Rabbi's Message

Setel3Rabbi Setel

Dear Emanu-El Members and Friends,

Remarkably, the secular month of June has no Jewish holidays (except for Shabbat of course) but summer is upon us and provides an opportunity to celebrate in other ways. Perhaps more than any other time of year, we encounter the beauty and abundance of the season through our senses: the smell of flowers and grasses; the sound of bird song; the taste of fresh berries; the sight of late, golden sunsets; the touch of the sun warming our skin. Our Jewish tradition teaches that these are all spiritual, as well as physical, experiences in several ways.

While many religious traditions reject the body as merely a temporary vehicle for the soul, mainstream Judaism sees them as inextricably linked. We are intentionally created as material beings who know and experience the sacred through our mind and senses. While we are cautioned not to overdo it, Jewish teachings and practices encourage us to enjoy the pleasures and bounty of the world—food, sexuality, nature, and so on—as divine gifts to be treasured and appreciated.

Throughout Jewish history, teachers have argued that increasing our knowledge of the physical world through medical and scientific inquiry can only enhance our astonishment and gratitude for their existence and, thus, their creator. More recently the great theologian of the twentieth century, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, spoke of “radical amazement”—the awe and thankfulness that arise from considering the incredible wonder of our very existence.

The practice of b’rachot (usually translated “blessings” but better understood as “acknowledgments”) allows us to notice and mark the delights of summer. Pausing to recite a b’rachah is an opportunity to notice and really take in the astonishment of life on Earth.

Here are some b’rachot that seem particularly applicable in the coming month:

For tasting a food for the first time in a year:

הזה ןמזל ונמייקו ונייחהש םלועה ךלמ וניהלא יי התא ךורב
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, shehecheyyanu vekiyyamanu vehigiyyanu lazman hazeh.

Holy One of Blessing, Your Presence fills creation, giving us life, sustaining us, and bringing us to this moment.

For seeing or smelling herbs or flowers:
 
.םימשב יבשע ארוב םלועה ךלמ וניהלא יי התא ךורב Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, borei isvei b’samim.
Holy One of Blessing, Your Presence fills creation, forming fragrant flowers and herbs.

For seeing the beauty of creation, such as trees or animals:

ומלועב ול הככש םלועה ךלמ וניהלא יי התא ךורב
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, shkachah lo b’olamo.

Holy One of Blessing, Your Presence fills creation so that such things are in Your world.

For seeing the wonders of creation, such as mountains, oceans, or thunderstorms:
 
.תישארב השעמ השוע םלועה ךלמ וניהלא יי התא ךורב
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, oseh ma’asei v’reishit.

Holy One of Blessing, Your Presence fills creation, making the foundations of the earth.

I hope you will all have many occasions on which to use these b’rachot in the months to come.

Wishing you a wonderful summer!

Rabbi Drorah Setel