A regular reader asked: “Rabbi, I want to say a blessing before eating, but since my stroke it is hard for me to remember the words of all the blessings. Is there a “one size fits all” blessing which I could say?
First of all, good for you! Saying blessings before eating is a wonderful practice.
Because language provides many different challenges to people, here are several suggestions. Choose whichever you think might be helpful in your case.
- You can say blessings in English if that would be easier for you. That is a perfectly valid option and not “cheating.”
- For blessings over food, consider printing them out and putting the paper or card near where you eat. This page from MyJewishLearning.com would work nicely for that purpose.
- The CCAR Press offers a nice app you can have as close as your smartphone or tablet: An App for Blessings
- There is no official “one size fits all” food blessing, but you could try using these two if you like:
- For a meal that includes any wheat product, the blessing hamotzi (follow link to the text) covers the entire meal, except for wine.
- For a snack or meal that does not include bread, you could use the shehakol blessing (again, linked.) Some readers may point out that that isn’t quite traditional, but the literal words of the blessing seem to me to cover the subject sufficiently – definitely better than no blessing at all.
- If you are sitting and looking at the food and can’t recall what to say, and your cue sheet isn’t nearby, here’s what you can do. Say: “Blessed are you, Adonai our God, who provides [name the food] for me.”
- If there are other Jews present who know the blessing, invite them to bless, then say “Amen.”
Let’s take this one step farther, in case someone with aphasia searches this question and reads this. Let’s say speech is very difficult, or recalling words is difficult. You are ready to eat, and the blessing just isn’t there, or isn’t going to come out of your mouth. In such a case, I suggest you look at the food. Let the intention of the blessing enter your heart: appreciate God’s creation and this gift to you, God’s creature. Now eat. God knows what you just said with your heart.
Most of all, remember that this is not a contest. There’s a very famous story that applies here. I’m going to quote Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, since she tells it so well:
The story is told that once the Baal Shem Tov, the great Chasidic teacher, was leading a prayer service. Within the congregation there was a simple shepherd boy, who could barely read. He didn’t know any of the prayers. But as the Baal Shem Tov led the congregation, the boy was so moved that he wanted to pray. Instead of the words of the prayers, he began to recite the letters of the alef-bet. He said, “Oh God, I don’t know the words of the prayers, I only know all these letters. Please, God, take these letters and arrange them into the right order to make the right words.” The Baal Shem Tov heard the boy’s words and stopped all the prayers. “Because of the simple words of this boy,” he said, “all of our prayers will be heard in the highest reaches of Heaven.”
May our blessings, however fragmentary we feel them to be, speak our truths to the Holy One of Blessing. May the act of blessing itself bless us and our communities, near and far.