This week’s portion, Naso, contains a wealth of information. We discuss the Nazarites,(6) the very interesting ritual associated with the “soteh” (5) and a call for another census (4). Yet, the most famous aspect of this portion is easily the so-called “Priestly benediction”, that three fold blessing that is so familiar to us in so many situations. (6:22-27). We, of course, are a religious civilisation that focuses a lot on blessings. We are called upon to recite at least 100 a day, according to Talmud. The very aspect of blessing infuses every aspect of daily life, from waking up to going to sleep. In her classic “The Book of Blessings”, Marcia Falk writes : “A blessing–in Hebrew “b’rakhah”–is a special kind of utterance that can turn a moment into an event. Blessings intensify life by increasing our awareness of the present even while awakening our connections to the past. In a richly faceted world, full of surprise and infinite variation, the source of blessing is everywhere to be found. No wonder the rabbis of the Talmud (b.Berakhot 35a) proclaimed it is forbidden to enjoy anything of this world without first saying a blessing.”
I think this concept of blessing has special relevance and meaning for us as we get older. We become more aware of life’s fragile nature and, as we have discussed a lot here, the randomness of time. Moments that may have been ordinary years ago, take on a little more meaning. Family gatherings and meetings and occasions with friends become more cherished. We have become, I think, in many ways distant from the concept of saying and being a blessing. Modern American Judaism had “professionalized” the saying of blessings. Clergy does that! Yet, the saying of and acknowledgment of blessings is open to all. Maybe part of the elder revolution that we have spoken about needs to include the freeing of blessing from being the sole province of clergy. The “democratizing” of blessing is part of our tradition. It is also freeing.
We are so much more aware now of time and life. That grandchild hug, or dinner with close friends, or the sunrise of sunset that makes us stop: opportunities for blessings. And so much more. Maybe in discussing this Torah portion we can expand it to begin to see the need to return to what some of tradition has been teaching us. Be a blessing and say a blessing. Embrace the power of blessing as each one reminds us that we are part of a larger truth.
How to begin” Here is a simple suggestion. At night before going to bed, a great line is the first of the “Hashkeveinu” prayer: “Cause me to lie down in peace and all me to waken in life”. And upon opening our eyes, the “Modeh Ani” which simply says that “I am thankful for another day of life”. Yes, there are prescribed blessings for everything. (see the wealth of them in sections of the morning service). But, feel free to create your own as moments in life reach you and touch your soul for meaning.
Rabbi Richard Address
PS: If you are interested in seeing a collection of new blessings and prayers that are being used in Jewish Sacred Aging work, go to the web site and click on Resources at the top menu and download the “New Rituals for New Life Stages”.
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.