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Parshas Vayakheil-Pekudei (5777)

Blessings: Shortcuts to God

Over the past few weeks, we have been reading in the Torah all about the Tabernacle that G-d commanded the Jewish people to build in the desert.

The purpose of the Tabernacle, as stated in the Torah, was "so that I may dwell among them" (Exodus 25:8). In other words, the Tabernacle was intended to be the central rallying point of the nation and the place where all Jews would go in order to feel the palpable Presence of G-d, just as they experienced at Mount Sinai, and thus be spiritually “elevated”. The function of the Tabernacle in the desert was carried forward by the Temple in Jerusalem. And throughout the long and bitter exile, the centrality of G-d's Presence is represented by the "miniature sanctuaries" of synagogues and study halls, for it is in them and through them that Jews “hark back” to the sounds of Sinai and the radiance of the Temple.

Nice little monologue, you say ..... but does all that "spirituality stuff" really talk to me? I mean, for some people, synagogues these days just aren't enough to give us the spiritual "high" that we crave. Unfortunately, in some synagogues, the only sounds that we ever "hark back to" are the sounds of the two grumpy souls sitting behind us talking during the services! And the only "elevation" we often get is when we "get up" to join the Kiddush and refreshments at the end of the services!

Now I'm not advocating a mass exodus from the synagogue, G-d forbid. Obviously, going to the synagogue on a regular basis gives us a sense of spiritual connectedness and communal identity that we definitely need. What I would like to suggest, though, is that in addition to synagogue attendance, there is another simple exercise – a shortcut - that we can all train ourselves to do, that can help us feel a certain connection to G-d without even stepping out of our homes.

We can teach ourselves and our loved ones to make blessings.

MAY THE SOURCE BE WITH YOU

The traditional prayer book is full of blessings you can make for every conceivable occasion. The standardized beginning of every blessing is Ba-ruch Atah Adonai …. which translates as "Blessed are you, G-d ...." Did you ever wonder what in the world that means? How exactly does one bless G-d? You know the old joke ... G-d sneezed, what could I say to Him? What can we "bless" G-d with - a Lamborghini? A huge mansion in the suburbs? What can you give to Someone Who's got it all?

In reality, the word baruch doesn't mean that we are "blessing" G-d, but rather that we are acknowledging that G-d is the source of all blessing.

Let me explain. The Torah tells us that when G-d created the world, He didn't have to work too hard. It wasn't like G-d needed to "unwind" with a Heineken after a tough day of "creating" at the office. All He had to do was to say the word "apple" and will that apple into existence with those words. So that when G-d said "let there be light", He didn't have to screw in a "cosmic light bulb".He just said the word "light" (in Hebrew, of course) and.… poof! … there was light! This being the case, we must realize that every time we see something beautiful in G-d's creation - be it an apple or a rainbow or whatever - it is actually G-d Himself talking to us! He talked that beautiful creation into existence just so that we could enjoy it!

But it’s not always so easy for us to recognize or remember that …. so we make a blessing. And in that blessing, we say Baruch Atoh Adonai …. You, G-d, are the source of this wonderful pineapple that I am about to enjoy, and I really appreciate it.

We Jews have blessings for everything that we enjoy and take from this world, and especially food. We have blessings upon seeing lightning, thunder, especially beautiful natural wonders (and beautiful people!) ... the list goes on and on. There is a blessing that is recited in the beginning of the spring, upon seeing fruit trees in bloom. (See page 228 in the Artscroll Siddur/Prayer Book for a complete list).

But it's not only over food and the beauty of nature that we make blessings.

A “HOLE-Y” BLESSING

I once heard an audiotape from Dennis Prager, in which he translated into English for his audience the blessing that a Jew makes upon leaving the washroom. "Blessed are You, Lord, our G-d, Who fashioned man with wisdom and created within him many openings and many cavities ... it is known before Your Throne that if but one of them were to be ruptured or blocked, it would be impossible to survive ...." And the crowd that was hearing this blessing was rolling with laughter …. they thought it was the funniest thing. I bet the guy with urinary problems or with clogged arteries wasn't laughing too hard, though!

When my kids get up each morning and come downstairs for Honeycombs and milk, before they take their first bite, they recite a blessing - "Blessed are You ... Who creates all different types of foods to sustain us". What a powerful message for the kids and for all of us!

A blessing is easy to learn and can serve to “elevate” us by reminding us even when we're home, and not in the synagogue, just how close G-d really is to all of us. And, if we listen closely, we can actually "hark back" to that point in time when G-d lovingly talked that beautiful apple into this world just for us to enjoy.

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