We are now entering the month of November. As this month on the secular calendar contains the holiday of Thanksgiving, it is traditional to spend some time reflecting on the things for which we are thankful. This year, it may be harder to find reasons to be thankful. A deadly pandemic has ravaged our world and our country. At the time of writing, 1.12 million people have died worldwide, 221,000 of them in our own country. Many of us have not been able to see loved ones in person for several months. Many people have lost their jobs and livelihoods as a result of the pandemic. It is completely normal and natural to feel a sense of loss and despair.
Yet, we as humans cannot live on despair alone. If we sit only in darkness, we have difficulty functioning. We need that tiny spark of hope to keep us going day after day. Judaism gives us that spark by asking us to focus on our blessings, even when we are not sure what to bless. The Talmud (Menachot 43b) states, “A person is obligated to recite one hundred blessings every day.” Traditionally, a Jew prays three times a day, but there are not enough blessings within those services to reach 100. To make up for this, the Rabbis suggest we find ways to bless some of the smaller things in life, like sweet-smelling spices or tasty fruit.
Jewish teaching is broad regarding what and how we should bless. The Talmud (Berachot 35a) teaches, “A general principle may be derived: . . . Any item from which one derives benefit requires a blessing.” This means that we are obligated to bless almost everything. For example, we are required to recite Motzi before every meal and Birkat Hamazon after. There are different blessings for various fruits, vegetables, and other snacks. When we see a rainbow, we are obligated to recite a blessing thanking G-d for G-d’s covenant. There are various blessings that we are supposed to recite when we see someone smart or beautiful. When we see an interesting animal, we recite a blessing thanking G-d for making interesting creatures. We are even supposed to recite a blessing for our bodies every time we use the restroom. (For a few interesting blessings, check out this article on My Jewish Learning: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/8-jewish-prayers-youve-never-heard-of/)
Our Rabbis take the idea of finding blessings in the small things even further, encouraging us to find blessings in things that maybe are not so obvious. The Talmud (Ta’anit 8b) states, “A blessing is found only in an object that is hidden from the eye, not in an item visible to all, as public miracles are exceedingly rare.” This passage reminds us that even areas of our life that might not seem so important, are worthy of blessing. So, as we approach Thanksgiving, I encourage you all to count your blessings. That delicious meal you just made in the kitchen? The entertaining movie you just watched on Netflix? That cuddle you just shared with your pet? All blessings. I also encourage you to try reciting more blessings. Try reciting Motzi before every meal. Or, since we live in Florida, try reciting the blessings for rainbows or thunder. Using our Jewish traditions, we can find a spark of hope in the darkness.
Cantor Sara Kheel