Thursday, June 21, 2007

Baruch Shekivanti?

In the beit midrash, it is considered an exciting delight to find that one's original thought was actually innovated by an earlier source, unbeknownst to the current thinker. This is usually taken to be a vindication of the thought patterns of the learner, and an exoneration of his logic. The happy student may exclaim, 'baruch shekivanti!', which ostensibly means 'blessed is He who directed me [to the same conclusion as source x]'. This phrase has become of modern parlance in orthodox circles, and is used in situations removed from torah learning, as well.

However, it is interesting to note that the Hebrew phrase does not mean what we hope it to mean; it is grammatically incoherent. 'Kiven' means 'directed'. It is the פיעל form of .כ.ו.נ. The 'ti' at the end simply appends the subject, I. Taken together, 'kivanti' means 'I directed'. 'Baruch' is a word that connotes blessing or thanks to the subject. So, 'baruch shekivanti' means 'blessed is it that I have directed'.

Obviously, this is not what users of the phrase mean to say. The speaker means the blessing or thanks to be directed towards God, who has directed him to the thought at hand.

To be as forgiving as possible, one might suggest that the pharse simply means to bless the very fact that the thinker has been directed to this thought. However, this also falls apart, because the subject of the Hebrew formulation is the thinker himself! It is improbable indeed that a student would be so full of hubris as to bless the fact that he himself directed the thought into his own mind. In any case, that would not require a blessing.

Rather, it seems that the proper formulation in Hebrew should be, 'Baruch Shekivnani'. 'Kiven' still means 'directed', but the suffix 'ani' makes the speaker the object, not the subject. Thus the subject is God (who is commonly taken as an implied subject in phrases of blessing*), and the thinker is the object of the directing that God has done. Thus, 'Blessed or thanks to He who directed me'.

*For example, ברוך דיין אמת, or ברוך שפטרני מענשו של זה, which are shortenings of the standard blessing formulation, and imply God as the subject.


Raphael Adams


This entry came up when I googled baruch shekivanti to try to explain it to someone.

Very nicely written. I'll bookmark you.



Are you sure it would be "kivnani" ? Something about that sounds unnatural. I was thinking it might be "kivanni" (with a dagesh in the nun), in a similar way that k-v-n is conjugated in pi'el 1st person plural "kivannu"