A sweet scent: d'var Torah for Vayikra
8 Nisan: Learning

7 Nisan: Blessing

BlogExodusIn English the word blessing is a gerund, an ongoing-action word. I am blessing you; you are blessing me; I am blessing God; God is blessing us.

In Hebrew, ברכה / brakha is related to breikha (fountain) and berekh (knee). We bend ourselves in acknowledgement the fountain from Whom all blessings flow. (Those insights come from R' Marcia Prager in her book The Path of Blessing, which I reviewed back in 2004.)

The seder meal is full of blessings. We bless candles, bless wine, bless the greens we dip in salt water, bless matzah, bless hand-washing, bless our meal, bless the Holy Blessed One Who brought us out of Mitzrayim with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.

And then there are the blessings of our togetherness, of sitting around a table with loved ones, of entering into familiar stories and songs and poems and psalms, of retelling once again the story that makes us who we are. Experiencing seder is itself a blessing.

Several years ago I took a class at the old Elat Chayyim, taught by Rabbi Barry Barkan, on the practice of offering blessings. We studied a variety of texts relating to blessings. Barry also challenged us to give spontaneous / impromptu blessings to people over the course of the week. The first few times I turned to someone in the class and said, "May I give you a blessing?" I felt a little bit awkward, as though I were play-acting. But what I took away from that class is that each of us can be a conduit for the blessings that God pours into creation.

"Blessing is a state of being; it may not change the situation, but it changes our response to the situation," teaches Reb Barry. (Here's a transcript of one of his teachings on blessing, given over at the Aquarian Minyan in 2008.)

In Jewish tradition we don't simply speak blessings; our language speaks of making blessings . We can give blessings, or perhaps more accurately channel them (as R' Barry teaches), and we can make blessings (as when we bless the elements of the seder meal, blessing God Who creates all things.) And, as songwriter Debbie Friedman noted, drawing on Torah (may her memory be a blessing), we can make ourselves a blessing. Each of us can be a blessing in the world.

That's part of the gift of the Exodus. Once we were slaves, unable to bless, unable to access blessing in our own lives or to articulate it for others. The spiritual constriction of slavery precludes blessing. But now we understand ourselves to be freed from that constriction. We are free to enter into relationship with the Holy Blessed One -- to sanctify every moment of our lives -- and to channel divine blessing for those we meet.

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