Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Naso

“May God bless you and protect you.” The “Priestly blessing appears in this week’s Torah portion. I say these words a lot these days. In formula, I use them every week from the pulpit. They come out at every life cycle celebration. At rites of passage moments, they speak to the future of blessing amidst our celebrations. At funerals, they remind us that these blessings follow us, even through our periods of grief. In practice, I speak of being blessed every day. We all have challenges in our lives. Some are incredibly severe while others are mere obstacles, but we have each other and hence, have the tools and networks to face whatever comes our way. The sages tell us that our measure is not what happens to us, but what we do with what happens to us. The first is often beyond our control, while the latter is absolutely up to us.

Still, though, I sometimes struggle with this word: “blessed.” That may come as a shock to many since you know I use it so often. I struggle because so many do not feel blessed, do not see their blessings, who believe that there is nowhere to turn for help and blessings, and then devolve in the struggle of feeling cursed or running from its grip. I am not just speaking of people whose lives stay threatened every day in war zones. I include mothers stuck in post partum depression, people who feel alienated or ostracized from society, survivors of a tragic loved one’s death, the widow, the orphan, or the stranger amongst us. When stuck emotionally, it is improbable for someone to feel blessed or experience blessings.

It may be improbable but not impossible, and here is where we come in. In the morning liturgy, we read a series of prayers entitled “Nissim B’chol Yom – Daily Miracles.” Miracles are not the flashes that interrupt nature; they are the very forces of nature that sustain life. They are the unexplainable wow things that we too often can’t see unless we pay close attention. Each of the miracles that span a few pages of the prayer book begins with the formula of blessing, “Praised is God, Eternal Ruler, who …” Whether it is opening blind eyes, making firm our steps, strengthening the weary, or providing strength alongside faith, each miracle begs the question, “How does God do these things?” God has never tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Marc, this is how it works …” I have learned, that however, God does things, somehow the call to pay attention manifests in us. We are the ones who perform the miracles in each other’s lives. Whether we are the ones to open blind eyes or bring security to the vulnerable, where we fail to pay attention, God is powerless to act.

So, as I think about the pray for blessing, I have to remember that the words fall empty if I fail to help bring blessings into people’s lives. We each are blessed every day, but for those unable to experience the blessings, it takes us to help break through the block, help bring light to the eyes and reignite the flame in their souls. I know that with the many challenges I have faced, people showed up and held me, nurtured me, pushed and pulled me back into living. These angels appeared and appear at the most uncanny times and in the uncanniest of ways. I believe, heart and soul, that showing up is what it means to be faithful. I see a lot of people speaking words of prayer and then going about their own business. I know too many who believe that one’s religious value gets measured by how often they show up in worship, discounting the ways in which they show up in each other’s lives.

The worship experience is only valuable if it leads us to make real in each other’s lives, the words we spoke in the sanctuary. Our challenge is to live our prayer and not just speak it. Blessings unfold in people’s lives as we pay greater attention to their prayers for help. Hence the words, “May God bless you and protect you” fall meaningless unless we bring the blessings to each other. It all begins very simply. We have to remember that even while we cannot control what happens to us, we are the only ones who can process how it can impact us. When we find ways to experience a greater sense of blessing it becomes contagious, and as Talmud teaches us, “Kol Yisrael aravim zeh b’zeh.” Each of us bears responsibility for each other’s well being. Anything less is blasphemy. Shabbat Shalom.