About the Power of Blessing by Lauren Shaps
I’ve been back in Canada for a couple of weeks following the October JWRP Momentum Mission to Israel. Our wonderful group from Ottawa joined Lori Palatnik and women from Israel, Russia and all over the United States for a life-changing experience. There were so many things that awed and inspired me on the trip, but one of the most powerful was the constant flow of blessings, and I don't mean only the "G-d bless you" kind after somebody sneezed.
Blessings play an important role in Jewish life. We say blessings in our prayers and before and after we eat. We bless others with a refuah shelama (a complete recovery) and with good health, prosperity, success and joy from their children and grandchildren. We ask G-d to bless us and all of the Jewish people with the ultimate blessing of peace.
In this week's parsha, Parashat Toldot, birthrights and blessings are bought and sold, desired, disdained, disclaimed, fought over and regretted. Only minutes after we meet our forefather Jacob and his older twin, Esau, the sons of Isaac and Rebecca, we arrive at the central drama of their relationship. First Esau casually trades Jacob his birthright for a bowl of beans and then later he sees his first-born blessing snatched away.
What is a blessing and how does it work? The Kabbalists use the language of humans to describe the spiritual world. They teach us that the spiritual world is difficult to perceive but impacts us nonetheless. Just as the physical world has laws governing it, such as gravity, so too the spiritual world has rules and order.
Speech is the bridge between the spiritual and material. Our words take the thoughts, feelings and spirit of our inner world and bring them into contact with the world outside ourselves. Even in English, our language reflects that reality. We say "make a blessing" or "give a blessing," not "say a blessing." A blessing is more than just words. Through the blessing, change occurs, a flow takes place between us and our Creator.
The Hebrew words boruch (blessed) and bracha (blessing) are related to the words breicha (a spring) and berech (knee). These two words give us a deeper understanding of what a blessing really is. By making, giving or receiving a blessing, we are connecting to the Ultimate Source. Like a spring, where water flows from a hidden source deep beneath the surface, so too every single thing about our lives is a gift that flows from our Creator. If I truly comprehend that concept, then I will experience a sense of "bended knee" or submission. Without G-d I am nothing and I have nothing, a humbling thought.
What a different perspective from the strong sense of entitlement we in the Western World possess. Raised in homes where our material and emotional needs were mostly met and launched into a life of full fridges, easy access to education and salaries that cover way more than the basics, it is easy to assume we deserve it all simply because we exist. To the best of our abilities, we shield our children from lack and pain and failure. That may feel right in the moment, but often it deprives them of the pleasure that comes from gratitude. G-d, the Ultimate Source of all that is good, wants to share that good with us. Our pleasure in receiving G-d's gifts is amplified when we are conscious of the gift and when we wish for those gifts to be showered on others as well.
When we take a moment to make a blessing, before or after eating, or to wish others well we become a piece of the pipeline in the flow from Above to below. We experience the incredible beneficence of our Creator, Who gives constantly and continuously. We feel a connection to the one Above and experience G-d's love. It is a warm, safe place to be but not an end in itself. Judaism requires us not only to be mindful of receiving G-d's blessings, but in turn to share those blessings with others.
Too bad Esau missed the point. He traded his birthright for a bowl of beans. He could have had Thanksgiving 365 days a year.
Lauren Shaps, MSW is a JWRP city leader and full time adult Jewish educator. She works closely with her husband, Rabbi Zischa Shaps and they are blessed with 5 wonderful children. Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org