For years, while I struggled a lot with my religion and the traditions that were being passed down to me, one of the mitzvot (commandments) which I continued to love was saying blessings.
In Judaism, as the rabbi in Fiddler on the Roof says, there is a blessing for “everything”. A newly budding tree, the ocean in its vastness, thunder and lightning, before and after you eat or drink. My favourite is the blessing you say when you finish in the bathroom.
After you come out of the washroom you thank God that things are working as they should:
אם יפתח אחד מהם
או יסתם אחד מהם
אי אפשר להתקיים ולעמוד לפניך, אפילו שעה אחת
ברוך אתה ה’ רופא כל בשר ומפליא לעשות
Those are the last lines of the washroom blessing. We say thank you that the holes that should be open, are open and all the places that should be closed, are closed. And then we say, if it wasn’t so, we would not be able to stand before You, even one hour. Blessed are you, Hashem, who heals all bodies and whose actions are wondrous.
Even as I stopped keeping different things, I kept saying the brachot (blessings) because I thought it was a beautiful idea. But after a while I made a conscious decision not to say brachot anymore. I felt like I didn’t get it anymore. I didn’t know who I was talking to. I wanted it to be meaningful but didn’t know how to create that meaning. I didn’t want to keep saying them unless I knew why I was saying them.
One of the “reasons” given for saying blessings is that it helps you appreciate what you have. But really, does it? Supposedly if you have to stop to say a blessing before you put some food in your mouth, you’ll be more appreciative of having this food.
Guaranteed? I think not.
Of course it is considered spoiled to not appreciate what you have. And, according to comedian Louis CK, most of us are very spoiled. “Everything’s amazing right now and nobody’s happy,” he said. (You must watch the video where he says that in an interview with Conan O’Brien. It’s great. Like, really great.)
And appreciating what you have leads to happiness.
But the problem is that saying blessings, if it becomes mechanic and if you don’t actually meditate on the meaning, doesn’t help much. Yes, there is still the millisecond pause but that’s all it is once you become comfortable with the words and know them off by heart.
I now say blessings sometimes. But I wonder how I can re-integrate them into my life in a meaningful way.
(What a funny coincidence that Yosef posted about brachot at exactly the same time. You can read her post here.)