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Re'eh 5780 ~ August 15, 2020

Would it be wrong to assume that the world currently might be living through the first words of our Torah reading for this Shabbat: “Re’eh - see, this day I set before you blessing and curses?”  It would be quite easy to focus on the curses. It is part of our daily conversations and the news that we are “seeing” and hopefully, not experiencing. Then again, depending on our views and values on issues from health to politics, what might be a blessing for one, might be a curse for another.

In our Torah reading for this Shabbat the word for blessing is “berakha.” It is the term we use not solely for our lives being blessed.  It is also how we refer to any benediction of gratitude to G-d that we give, whether it is for a positive or challenging moment in our lives. For example, when we wake up in the morning we recite blessing of gratitude for being able to achieve life’s normal routine. That includes blessings for being able to open our eyes,  stretch, walk, go to the bathroom, and take our first bite of food. It begins with “Barukh ata Ado-nai,” “Blessed are You Ado-nai,” and concluded with gratitude for being able to perform some function of daily existence. At times of challenge, such as the death of a loved one, we also recite a statement that is a berakha: Barukh dayen ha-emet. Blessed is the judge of the truth. If one looks at the phrase carefully, the rabbis clearly had us hear the last syllable being “met,” as in blessed be the judge of the dead, as we recited the work ha-e-met. Again, one has to listen carefully.  The key point is that we need to value the blessing and offer benedictions of gratitude when we are able to, both for what we may assume is a blessing and what we may sense is a curse or a challenge.

There are many berakhot that I value in my daily routine. One gives expression to the simple breath that we all take for granted each and every day. (Page 99 in the Lev Shalem Siddur.) It begins “Elohai ne-sha-ma, sh-na-ta-ta-bi, tehor-ah hi, ata v’ra-ta, at yetar-ta, ata nefach-ta, v’a-ta, me-sha-mra.” If one reads the words out loud in a certain slow cadence, one will be able to hear one’s breath. (I have tried to place dashes just before each syllable in the transliteration for you to experience what the author of the berakhah wanted you to sense.) The English is not so grandiose in experiential prayer: “My God, the soul that You have given me is pure. You created it, You formed it, You breathed it into me….” Yet theologically, it reminds us that each and every day, we begin life anew, as pure as the day we were born.

The rabbis believed that one sixtieth of our soul goes up to God each night to be rejuvenated. When we wake up in the morning, we are grateful for its return.  For those who are skeptics, think about the fact of how tired we are when we put our heads on our pillows. The next morning when we wake up, isn’t it amazing that our souls are replenished and that once again we are able to go through another day! What about the fact that if you are woken up from a deep sleep (REM), you are startled.  If you follow the logic, part of your soul has to quickly make its way back to you from being rejuvenated.

There is a second blessing of gratitude of similar vein that we recite as we open our eyes and are still under our covers:  Modeh ani lefanecha, thanking God for returning our souls to us.

During the past several months, since the beginning of Covid 19 I have been reciting a new version of that berakhah in my own personal prayers.  It was written by Bradley Burston.  A few days ago. I drafted a new version that included words written by Rabbi Naomi Levy.  After sharing that rewrite with one of our congregants, that individual rewrote the prayer in a beautiful and meaningful way. We will begin using that tefilah (prayer) at our services beginning this Shabbat.  It values the breath that we take each morning. I share it with you in advance and will post it on a shared screen during services. I am grateful to that individual for its rewrite. I pray that we all find the blessing in its words.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi K

A New Modeh Ani

This is what I told myself this morning:

Whatever you're doing, stop a second. Take a long deep breath.

Take a breath and revel in it;  appreciate being alive; appreciate this moment.

Take a breath to give thanks.

Thanks to the unknowable Almighty, who invented life itself,

and breath, and who created us in Your image; who embodied us with brains to become wise, and souls to manifest love and compassion. 

Take a long breath in honor of and in gratitude to our medical professionals and their ancillary staff. Send strength and courage to the doctors and nurses on the front lines of our current pandemic.  Fortify them with the full force of their healing powers.

Take a breath of appreciation. Send wisdom and creativity to our teachers, who are working steadfastly to create a new kind of learning environment for our children and young adults, one that keeps them both engaged and safe, so they can become the leaders of tomorrow that we need them to be.

Take a breath of hope.

Fill our current leaders with the wisdom and the courage to come together to save our country and our planet. Help them to eradicate prejudice, and to heal the wounds that have been afflicted by years of inequality and blindness. 

Take a breath in prayer.

Help us, God, to see that we are one world,

One people

Who can rise above this difficult and strange time by acknowledging our strengths and weaknesses, by working together, and by caring for our neighbors as much as we care for ourselves.

Send us strength, Ado-nai,

Watch over us,

Grace us with Your love,

Bless us with Your healing light.

Fortify us with our breath.

Modeh Ani, I am grateful for these breaths.


Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782