Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Rethinking Blessings: Berachot as Presencing and Jewish Connectivity

ברוך אתה 

We've been teaching blessings all wrong.

Now that I have your attention, here's the error of our ways in Jewish education. We teach berachot, blessings, as "thanking God" for the things he gives us. It's totally incorrect, from a Hebrew language and a theological viewpoint. The word for blessing is ברכה, beracha, which is quite possibly related to the Hebrew word for knees [kneeling],  ברך  . The word for giving thanks is todah, תודה  , which appears, in various forms, in other prayers, but not in blessings.
Not only are we not thanking God in a beracha, we're not even blessing God. The exact wording that begins every blessing is "You are blessed, God.....", not "I bless you, God".
So, our beracha merely points out that God is blessed. Already. Always. Without our Beracha. We are saying what is, not adding any value to God's blessedness.
That recognition of God in the beracha also helps to explain a huge challenge: that we begin by speaking to God ["Blessed are You"] and end a beracha referring to God's action in third person [e.g., "who opens the eyes of the blind"].
So, if the goal of the beracha is not to praise or bless God, what does it do? It helps to establish a habit of mind for the Jew. In a busy world, in which we are constantly multitasking and moving, it requires us to  stop and smell the roses [quite literally] by pausing to acknowledge God’s blessedness as inherently manifest by that smell. So also by blessings on food, on seeing a beautiful person, on seeing a national ruler, on experiencing thunder and lightning, and more.
Each beracha gives us the opportunity to be fully present for a few seconds, to really connect with what we are experiencing.  Jewish tradition in not content with simply hoping that these opportunities will occur. It actually recommends a number of berachot – 100 – that a person should aim for each day [the Jewish version of “counting one’s blessings”].
The beracha, taught and used properly, is our tool to connect with the world and with the Godly.
For ideas about presenting Jewish Connectivity ideas like this, using modules for teachers, learners and families, be sure to email me at TheNotoriousRAV@gmail.com.

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