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Finding Blessings


Exercise: I invite you this week to concentrate on blessing people in your life. I invite you to look at the people around you and imagine: what are the words they need to hear right now? How can I name something in them that will be strengthened and enlivened by its being noticed? Take note of someone you love, write down or think about the words they need. Then, perhaps, find the courage to offer them directly to this person.

Meaning of Blessing

God created the Earth in seven days, and on the seventh day God blessed the seventh day and made it holy. I am moved by this divine example to live my life as if the world is filled with blessings waiting to be noticed and uncovered. Torah also teaches that God gives the power of blessing to Abraham and his descendants, so we have a sacred task of noticing and naming the blessings in the world around us. By taking on this task, we evoke and bring into the world that which otherwise would remain hidden and unseen.

Our liturgy endeavors to help us in this task. The prayerbook captures the efforts of the Jewish people over millennia to describe facets of the conversation between humanity and God. It crystalizes in poetic writings people’s authentic spiritual experiences, captured and frozen to help inspire us in our own spiritual endeavors.

Yet a book that should free us and invite us into spiritual living has the shadow side of trying to force us into someone else’s spiritual experience. We see the words on the page and feel we ought to read them rather than seeing them as an invitation to find our own words. As a result, we lack inspiration and find the prayer experience boring because it no longer facilitates a deeper experience of awe and love.

One solution is to see the words of the prayerbook as offering themes and ideas rather than a limitation on what can be said. For example, when I recite the prayer in the Amidah that offers thanks to God, I often call to mind five things for which I am grateful in that moment. I let the structure and themes guide me. The paragraph has five sentences, so I call five things to mind:

When I recite the words, “how marvelous is Your creation,” I often look out my window. During Thursday services this time of year the sun is often rising just at that moment. I look out at the sunrise, feel the sense of generations of people noticing beauty in the world and being moved by it, and feel a sense of joy suffusing my body. This feeling carries me into the silent prayer and I let myself sit with and feel that joy and gratitude and experience it as an offering to the divine.

I will tell you one funny/embarrassing story. After my children were born, for years I thought the Thanksgiving prayer praised God for the “souls entrusted into our care.” How beautiful, I thought. We are thanking God for our responsibility to one another and in particular to our children. After honestly thinking these were the words of the prayer for more than a decade, I suddenly realized I had been reading it wrong. It really says, “Thank you for the souls entrusted into Your care.”

But I like my version better. So I say it because it means something to me and captures a moment in my own spiritual life that I want to be part of my conversation with myself and God. So I do.

Offering Blessings

I bless my children in a formal way every Friday night. I have never missed a Friday. Sometimes I tell them something special and other times I use the traditional words and give them a hug and a kiss. I want them to feel my love for them at all times and I want them to feel that my love for them connects them to something bigger than any of us. In recent years, I have endeavored to bless others. To do so, I have to look and see what is hidden in them and needs to be named. What qualities or characteristics should be noticed and drawn out so that they can realize such elements are a part of who they are. How can I say to them words that will strengthen or encourage? That is the work of a blessing.

Shabbat Shalom


Sat, December 9 2023 26 Kislev 5784