Blessing on Niagara Falls
We’re planning a trip to Canada soon and we’ll be stopping at Niagara Falls. Is there a blessing to say on such an awesome sight?
The Aish Rabbi Replies
Enjoy your trip first of all!
There is no clear resolution to your question. I’ll write some of the background to the issue and the reasons for the lack of certainty in this case.
In general, there is an obligation to praise God for the wonders of creation – upon seeing such natural wonders as mountains, oceans and great rivers. The blessing said is:
Baruch Atta Ado-nai, Elo-heinu Melech Ha'Olam, Oseh Ma'aseh Bereishit.
Blessed are You God, King of the universe, who forms the works of Creation.
One of the criteria for reciting this blessing is that the wonder impresses you. That is certainly the case (for almost all people) with Niagara Falls. And in fact, it has been a common custom to recite the above blessing upon seeing it.
However, there is one main reason for doubt. Another one of the criteria for reciting this blessing is that the natural wonder is unchanged since creation – so that we can bless the God who has created it. There is an unresolved question if we can make that assumption regarding rivers, whose course may have changed (or been changed by man) over the millennia. This is very possibly of concern with Niagara Falls as it has been modified somewhat by man for tourism and hydropower generation, and even has been stopped altogether temporarily for construction purposes.
Some note further that powerful waterfalls constantly carve away at the landscape and change their course. It thus stands to reason that the Niagara Falls of today is not identical to what it was long ago.
Therefore, the conclusion is that one should recite a shortened version of the blessing – without saying God’s Name: “Baruch Oseh Ma'aseh Bereishit” – “Blessed [is He] who forms the works of Creation.” Alternatively, if you see Lake Ontario together with the falls – and it impresses you – you can say the entire blessing on the two sites together
See this webpage for a more detailed discussion.
Finally, whether with a full blessing or not, viewing Niagara Falls is certainly an appropriate time to reflect on the incredible beauty and power God placed in the world. Again, enjoy your vacation!