Shabbat candles: 7:31 p.m.
Torah: Deut. 7:12-11:25
Haftarah: Isaiah 49:14-51:3
Havdalah: 8:31 p.m.
“You shall eat, you shall be satisfied, you shall bless the Lord your God…” [Deuteronomy 8:10].
From this passage, the practice of brachot (blessings) emerges. In the verse, a person will eat, he or she will experience satisfaction and will offer blessing. By the time of the Talmud, the second-century sage Rabbi Meir advises us to recite at least 100 blessings daily [Menachot 43b], the Jewish version of “counting your blessings.” And blessings become not just about food, but are expanded to include dressing in the morning, witnessing thunder or lightening, learning of a birth or death, fulfilling a mitzvah, seeing a rainbow, going to the beach for the first time in a year, seeing a friend after a long absence, leaving for a journey. Brachot also become the core of prayer in the Amida meditation.
For the person who participates in three daily prayer services and has three well-rounded meals daily, with their full regimen of brachot, getting to 100 is a no-brainer. But for those who are not so disciplined, or eat far too many meals on the run, Rabbi Meir challenges us to be more conscious of the blessings in our life, and of acknowledging a minimum daily requirement of 100 such blessings in any case.
On a superficial level, we appear to bless God for the goodness of the world and for partaking of it. But does God need our blessings? Looking carefully at the Hebrew of our blessings, we see that we’re not giving blessings to God, but actually describing a state of blessedness through which we experience God. Baruch ata Adonai, You, God, are [already] blessed, and we recognize it.
Viewed in this way, a bracha does not change God or the universe in any way. What it does is direct our attention to be more fully present: to recognize the wonder and miracles in activities as seemingly mundane as opening our eyes in the morning, taking a drink of water, or even going to the bathroom. Every “mundane” moment is more fully experienced and made “holy” as we practice a spiritual discipline that calls attention to our world and its Godly gifts. I’ll admit: many times, the bracha I recite is mumbled in a rote way. That’s my loss. By not being fully attentive to the bracha I recite, I fail to be fully attentive to the blessings in my life and my world. Spiritual disciplines are just that — disciplines. They take practice to get right. Once we become fully present through the practice of blessings, we can no longer be hoarders; blessings are given to be shared with others. Reciting a bracha over food helps us to not take food for granted, moves us to demand that it be produced under ethical standards, and that we share it (along with the recognition of food’s blessedness) with those in need. The blessing in which we recognize the Godliness of healing doesn’t end there. It awakens us to share that blessing. Perhaps through an organ donor card or by taking a CPR course. While I didn’t go to medical school (sorry, Mom), I can be a Godly partner in healing through my regular blood donations. And these actions are no longer mundane. They become holy actions as we become conscious of the Godly through the bracha we recite.
There is one more bracha worth special attention: Birkcat Habanim v’Habanot, the blessing of children by parents, traditionally on Friday night. Unlike the “Baruch ata Adonai” formula that acknowledges the blessedness of God, this is a blessing that we wish for our children. Rather than God being the source of blessedness, we as parents step up to partner with God in bestowing our wishes for blessings on our children. Regardless of Shabbat observance, this is the one Shabbat action that shouldn’t be missed: the opportunity to tell our children that we wish them, with the help of God, to lead great lives. Self-esteem is a challenge for young people. Taking the time to remind them of their specialness and the blessedness is one of the most important things we can do for them.
The Talmudic sage, Rabbi Akiva taught: beloved is humanity, for humanity was created in God’s image. It is a greater love that it was made known to him that he was created in God’s image.
The same idea applies to us as parents: it is great that we wish blessings for our children. But it is a special act of love when we let them know, as God does for us, how precious they are and the blessings we wish for them. Take a few moments to bless your children this Friday night. You can find the parental blessings in your prayer book, or online. And add your own blessing.
Rabbi Arnold D. Samlan is Westchester regional director of The Jewish Education Project, a blogger (The Notorious R.A.V.) and founder of Jewish Connectivity (@JewishConnectiv).