Blessings are funny things. They come trippingly off the tongue when someone sneezes. Earlier this week, I mortified my daughter when a woman walking into Target in front of us sneezed, and I called out “Bless You” in my usual bell-like tone. It’s habit. And I mean it – a blessing. Not because I believe, as I was taught, that the response is meant to bless the person whose heart stops when they sneeze, and thus keep them from dying. I’m not big on magical thinking these days. But really – what a wonderful gift to give a person.
Yet, how often do we give, or receive, real blessings? At life cycle events, certainly – baby namings, bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings. That’s usually the job of clergy, at least in my experience. I don’t think I’ve ever given a blessing to anyone in my life, other than in response to a sneeze. Maybe when I gave birth, I gave my daughter the blessing of life. That feels right to me.
Nor have I received many blessings, other than at moments of ritual (and during allergy season). One exception stands out in my mind, my heart, and my soul. Some years ago, I was in the midst of a monumental emotional struggle – working to heal from traumatic childhood wounds. I was fighting to stay alive – to not give in to the strong temptation of ending what felt like unbearable pain. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t find God; something I had never had trouble with before. I believed in God before I believed in Judaism. I went to my Rabbi – a brilliant man – who told me, after we talked for a long time, that if he could give me a blessing, it would be that I wouldn’t feel like my pain was all of my life, but only a part of it. He quickly added “not now – now you’re in the middle of it. But down the road.”
I carried this (would-be) blessing for years. It sat on my shoulder, reminding me that sometime in the future, there was the hope for some peace in life, not merely in death. It sustained me over years of continued internal confrontation and conflagration. I heard my Rabbi’s voice – his kind, confident voice – in my head. And I knew hope. At my time of darkest hopelessness, I knew hope. What better blessing could there be?
I’ve decided to participate for the first time in #blogElul, which I have followed for a few years. I’ve never had the courage to get my feet wet – this year, I’m jumping into the deep end of the pool! Check out some of the amazing themed posts geared around the work and joy of Elul – of introspection and reflection in the days leading to the High Holy Days (Organized by Ima Bima.) You can read last year’s and this year’s #blogElul posts via the Elul tag.