By Rabbi Yohanna Kinberg
We are beginning to emerge. Cautiously. And not without trepidation. We emerge into a new reality after being quarantined. None of us knew this was coming and none of us have been through this before. We are walking out together into a bright new reality.
This week Governer Inslee laid out a projected time table for reopening our state and reopening our lives and communities. We have a long road ahead. This road might be bumpy. There are no garuntees to the timetable. We have learned thus far in 2020 that not many of our assumptions about how this year would go are guaranteed. Yet we still we walk forward.
As we journy into this new territory, our new normal, I want to offer you three blessings for you to take along your way. We can make our new normal holy, we can sanctify our lives and our journey through noting the extraordinary within what used to be ordinary. We can mark our entry back into society, as things open slowly, slowly, with awe and reverence through small ritual acts of making moment sacred through prayer, blessings.
1. A blessing for wearing a mask
Many of us will be wearing masks in public for the conceivable future. This is a personal choice in most circumstances. Within a Jewish context though it is not a choice, it is an obligation. Wearing a mask is now an external signal that you are aware of the risks of leaving the house, of exposure and exposing others. A mask is an outward signal that you honor the life of the one before you with the same seriousness with which you honor your own life. There is a blessing for that.
This blessing was written Havurah community.
2. A blessing for seeing a friend
The Talmud offers us several options for blessings to say upon seeing a friend after a long time. One of these blessings is said when you thought you might never see a friend again or after not seeing them for 12 months. This is the prayer for the resurrection of the dead: Mechaye Hametim/מחיי המתים. Another is the Shehekiyanu prayer (which I will introduce later in this blog) which is said for reaching joyous occasions. And there is yet another prayer you might say when you have not seen a friend for a long time. This prayer affirms the fundamental goodness of this world: HaTov Vehametiv/הטוב והמטיב. This is the prayer I offer you today to say for reuniting in person with friends and family.
We have been cut off from so many of our regular friendships. It happened suddenly. There was no time for goodbye parties or even parting hugs. Some of us might have been unsure if we would ever see friends or relatives again. Being cut off from one another has been painful. For people of all ages. Especially children.
We still have weeks, if not longer, ahead of us before we can freely interact with some of the closest people in our lives-our beloved friends and relatives who do not live in our homes. These people give us life. Their smiles and hugs are what help us make it through life’s storms. When we finally get to see each other, have a glass of wine, or play a board game together or just sit closer than 6 feet on a bench...it is surly time for a blessing.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הַעוֹלָם, הַטוֹב וְהַמֵטִיב׃ Baruch atah Adonai Elohenu, melech ha'olam, ha'tov ve'ha'metiv.
Blessed are You, Source of All Life and Goodness, who is good and does good.
3. A prayer for when you are able to do ANYTHING that you have been kept from doing because of the pandemic!
This week we are able to visit State Parks. During this time of year, as the days grow longer, my family will often pack a picnic and have an early dinner on the shores of the Puget Sound at Tolmie State Park, exit 111 off of Interstate 5. We have been going there for Spring and Summer family time for 17 years. We take our outdoor chairs and put them in the water to cool our toes. And we have all kinds of inflatables for chilling out and floating on the placid waters of the Sound. When we make our first visit this year, this or next week I hope, it will be a true Shehekiyanu moment.
The Shehekiyanu prayer is to be recited upon doing, tasting, seeing, and feeling all kinds of things. It is said for anything new, or renewed. It is a prayer that acknowledges: this gives me life and I am so profoundly happy to have made it to this moment. Think about how many times we will get to recite this prayer in the coming months and maybe even years? Until there is a vaccine, and we have all been vaccinated, we will live somewhat restricted lives. And each time we get to do something that used to “normal” like going to the movies, eating out, attending a birthday party in person, camping, playing a basketball or softball game, a potluck, browsing a bookstore, playing on a playground, taking the dog to the dog park...we have the opportunity to recite a prayer for gratitude for reaching this moment.
It is not a given that these moments will come. We create meaning and memories of joy in our lives when we pause to acknowledge moments as sacred, experiences we treasure as the holy building blocks of our lives. So many of our usual good times feel so far away. Today. We do not know, we will live without full knowledge of, when we can engage in them again. Imagine: What a joy it will be to be! To be able to engage in our most precious social or public pastimes! Truly this will be a moment for a prayer, a blessing of gratitude. The Shehekiyanu prayer is the prayer for those moments.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הַעוֹלָם, שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה׃
Baruch atah Adonai Elohenu, melekh ha'olam, shehecheyanu vekiymanu vehigi'anu lazman hazeh.
Blessed are You, Source of All Blessing, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.
Life is good. This is affirmed within the first chapter of the Torah. It is a fundamental belief in Judaism. May God bless you and keep you. May you find joy and meaning in the goodness that surrounds you always.