by Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback
There’s a blessing for seeing an elephant. This might surprise you but, when you pause to think about it, it really shouldn’t. After all, there’s a blessing for most everything in our tradition: a blessing before eating bread, for putting on a tallit, when lighting the Sabbath candles, after finishing a meal. There’s a blessing for drinking water and a blessing for seeing a rainbow. There’s even a blessing traditionally said after one uses the bathroom.
According to Maimonides, this is the blessing one says upon seeing an elephant:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם מְשַׁנֶּה אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת.
Barukh Ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melekh ha-olam, M’shaneh et ha-briyot.
Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who varies the forms of creation!
The elephant, most likely on account of its enormous size, long tusks, big ears, and extraordinary trunk, was deemed so unusual, so different, that it merited a special blessing giving praise and thanks to God for the wonderous diversity of our world.
Last month I realized a lifelong dream when I had the opportunity to travel to Tanzania with my family. We were on safari for seven days in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation Areas.
I’ve loved elephants my whole life. My favorite stuffed animal as a kid was an elephant named “Saggy Baggy” on account of the generous rolls of fabric that formed his skin. I’d never before seen elephants in the wild and wanted more than anything on this journey to encounter a herd.
On our last day of touring as we explored the magical Ngorgoro Crater, formed over two million years ago by the collapse of an enormous volcano, we came upon a glorious herd of over twenty elephant cows and their babies. Watching them graze together, I found myself incredibly moved. There is so much beauty in our world. There is so much for which to be grateful, so many miracles that should fill us with wonder.
Sometimes we need to travel ten thousand miles or so to witness it. But sometimes it’s as near as can be: the gentle caress of a spouse, the loving support of a friend, the soothing sound of an evening rain shower. Our world is filled with so many wonders. Let us remember to pause to give thanks to the Maker of All, מְשַׁנֶּה אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת (M’shaneh et ha-briyot), the One responsible for the glorious diversity of Creation.