Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 66

June 4, 2021

The Mysticism of Blessing

Dear Holy Friends,

I hope this correspondence finds you doing well and beginning to enjoy both the summer weather, as well as some of our returning liberties in the world at large. Indeed, it is arguable to suggest that as we prepare for our “soft re-opening,” this is an appropriate time to pause and, with great intention, share a prayer of thanksgiving.

Along those lines, allow me to share a couple thoughts regarding the powerful words of the traditional Hebrew formula of blessing with which you are all familiar:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
Blessed are You, Adonai,
our God,
King of the Universe.

ב The first letter of the word of blessing is beit which means house. When we pause to share words of blessing, we are making room in our hearts and minds for godliness. This space in time provides a house in which for God to dwell in this world.

ר The second letter of the word of blessing is reish, which symbolizes the rosh, or head. The act of blessing requires not just verbalization of a myriad of formulaic passages but rather an intellectual awareness or reawakening to the presence of God in the world.

ך The third letter of the word of blessing is chaf, which symbolizes chapayim or cupped hands. When we say a blessing, we are metaphorically cupping our hands to accept the overflowing energy and goodness from the Divine above.

The first three letters of the initial word of blessing are ב ר ך. In Hebrew, berech means knee and reminds us that when we recite a blessing, we are bending our knees and bowing before our Maker.

And finally, I will present my next comment in the form of a riddle which I often will ask my students. My question is, “what is the first letter sounded when reciting a blessing?”

Based on your own personal experience of having recited these prayers for many years and after analyzing the component letters of the word for blessing, בָּרוּךְ, you likely would answer the question by offering that the first sound is ב or “b.”

However, there is a mystical tradition that says the first sound is the letter א because an א always comes before a ב. And what sound does the א make? Well, without a vowel, the aleph is in fact silent. Therefore, the mystics say we require an aleph which, as the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, represents the number one and hence directs us to acknowledge the unity of God (which is of course the entire point of the blessing in the first place). Furthermore, the silent aleph is our pause before the blessing to really open ourselves to the power of language and gratitude.

Folks, we will recite blessings this Shabbat. We will recite blessings each day and we will recite blessings when we join together. May we all appreciate the power of blessing and use our language and opportunities to make the world a holier place. May all our endeavors as individuals and as a holy community continue to bring us blessings.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD
201 562 5277

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