
There are two blessings to choose from upon witnessing extraordinary natural phenomena—including extremely strong winds.1 Those two blessings (of which only one may be said on each occasion) are:
Baruch Atah Ado-nai Elo-hei-nu Melech haolam, osay ma’asei bereisheet.
Translation: Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, Maker2 of the works of creation.
Baruch Atah Ado-noi Elo-hei-nu Melech haolam, shekocho ugevurato malei olam.
Translation: Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, whose power and might fill the world.
Now, the Jerusalem Talmud explains that you should say the second blessing, “whose power and might fill the world,” only when the wind blows vehemently. Otherwise, if there are merely stronger-than-usual winds, you should recite only the first blessing, “Maker of the works of creation.”3
The question is, how severe must a wind be to be considered “vehement”? Hurricanes, for example, are categorized from category 1, having winds of 74 to 95 miles per hour and causing very moderate damage, to category 5, over 155 miles per hour and capable of causing catastrophic damage.
Since the Jerusalem Talmud does not elaborate on this matter, and neither do we have any clear tradition, Mishnah Berurah states that it is best to simply say “who reenacts the works of creation,” which is appropriate in either case.4
On the other hand, others write that if the wind is strong enough to break windows, shake doors, lift heavy objects off the ground or anything similar, you should make the first blessing, “who reenacts the works of creation.” That pretty much sounds like a typical category 1 hurricane.
But, they say, if the wind becomes so strong and dangerous that it is liable to cause casualties, then you should make the second blessing, “whose power and might fill the world.”5
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, however, follows the plain language of the Shulchan Aruch, which does not take the statement of the Jerusalem Talmud into account. He makes no distinction, stating that you can say either blessing, as long as the wind is a very strong one.6
The appropriate time for the blessing is while the wind can be heard clearly and loudly—or at least, while its powerful effect is clearly apparent, but no more than one or two seconds afterward.7
By the way, you don’t have to wait for a hurricane to say either of these blessings. They are also said on shooting stars, comets, earthquakes, volcanoes, lightning and thunder. Majestic mountains and rivers are also candidates—but not all of them. As Aruch Hashulchan writes, the blessing is reserved for those sights in which the magnificent work of their Creator is especially apparent.8 Also, if you’ve seen the same sight in the last 30 days, don’t say the blessing again now.9
And while you’re shacked up indoors, waiting for the weather to calm down, here’s a nice animation about blessings on spectacles of nature: Is There a Blessing for Seeing a Meteor Shower?
1. See Talmud, Berachot 54a and 59a.
2. Note that some siddurim have oseh, which would translate as “who makes,” or “who re-enacts.” The Chabad siddur, however, has osay, which translates as “the Maker of.”
3. Literally: “the works of the beginning.” The implication is that the Creator not only made all these phenomena “in the beginning,” but continues to reenact the act of creation at every moment, as He sustains the creation in perpetuity. See What Is B’riah?
4. Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (1838–1933), Mishnah Berurah 227:4.
5. See Piskei Teshuvot 227:4, citing Rabbi Yair Chayim Bacharach (author of Chavos Ya’ir), in his work Mekor Chaim, Orach Chaim 227.
6. Seder Birchat Hanehenin 13:15. See commentary of Magen Avraham to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 227:1.
7. See Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 227:3, and Mishnah Berurah 227:13.
8. Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein (1829–1908), Aruch Hashulchan 228:2.
9. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 224:13.
BY YEHUDA SHURPIN