New Jersey Jewish News
Taking the blessing challenge
Is it just me or was 2006 a really difficult year? We encountered natural disasters of biblical proportions: floods, fires, droughts, and hurricanes pounded the country and the world. My morning coffee was generally accompanied by a newspaper filled with depressing stories about the war in Iraq, ethnic cleansing in Darfur, and Israel’s war against Hizbullah.
Lest you think I’m a pessimist, ask any of my friends and they will tell you that I am not a glass-half-empty kind of person. I always thought I was blessed because I had a “Pollyanna gene” which made me see the rosy side of things even when I lived in a city filled with smog. Yet I spent much of this year fighting off an overwhelming sense of gloom, fear, and anxiety. What’s happened to me?
I talked about my feelings with my husband, Ray. Besides being a psychiatrist and a wonderful guy, Ray has had diabetes since he was 12. Add to that a diagnosis of sprue (an intolerance to gluten), which means that for the past 22 years he’s been unable to eat anything with flour in it. But he never complains or loses sight of the many good things in his life.
Ray gave me something to fight off my blues that was better than Zoloft. He reminded me how important it is to acknowledge the many blessings we do have, despite all the struggles, fears, and disappointments that we inevitably face.
The Hebrew word for blessing is bracha, which comes from the word berech or knee; we bend at the knee when we approach God in prayer. Blessings help promote our awareness, gratitude, and awe of the world we live in and provide us with a language to thank, praise, and talk to God.
In Hebrew, there is a formula for blessings. Most begin with the words “Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha’olam…” which means “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe…” and then follow with specific acknowledgements or praise. But blessings don’t have to be formalized or even recited in Hebrew to be meaningful. Using our own words to bless life can often enable us to connect to the holiness around us more easily than using a formal language that may be difficult or foreign.
I remember the first time I noticed that my five-year-old son Joshua was kissing his food before putting it into his mouth. After a few days of this unusual ritual, I asked him why.
“Because I love it and it makes me happy,” he answered, munching on a piece of celery with peanut butter. I realized that my son was instinctively blessing the food he ate with gratitude and love.
Blessings are moments of being “present” in the deepest sense of the word. They help us recognize the many wonderful things we experience daily in our lives from the moment we wake up, when we thank God for waking and restoring our souls, to each time we eat, see something beautiful, celebrate first-time occasions, or study Jewish texts.
Blessings require an awareness, an openness to seeing with appreciative eyes the world and the relationships and interactions we have with others. An understanding smile from a friend, an unexpected invitation when you feel lonely, a meaningful look from a spouse or partner can serve to bless our life if we let them. These blessings may not acknowledge God directly as do traditional Jewish blessings, but they do acknowledge the divine spark within each of us that reaches out with compassion, love, and understanding toward other human beings.
The Jewish tradition teaches that we should say 100 blessings every day. As Thanksgiving approaches, what better time to stop and “take the blessing challenge.” Perhaps you may not be able to find 100 things every day to be thankful for, but even if you start with a few, you will begin to feel more optimistic, hopeful, and blessed about the good things in your life. And that in itself is a blessing.
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