This is a practice not just for this week, but for permanent application. As I’m focusing on it, however, I remember a verse in Hebrews: “It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior” (Heb. 7:7). The context is the meeting of Melchizedek and Abraham, when Melchizedek blessed Abraham, thereby, Hebrews claims, demonstrating his superiority over our patriarch. But if it’s true that the inferior is blessed by the superior, how can we say that we bless God, our ultimate superior, in the morning prayers?
I’ve heard some translations of the Siddur that get around this dilemma by translating the opening words of the blessings as “Praised be the Lord . . .” or “The Lord our God is to be thanked.” The Annotated Jewish New Testament takes a whole different tack, contradicting Hebrews. Commenting on the inferior is blessed by the superior, it says: “the reverse is frequent; Melchizedek himself blesses ‘God Most High’ (Gen. 14:20).”
But I think there’s a better way of understanding this dilemma, which supports Hebrews 7:7 and sheds light on the middah of gratitude as well. Genesis says of Melchizedek, Vay’varechehu “And he blessed him [Abraham],” and then he said baruch Avram, “blessed is Avram.” Melchizedek added after that, “and blessed is God.” It’s as if Melchizedek first bestows blessing upon Abraham and as a result says he is blessed. In God’s case, however, the Torah doesn’t say that Melchizedek blessed him, but only that he said that God is blessed. Melchizedek bestows blessing on Abraham, and recognizes that God is blessed in himself, inherently blessed; as the Siddur says, he is ha-M’vorach, the Blessed One.
So there’s the reality of bestowing a blessing, as a superior does to an inferior, and the reality of recognizing a blessing that another already possesses. This distinction ties right into our definition of gratitude as hakarat ha-tov, recognizing the good. In the morning, when we recite the blessings, we’re not imparting a blessing upon God—as if we could!—but we’re recognizing that he is the Blessed One, who bestows upon us manifold gifts. We don’t want to take these gifts for granted, so we begin our day by affirming them as coming from the Blessed One. This affirmation sets us up to practice gratitude throughout the day, recognizing the good around us and expressing thanks to the One who is the source of it all.