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“Blessing for Free,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

June 2, 2023 | 13 Sivan 5783

Welcome again to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

I start with Buddhism and end with Judaism laid out on a path of loving kindness.

Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism refer to the idea of loving kindness as metta. It is not just a concept, but a practice rooted in a belief of the intrinsic value of focusing on good intention toward other beings. Cultivated through metta — a loving kindness meditation, the concentration focuses on the act of wishing happiness, joy, wholeness, and peacefulness for someone.  Sometimes, it may be people physically near to us while at others it may be in our mind’s eye. To desire well being on another does not mean that we need to have any fondness and positive regard either. Metta meditation can be directed at those we find irritating or who frustrate or anger us.

May you be protected.
May you find joy.
May you find grace.
May you peace come to you.

Our minds are in a constant comment mode. We are full of opinions, judgment, or anxious regard for what surrounds us. The practice of metta meditation wrestles those thoughts from within ourselves to refocus and nurture a different kind of thinking practice.

With this in mind, let’s now warmly embrace what Judaism teaches. This week’s Torah portion offers as an intrinsic Jewish concept of focusing good intention toward another.

It is called the Priestly Blessing.

The Eternal spoke to Moses: Speak to Aaron and his sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel.  Say to them:

May the Eternal bless you and protect you!
May the Eternal deal kindly and graciously with you!
May the Eternal uplift you and grant you peace!
Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them.
(Numbers 6:22-27)

Notice, no command directs this action. God provides the opportunity but the priests must be willing. By doing so, they link divinity with the people. As one commentator (Bekhor Shor, 12th century) described: “This is a blessing of health, wisdom, long life, and greatness; in your comings and your goings, in the city and in the country; with regard to your basket and your kneading bowl; and with joy, that you rejoice in your lot in life.” The mere act of blessing brings a sacred connection.

Though the priests in the context in which they lived may have held this responsibility, it no longer rests with them. We receive the invitation to bless as well — as a practice and as an intention.

I came to realize the significant impact to use this blessing upon my own children even after they left for college and emptied out of the house. My husband and I, on Shabbat, in the metta meditation practice shower the blessing on them wherever they may be in the world. We feel linked by our sacred tradition to bless them with these divine words. Somehow it feels like the blanket of our love embraces them across time and space. This benediction from the Torah portion provides the means for us to do it since it is available for all of us. Judaism invites us to practice loving kindness not only in our actions but also in the practice of using our minds to direct our intention of our attention and behavior.

This Shabbat, perhaps there will be loved ones around your table to share blessing. And maybe there are still others elsewhere, not at the table, perhaps in far off lands to whom you can send forth your blessings of protection, favor, grace, and peace. You already have the words. Now your mind, soul, and heart must be willing.

I wish you a beautiful Shabbat.

Originally shared May 25, 2018.

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Rabbi Elaine Zecher