Dear TEE community,

At the heart of this week’s Torah portion is a blessing given by Jacob to his grandsons, Ephraim and Manesseh:

The God in whose ways my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
The God who has been my shepherd from my birth to this day—
The Messenger who has redeemed me from all harm—
Bless the lads.
In them may my name be recalled,
And the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac,
And may they be teeming multitudes upon the earth. (Genesis 48:15-16)

Jewish tradition teaches that this is the origin of the custom of parents blessing their children each week at the beginning of Shabbat. The Reconstructionist movement has extended this practice to include all those gathered at the table with these words: May the Compassionate One bless all of us together with a blessing of peace.

For those of us less familiar with the practice, it may feel awkward and uncomfortable to give a blessing but I would like to encourage you to think about how you might adopt and adapt this custom in your own life.

First, a word about the language involved. In English, the word “blessing” can imply conveying or invoking holiness, making it seem as if the person giving a blessing is imparting some special quality they possess. In Hebrew, however, the word berachah comes from a root involving acknowledgment. When we offer a blessing we acknowledge the sacredness already present. Blessing food, for example, doesn’t make it holy but the act of eating becomes holy through our awareness of the gift of life and nourishment present in our meal.

Blessing another person is a way to acknowledge the holiness you see in them and your relationship with them. You can use traditional language, but words of praise or gratitude, in whatever form feels comfortable, work too. We all need and appreciate recognition, and letting friends and family know how much they mean to us deepens our relationships and makes us happier as well.

Throughout the lockdown phase of the pandemic I, like many others, valued human contact in a way I hadn’t before and vowed never again to take my connections with other people for granted. I found myself reaching out to friends with whom I’d been out of touch and I have done my best to continue that practice. I have also made more of a conscious effort to appreciate those close to me. I encourage you to try it and even if the person you address doesn’t realize you’re giving them a blessing, they will know they are a blessing to you, and that’s what counts.

Rabbi Drorah Setel