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Writing Our Own Blessings

 

There’s a long list of blessings in the Jewish tradition, most of which are over food. The official purpose of saying blessings in Judaism, according to Wikipedia, is to acknowledge God as the source of all blessings, and to transform everyday actions and occurrences into religious experiences. There are blessings on giving charity, and hearing thunder and seeing lightning, on smelling a fragrance, or seeing a rainbow (though that last one is focused on blessing the memory of the covenant between God and the Jewish People, which isn’t really what’s exciting about rainbows). There are blessings for seeing the ocean, or the blossoming of trees, or undergoing a medical procedure, or crossing an ocean, or being released from prison. There are blessings you’re supposed to say each morning, to thank God for straightening the bent, and releasing the bound, and opening the eyes of the blind, and “making me a man.” There is an alternate blessing for women to say, but, spoiler alert, it’s not equivalent to the blessing for men. There are blessings on seeing a miracle, and on receiving good or bad news, and then there’s the blessing thanking God for not making me a Goy (non-Jew), which I just refuse to say.

puppy in November 005

“Hey, what’s that about?”

My question is: are these existing blessings sufficient to fill our needs? Every blessing in the canon was written by a human being, at a certain time and for a certain purpose. If the blessings we say throughout the day impact how we feel about our lives, it only seems fair that we should have some control over what they will be. I want to feel empowered to say the blessings that mean something to me, today, and not be stuck repeating what generations of men have seen as worthy of gratitude.

First of all, I want to be able to alter existing blessings when they don’t work for me. For example, I would change the blessing over rainbows so that it focuses on the beauty of a rainbow, or on the hope that leprechauns and gold coins will appear at the end of it. And since I can’t say the thank-god-I’m-a-man blessing and I refuse to say the thank-god-I’m-not-a-Goy blessing, I need to find alternatives. Maybe, thank God people are all different so we don’t get bored with all of the sameness, or, thank God I am the specific person I am, whoever that may be.

puppy-in-october-017.jpg

“That sounds much better.”

I like the idea of spontaneously expressing gratitude when good things happen, even if those good things don’t fit into some universal pattern. Ellie might say Thank you God for giving me a mommy who knows that I want chicken right now. And Mom might say, Thank you, universe, for this little bird who landed on my window sill to eat the leftover matzah from Passover that the other birds ignored. And for me, Thank God I have enough pens and yellow narrow-ruled legal pads to write down all of my random thoughts.

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“Did you say chicken?”

            I feel strongly, though, that we should be allowed to acknowledge that life is complicated, and that I can feel more than one thing at a time, without cancelling out the gratitude. I’d call these the “Thank you, but…” blessings, as in, Thank you, God, that I can still walk, even though my hips ache on rainy days, and I have to take pain killers and wear orthotics in all of my shoes; thank you for helping me tolerate people who disagree with me, even though they are still, clearly, wrong; thank you for giving me a nervous system that is extra sensitive to smells and sounds and feelings of all kinds, even though it makes me feel awful half the time; thank you for the joy I feel when I hear a bird singing outside my window, but, you know, it’s five o’clock in the morning and I’d rather be sleeping. And of course, thank you, God, for this piece of chocolate, but next time could you make it Godiva?

            I also want blessings that can acknowledge pain as part of my life: Thank you God for seeing me in my pain, accepting me as I am, and knowing that I am doing my best; thank you God for making it rain on a day when I feel like crying; thank you God for sitting next to me in the muck and not being in such a hurry to leave; Thank you for hearing me when I’m angry and sad and confused, as much as when I’m happy and inspired; Thank you God for teaching me the power of kvetching; blessed art thou, oh lord, our god, ruler of the universe, for not giving a f**k that my hair is a mess today.

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“Stop talking about my hair!”

            And I need some aspirational blessings, to help me imagine that things can improve: may we, one day, remember what it’s like to wake up to actual birds chirping instead of to twitter alerts; may God, or the force, be with me during my exam so that I don’t forget everything I learned in a fog of anxiety; may we all learn to hear one another with empathy and compassion, even when we do not understand.

            And last but not least, because it’s the category we usually think of when we think of blessings, I need some more blessings that celebrate wonder and gratitude, like: a blessing for every time I see a new tree or bird or flower; a blessing on making a new friend, or having an “aha” moment. A blessing for pushing myself one centimeter further into a stretch, or being able to stand up again after sitting on a low chair, or having enough tissues during allergy season. A blessing for practicing a musical instrument, or taking medication that actually works, or reading a good book, or having a nice phone call, or receiving a kind email. A blessing for the ability to think for myself, and a blessing for the miracle that is chocolate mousse.

But I still have a lot of questions about blessings, and the role they play in our lives. Why do some people find deep meaning in saying blessings all day long, and others find it tedious? Is there still value in saying blessings even if you don’t believe in God? Is there a right way or a wrong way to say a blessing, and if I say the “wrong” blessing will it make me feel worse?

The dogs seem to say blessings throughout their day, like when Cricket sighs a deep sigh as she stretches herself out across Grandma’s lap, or when Ellie flies off the steps to chase a squirrel. They haven’t told me who they say their blessings to, or if they believe in God or some other universal force, and I have no idea if there are words attached to the blessings they mutter to themselves all day long, but it makes them happy. I can see how meaningful it is to them, to acknowledge, with a sound or a smile or a stretch, how wonderful they feel when they smell chicken in the air, or when they scratch their backs on the rug. They are fully present in the moment and acknowledge their gratitude, but also their disappointment and grief, all at the same time. Taking that extra second to acknowledge it all seems to really work for them.

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“Aahhh.”

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Some blessings don’t need words.

 

I wonder if there is a collection of blessings that dogs have access to that helps them find the exact right thing to bless, because I could use something like that. But, unfortunately, I’m pretty sure they didn’t find any of their blessings in a prayer book. They just know what they are feeling, and feel free to say it to whoever might be listening. That seems like a good place to start.

 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes is true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

 

 

 

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

98 responses »

  1. I loved the meditation on blessings. I especially liked the ones about pain since much of my relationship with God sounds like those.

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  2. I like it when something good happens and we smile and exhale. And then someone else looks at us and does the same thing. That, to me, is like a double blessing–the very best kind. The dogs have it all over us. They have it all figured out. No amount of chicken is going to make them spill, either. Darn.

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  3. Wonderful post Rachel, the babies look beautiful

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  4. Weaving Simplicity

    As a Christian I share my heart with God throughout the day. He already knows what I’m thinking or going through. But my thoughts become little prayers. Sometimes to thank Him and show gratitude. At other times to just get through a trying situation. With my greatest comfort being the fact that He is always there for me. Especially when people have failed me.

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  5. I love this post, you made me think. Thank you.

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  6. What a thoughtful reflection on prayer and blessings. You should repost this once every year! Knowledge of the tradition’s blessings gives you vocabulary. And you can respectfully use that knowledge along with what you’ve discovered elsewhere. Thank you for sharing so much from your heart here.

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  7. This is a very interesting exploration of blessings and I shall think on this further.

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  8. Amen! A fabulous post.

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  9. Wonderful post. You express so many things that I feel.

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  10. Bless you, your mum and your dogs.

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  11. This is so beautiful, and it makes me think this could be where you take your certification in social work: virtual therapy! I felt myself relax as I read, and when I got to the end, I realized that I’d been blessed. Thank you!
    PS Your pups are almost too cute to be real!

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  12. As a non-religious person the notion of blessings always strikes me as lopsided. It seems like the deity gets a free pass too often. Why give thanks for relief from suffering when the deity, being all powerful, could have simply kept the bad thing from happening in the first place? I know the religious arguments but for some of us they don’t work. (End unpopular opinion)

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  13. I find myself thanking someone or something all day long – like, “thank you, air, for being there” and “thank you, breeze, for blowing through when I’m really sweaty.” I also thank the Goddess, and my mother, and random people. Sometimes I crack myself up. 🙂 And then I thank myself for laughing

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  14. Perfect post and beautiful. May you, your mother, Cricket, Ellie, and the paw paw tree find rest in the cover of night and joy in the day, and may you always find the words to flow from your pen.

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  15. How about a Thanks God for Pets blessing and specifically, a Thank God for Dogs blessing.

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  16. Love the idea of DIY blessings!

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  17. This is very interesting to me. Not being religious, and never having had a religious upbringing, I have never even thought about such things as blessings, until I read your post this morning.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  18. What an endearing and gracious perspective you have on blessings!

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  19. Brilliant. I love this post.

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  20. Thank you for the dog in the bath photo, that made me smile.

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  21. “thank God people are all different so we don’t get bored with all of the sameness” ^_^ “thank you for helping me tolerate people who disagree with me, even though they are still, clearly, wrong” lol.
    Have you ever thought of taking some of your best / most popular blog posts and turning it into a collection of short stories? I really like the little gems you have scattered throughout your writing, and think other people should experience that too!

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  22. My two grandmothers were very different in their approach to blessing counting.
    My mother’s mother started very early in the morning – rising before anyone else in the household – to read her Bible and thank God for her many blessings.
    My father’s mother, on the other hand, carried her Bible every Sunday to church and I never saw her with it at any other time during the week. She thanked God every week for the preacher who gave her the best materials for her comedy routines at the kitchen table.
    I thank whatever gods there may be for the presence of these two women in my life.
    I was blessed.

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  23. I love learning about the Jewish people. Gratitude is good. Daisy Mae my cat loves Chicken too.

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  24. Pingback: Write Yourself A Blessing.. | sparksfromacombustiblemind

  25. Love your posts and photos Rachel. Sadly some of your pictures didn’t load into my reader, but that happens sometimes.
    I am blessed with countless things, even more so these days being able to watch yet new ducklings grow. The guy down the road has a wonderful garden which is a riot of colour again this year and I can enjoy the beauty of his labours and indeed everything around me.

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  26. This is a lovely post. Especially on the heals of hearing Ira Glass on NPRs This American Life discuss this topic from a completely different point of view and yet, both of you add a personal and deep meaning to the conversation.

    I love the idea that a STRETCH is a blessing of the body in a sense. It is thanking the world for the gift of being able to stretch by the very act of stretching.

    Lovely.

    PS — here’s the link to the NPR thing. I think you’ll find it intriguing as well..
    https://www.thisamericanlife.org/680/the-weight-of-words/prologue

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  27. Our blessings should match our day. Great post.

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  28. For someone reading about the blessings about men saying thank G-d for not making me a woman, just to clarify, it is explained that they are thankful for the myriad of mitzvot that they have that they wouldn’t have if they were a woman. The same holds true when saying thank you for not making me a goy- the literal translation of the word being nations, and we as Jews are thankful we have 613 Mitzvot because we are Jewish. Having ones own relationship with a higher being, be it God or otherwise and finding what speaks to them I think is what is important. I am thankful all the time and do not need prescribed brachas to show my thankfulness. A blue sky in the morning will make me say out loud “thank you for this day!” I will often say a Shehecheyanu to myself when I have reached a place or time I am grateful to be at.

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  29. Being Catholic, we have very similar attitudes and beliefs, you and I. I take out of my faith what I need and believe, after all, as you said, sometimes men have different blessings. Spoiler alert, guess who made up the laws and traditions. My constant prayer is always, “Thank you for your blessings.” God knows what’s in my heart. Happy Sunday, my friend.

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  30. Beautiful piece, Rachel!

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  31. I think blessings are great, but there’s really a blessing thanking God for not making you a Goy/non-Jew? Yikes, I don’t blame you refusing to say that one. I’m not religious, but I like to think I can still participate in blessings and gratefulness, I try to be grateful and express that as often as possible. I think that moving with the times is good and writing your own blessings, so to speak, is a great idea! Thank the universe, those around you, God, and feel warm that there’s goodness in life (including when you’re grateful God doesn’t give a rats ass about messy hair 😂). xx

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  32. I think you solved your dilemma right in your own post with this line: “Every blessing in the canon was written by a human being, at a certain time and for a certain purpose.” You’re a human being too so it seems to me like any time you have purpose to say a blessing if there isn’t one to cover the situation you could make up one of your own. Plus it seems more real if it is your own heartfelt words for something of meaning to you rather than a repetition of something someone else said about something that mattered to them. That’s my opinion anyway. Religion is what you make of it. As far as I know the only thing god actually wrote himself was the 10 commandments on a stone tablet.

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  33. …may we, one day, remember what it’s like to wake up to actual birds chirping instead of to twitter alerts… This part made me smile because I AM blessed to hear actual birds chirping. Thank you for making me smile.

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  34. Lovely post Rachel, Im sure dogs do lots of blessings each day

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  35. Rachel, you are pure beauty! I love how you remind us to stay grateful as we declare all our blessings. In doing so, we embrace God. ❤️

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  36. To me, prayer books and previously penned blessings are for those that don’t know what to say. Pull out those things when you can’t find your own words, but otherwise just pray what is in your heart. But . . . . that is just how I feel. I never understood how saying “Hail Mary” and the like over and over and over and over was any type of prayer. That is not a prayer to me, that is a chant and I am not big on chanting.

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  37. Gratitude is the right attitude. Too often, we focus on all the things that bug us or things that go wrong, instead of just being appreciative for all that we have been given. If you appreciate the small things, big things will come your way. Cheers. Allan

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  38. So enjoyed reading this. I’ve missed notifications for your blog for a while so glad to catch up. Always interesting.

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  39. We have that is called “The Book of Common Order” which lists prayers, Orders of Service, blessings and benedictions. And this is a substantial book, but it is not a hard and fast rule book, one is free to use or adjust as one sees fit – they are suggestions rather than rules. I use this book often but I will adjust the words to suit circumstances. It seems to me that the Lord of Hosts is the creator of all life and that also means dogs, so if we pray for a dog or indeed any animal, we are praying for one of God’s creatures. I think to some extent prayers and blessings should be spontaneous to suit the moment and the circumstances, not something that was created by someone long ago. What really is the more important, God or tradition?

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  40. I love your blessings!

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  41. sweet meditations 🙂

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  42. Love what you shared and that adorable baby in the pictures! 😀 ❤

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