Daily Mindfulness, AKA The Practice of Jewish Blessings

29 11 2011

One of the things that I love about Judaism is its sanctification of the mundane.  You’re about to eat a strawberry?  There’s a blessing for it.  What about a handful of grapes?  There’s a blessing for that, too.  How about if you see a rainbow or survive a dangerous situation or just wake up to experience another morning of life?  Yup, you guessed it.  There are special blessings for those, as well.

I didn’t necessarily appreciate these formulaic blessings growing up, but there is an incredible mindfulness that comes with pausing and appreciating the small things in life.  My favorite blessing is the Asher Yatzar, a paragraph that expresses gratitude for the health and functionality of our highly-complicated digestive systems. The blessing is recited multiples times each day, after each use of the bathroom.  The opportunity to wake up in the morning and empty my body of its contents is one of the greatest simple pleasures in life, and whoever came up with the Asher Yatzar was damn smart!

No caption needed  :-)

No caption needed 🙂

As an aside, the runner-up for my favorite Jewish blessing is recited at the end of the Shemoneh Esreh (silent devotional prayer).  It is called Elohai Netzor and the translation is roughly as follows: “God, please guard my tongue from evil and stop my lips from speaking deceitfully.”  It is a daily reminder against gossip and slander, and was the blessing that I held most dear growing up.  A good reminder for us all.

posted by ayo

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4 responses

29 11 2011
Weston

Although not technically a blessing, my favorite moment in Jewish prayer is oddly enough the congregational response during Kaddish. While I know that line is about G-d’s greatness, when I was saying Kaddish and the congregation would join in for that one line I always interpreted it as if everyone who was not mourning was saying “You have to do most of this on your own, but here is a one sentence reminder that we are all here with you.”

That one line always gets to me. Not because of the translation, but because of the community.

3 12 2011
ayo

That’s really beautiful. I’m thankful that I have yet to be in a position where I need to recite Kaddish, but I will hold this explanation close to heart. Thanks for sharing.

3 12 2011
Diane

My neighbors (one Jewish couple, one Gentile couple) and I take turns helping each other out in small ways daily. Whoever is home when the garbage cans are emptied pulls all of them up from the street. The first one up and out in the morning brings everyone’s papers to their doors. Since my Jewish neighbors have two small dogs, they pull this duty most frequently. Each morning, when I see my paper in the basket on my porch, I say little prayer of thanks for their mitzvah.
Which leads me to this: what’s the difference between a blessing and a mitzvah? And more to the point, I’m wondering if there’s a specific blessing for the one who puts the paper on your porch each day – from this post, it sounds like there just might be…

4 12 2011
ayo

Wow, what a beautiful interaction and story. More neighbors should come together like you guys!

You ask a great question. There are lots of ways that it could be answered and I’ll try to do it justice. A mitzvah is the action that you do whereas a blessing or beracha is the verse that you say to set an intention. The intention could be to praise God or be grateful for what you have before you, but tends to focus on the recitation of words rather than the performance of deeds. If you ask a traditional religious Jew, a mitzvah is one of the 613 positive or negative commandments in the Bible. If you ask a cultural or ‘liberal’ Jew, a mitzvah might be more loosely translated as ‘good deed’.

To your inquiry about a blessing for the paper-placer, there are not many blessings that address the actions of other people but here is a contender:

Yivarechecha Adonai ViYishmerecha.

Ya’er Adonai Panav Eylecha ViYichunecha.

Yisa Adonai Panav Eylecha ViYasem Licha Shalom.

‘May G‑d bless you and guard you.
‘May G‑d shine His countenance upon you and be gracious to you.
‘May G‑d turn His countenance toward you and grant you peace.’ (Numbers 6:24-26)

Happy blessings! 🙂

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