Saturday, October 20, 2007

Blessed art thou, Lord our God, King of the universe...

Any Way Saturday


As a Christian, have you ever celebrated the 'opening of' or 'start of' the Lord's Day on the vigil of Sunday - that is, on Saturday eve after sundown? That is what the Jews do on Friday eve, the vigil of their shabbat [sabbath] . They celebrate this special day in their week with a special meal on Friday evening. For Christians, we can do the same thing on Saturday eve, the vigil of our Lord's Day. Many of the prayers used in the ceremonial blessings of this meal are in the form of:

Berakhot [Hebrew] = Blessings

A berakhah (blessing - singular) is a prayer that is very common in Judaism. Berakhot (blessings - plural) all start with the word barukh (blessed or praised).

The words barukh and berakhah refer to the practice of showing respect by bending the knee and bowing. There are several places in Jewish liturgy where this gesture is performed.

According to Jewish tradition, a person should recite 100 berakhot each day! There are dozens of everyday occurrences that require berakhot.

Who Blesses Whom?

Many English-speaking people find the idea of berakhot confusing. To them,"blessing" seems to imply the conferring of some benefit on the person being spoken to. In Catholic tradition, confession begins by asking the priest for a blessing [Bless me , Father, ...]. In a berakhah, the person saying the blessing is speaking to G-d. When we recite a berakhah we are expressing wonder at how blessed G-d is.

Content of a Berakhah

Berakhot recited before enjoying a material pleasure, such as eating, drinking or wearing new clothes, acknowledge G-d as the creator of what we are about to use. The berakhah for bread praises G-d as the one "who brings forth bread from the earth." The berakhah for wearing new clothing praises G-d as the one "who clothes the naked."

Berakhot recited before performing a mitzvah (commandment), such as washing hands or lighting candles, praise G-d as the one "who sanctified us with his commandments and commanded us to..." do whatever it is we are about to do. A person who performs a mitzvah with a sense of obligation is considered more meritorious than a person who performs the same mitzvah because he feels like it. The berakhah focuses attention on performing a religious duty with a sense of obligation.

Berakhot recited at special times and events acknowledge G-d as the ultimate source of all good and evil. When we see or hear something bad, a berakhah underscores that things that appear to be bad happen for a reason that is ultimately just.

Form of a Berakhah

All berakhot use the phrase "Barukh atah Ha-shem [or Adonai], Elokaynu, melekh ha-olam," Blessed art thou L-rd, our G-d, King of the Universe.

Thou (and the corresponding Hebrew atah) is the informal, familiar second person pronoun, used for friends and relatives. This expresses our intimate relationship with G-d.

Immediately after this phrase, the berakhah shifts into the third person. This grammatical faux pas is intentional. This shift is a deliberately jarring way of expressing the fact that G-d is simultaneously close to us and yet transcendent. This paradox is at the heart of the Jewish relationship with G-d.

For a more complete treatment of this topic, link to Judaism 101.

Now it is your turn.

Try it this week end - tonight, Saturday eve - the vigil of our Lord's Day. Write your own berakhot [blessings] using the form above - ie: Blessed art thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who commanded us to keep holy the Lord's Day.

Share with us some of those prayers by writing them in the 'comment box'. We may post them in an article on this blog.


Adrienne said...

What a wonderful idea!!! I will be back later with a berakhot. Since my cold is not going away I will probably miss Mass this week so "blessing writing" will be a good exercise for my mucus filled head. Bleh!! What a vision!

uncle jim said...

Go for it. Write one berakhah, or multiple berakhot. And thanks for giving it a try. I appreciate your support.

Adrienne said...

This was not all that easy!!!

Baruch atah adonai elohim melech ha-olam..
Blessed art thou O Lord God, sovereign of the universe...
who has given His only Son so that we might live
who gives us life
who has given us the Lord’s day for remembrance
who has given us voices to praise
who has given us sickness to appreciate wellness

uncle jim said...

So, tell me...for how long have you been Jewish? Your switch to 'Adonai Elohim' suggests you know more, or you use good www resources. I use 'Adonai Eloheinu' ... and to which temple do you belong?

Actually, I hope other give it a try. It makes us think a little differently towards our sovereign...a good exercise.

Adrienne said...

I am not called the "search queen" for nuttin'.
That's what made it so hard. Before this ADD'er (attention deficit disorder) can do anything she must engage in non-stop hyper-focused research. I now know waaaaaaaaay more than I thought I would ever want to know about this subject.

Adrienne said...

PS I just added (after much trial and error) you to my blog with a working link and everything. Wow!!