Gathering at Michelle’s home, we enjoyed a delicious brunch and we got down to work. Fifteen of us, enjoying Brunch with the Rabbi, were about to engage in one of the most important acts a Jew (or any person) can do. One at a time, we each shared a “kvell,” something in our lives at the moment, which brings us joy or pride. A child graduating, a teen getting his license, a mother recovering well. Completion of a project at work, moving into a new home, a child assuming a leadership role. We clapped for each other, sometimes laughing in joy or relief.
These kvells – a.k.a. these moments of blessing – were especially poignant because they were being shared by people who otherwise had plenty to kvetch (complain) about. In that room were people facing financial challenges, caring for a dying parent or a special needs child, or recovering from a very difficult surgery. Yet in the midst of the anxiety and worry, they each found the courage to number their blessings in their lives. So Jewish an action. All of us can do this. Counting our blessings.
This week, the Jewish community will read a section of Torah (the Five Books of Moses) that includes Birkat Kohanim (the Priestly Benediction). We will recite “Yivarechecha Adonai v’yishm’recha – May God bless you and watch over you. May the Holy One shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May God be with you always, and grant you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26). With these ancient words, the ancient religious leaders blessed the people. With these words even today, parents bless their children on Friday night, and Rabbis and Cantors bless wedding couples and Bar/Bat Mitzvah students.
The Priestly Benediction combines hopes for protection with recognition that peace and wholeness is within our grasp. In our Brunch discussion, we realized that blessings are all around us and within our lives. The challenge is to notice them – to name them – even as we deal with the tsuris (the problems) of our lives.
Shai Peretz, a Montreal-based learner, noted that the word “blessed” comes from the Hebrew root “b.r.ch.”, which has an additional meaning of “to graft” (“le’havrich“). Grafting in winemaking involves taking a new vine shoot, and attaching it to older roots. The new vine connects to the old root system and gains nourishment and life. The act of grafting in essence returns the shoot to its source, to its roots, and allows it to mature on its own.
When we count our blessings, we graft ourselves onto the deep roots of existence. Our goodness – the goodness that exists within us and that comes to us – which derives from the ultimate Source of Goodness, from the Holy One of Blessing, can nourish us and help us grow.
So here’s some spiritual homework:
Each day, for the next week, before you go to bed, write down three wonderful things that happened in your life that day. Count your blessings every day and may you will soon find yourself kvelling more than you ever imagined.