The Art of Blessing

I am not sentimental
about old men mumbling the Hebrew by rote
with no more feeling than one says gesundheit.

Poet, Marge Piercy, is impatient with the ancient formula of beracha/blessing.  Certainly, formulas fall short of the evocative blessings that she offers in her poem, “The Art of Blessing the Day” (click here for Piercy poem).  Here she offers blessings, among others, for rain after drought, for sun after long rain; for a ripe peach and for the first garden tomato for a political victory, for the return of a favorite cat, for love returned.  Gratitude for tastes, textures, joys and everyday pleasures can barely be contained by words—and such gratitude deserves more than a formula.

The ancient sages themselves were divided over the issue of formulas (click here for Talmud excerpt).  For Rabbi Yosi, a beracha/blessing that did not abide by the rabbinic form was not a beracha/blessing.  Rabbi Meir was not so certain.  Perhaps the impulse to celebrate a moment could take another shape.

I want to ask Rabbi Yosi:  What is at stake for you that you insist upon the rabbinic form, that risks being mumbled by rote?

I want to ask Rabbi Meir:  Can a beracha be endlessly innovative? Even your examples of berachot/blessings for bread and figs suggest a loose form.  Are you freeing me from the form and offering me the burden of creative innovation?

But whether with strict form or innovation, both sages would agree that one must say something in response to a moment that reaches beyond itself.  Both sages would agree with the poet on the importance of gratitude expressed, articulated.  In Marge Piercy’s words, the “art of blessing the day” requires discipline and “the art is in compressing attention.”

But the discipline of blessings is to taste
each moment, the bitter, the sour, the sweet
and the salty, and be glad for what does not
hurt. The art is in compressing attention
to each little and big blossom of the tree
of life, to let the tongue sing each fruit,
its savor, its aroma and its use.

Beracha comes from the Hebrew verb that means “overflow.”  When marked by a beracha, the peach, the tomato or the political victory each becomes a token of wonder larger than itself.  In the presence of a beracha, a moment becomes momentous.

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