Today the NASA spaceship New Horizons will fly past Pluto and snap the closest images ever taken of that heavenly body. I thought some of you might like to learn the appropriate blessing for seeing natural wonders.
Baruch atah Adonai, Elohaynu Melech ha’Olam, she’ka’kha lo b’olamo.
Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Ruler of Time-and-Space, who has such creations in Your world.
(The image featured with this article is in the public domain. It was taken by the New Horizons ship on its approach.)
It is perfectly OK to say the blessing in English. Some of you may know slightly different English words. That’s all right. Many of the Hebrew words in the blessing have multiple choices for English translation. I used the ones that I like; please feel free to do the same for yourself!
“Torah” in this case refers to all sacred texts, whether they are from Tanach or rabbinic texts. It might apply to a modern text that we are reading with the intention of Torah study: for instance, a modern commentary or even a work of fiction or poetry.
I am always a little amused by the word “la’a-sok.” The first time I heard it, it sounded like the English word “soak” and I pictured the study group, sitting in a hot tub, soaking in the words of Torah. The more Torah I study, the more apt that image seems: we marinate in the words of Torah.
“[God] sanctifies us with commandments” – what do those words mean to you? How can a person be made holy by a commandment? How do they apply, in the case of this particular blessing?
Blessed are you, Eternal our God, Ruler of Time-and-Space, who has given us life, protected us, and brought us to this moment.
But what about something more specific? The guy is a baby boomer like myself – we’re of an age now when getting a new job means triumphing over ageism and beating the odds. Getting a new job is a very big deal, and it speaks to dignity and survival. I think it should have its own special blessing:
Baruch Ata, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shenatan li tikvah v’ko-ach v’he-vi oti l’avodah hadashah zo, kach ani yochal l’hitparnas.
Blessed are you, Eternal our God, Ruler of Time-and-Space, who gives me hope and strength and has brought me to this new employment so that I may make a living.
May the day come when all people have the dignity of honest work for a sufficient wage and the sustenance of body and spirit it provides!
Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Sovereign over all that is,
Who sets within human beings the desire to gather together
to prepare food with memory and gratitude, to share that food
with friends new and old, with family from near and far.
You give us minds to understand the issues of the day;
please grant us the love and patience
with which to respect our differences,
for when those who disagree can truly listen to one another
miracles can happen.
Grant us mindfulness about our food; bless those who grew it,
who picked it, and brought it to market.
Bless those who prepared it and cooked it.
Grant us the awareness of the many sources of this food,
not only in the present, but the minds and hearts in the past
who devised ways to make simple things delicious.
May we rise from this table
with new understandings of one another:
filled not only with food,
but with gratitude for our many blessings.
Blessed are you, Holy One, who has given us hearts
that can appreciate one another,
and the many blessings we receive.
Observant Jews make a blessing before we eat, not just before meals, but before we eat a bite of anything. It is a way of acknowledging that the world is not ours, that we did not create the food, and that we notice the blessings around us.
My garden is a little late this year, but I finally have tomatoes reddening on the vine. Before I eat one, I’ll say the blessing for food that grows from the earth:
This text, from Numbers 6:24-26, is known as the Birkat Kohanim, or priestly blessing. It is one of the most familiar passages of Torah to a synagogue-going Jew. In the synagogue service, traditionally it is pronounced by the adult male kohanim (descendants of Aaron) daily in Israel and on certain days of the year in the Diaspora. (For a video of kohanim giving the blessing at the Western Wall, click this link.)
The priestly blessing is also used for blessings on other occasions. Parents may say it over children on Shabbat evenings, and a chazzan (cantor) or rabbi in the Reform movement may say it on a solemn occasion for blessing, such as a baby naming, a conversion, or a birthday.
It is associated with a hand gesture that is often pictured on the grave markers of kohanim (see photo below).
This text is the content of the oldest Biblical inscription currently known, the Ketef Hinnom inscription, found in 1979 near the Old City of Jerusalem. The words were inscribed in paleo-Hebrew on thin silver strips and rolled into an amulet to be worn on a string around the neck. They are estimated to be from the early 6th century BCE (1st Temple period) based upon analysis of the script.
The sanctification of ordinary life is a hallmark of Jewish living. “You shall be holy, as the Eternal your God is holy” begins the Holiness Code, the very heart of the Torah (Leviticus 19.)
So when we eat, we take an ordinary thing (eating) and turn it into something more, something sacred, by surrounding the act of eating with blessings.
First, we NOTICE: I’m going to eat dinner!
Then, we ACKNOWLEDGE by blessing: Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Creator of Time & Space, who brings forth bread from the earth. We acknowledge that we are not the Bosses of Dinner: even if I cooked that dinner, I did not grind the flour, I did not grow the green beans, and I certainly didn’t give life to all the various components of the meal. By blessing I acknowledge that it is a miracle that the meal exists and that many human hands and perhaps animal lives went into making it. I acknowledge that this meal is a miracle.
Then we EAT. Yay!
Then we BLESS again. This time it is a long blessing called the Birkat Hamazon, It is a set of four blessings that we say because of the mitzvah (commandment) in Deuteronomy 8:10 “You will eat, and you will be satisfied, and you will bless.” This time it is a thank you blessing, but it doesn’t stop with a private thanksgiving. It goes on to thank God for sustaining all creatures, for sustaining the Jewish People, asking that God sustain the Jews in the future (sort of a thanks-in-advance) and then a fourth blessings gives thanks for all the many happy relations between God and Israel. Rabbi Micah Greenstein of Temple Israel, Memphis has made a very nice YouTube video you can watch below.