Dean of Yeshivat Har Bracha and Rabbi of the community of Har Bracha Rabbi Eliezer Melamed published an article Thursday in Sheva Magazine suggesting that when a Jew sees any good-looking and successful person, he or she should say a blessing, and that includes the watching of world class athletes performing feats of exceptional human prowess. Tractate Brachot 58a teaches: “If one sees beautiful creatures and beautiful trees, he says: Blessed is He who has such in His world (Barukh sh’kakha lo b’olamo).”
Seeing a beautiful or exceptionally gifted person arouses awe and admiration, explains Rabbi Melamed, but they also might arouse envy. The idol worshippers of antiquity worshipped those creatures, as do fans of athletes, musicians and movie stars nowadays. In fact, we actually call them idols, as in teen idol or American idol. By saying the blessing we remind ourselves that all this greatness came from a higher source, our God, the King of the Universe. And so, while we are taught by our sages to appreciate and become excited by beautiful people and things, we should express our feelings through a blessing that connects them to the core of the existence of these people and things.
However, it should be noted that a blessing may only be made over tangible objects we see and hear directly and not their depiction on the screen or over the radio or the telephone. Therefore, watching Israel’s bronze winners Yarden Gerbi and Or Sasson in the Olympic games in Rio on television did not qualify for a blessing, but if you were among the thousand or so sleep deprived Israelis who rushed one early morning this week to welcome them at Ben Gurion airport — then the blessing would have been most appropriate.