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Tishrey 3 – (#BlogElul 27 – Bless)

“I put before you the blessing and the curse. Therefore, choose life.” is one of my favourite lines in the bible. It is also a very beautiful song. But what is a blessing? Some see it as just a wish – like when we say “bless you” after someone sneezes, to wish them health. But people are very clear that a curse is more than a bad wish – it can actually cause a bad wish to happen. So is a blessing a good wish that can actually happen? The dictionary takes another view. It says that blessing is making holy. Except – I don’t need holy sneezes. None of it makes a lot of sense.

The line above makes sense however. It makes sense on a visceral, emotional level – the level at which Yom Kippur, if done right, should make sense. Yom Kippur is supposed to make the blessing and the curse just a bit more obvious – to peel back the layers of common sense and every day living and let me see what behaviours of mine cause good wishes to myself and others and which do not. If it doesn’t do that – if it doesn’t make me feel abashed, determined, sad, excited, humble, proud, ready and willing, then it hasn’t done its job.

What did I learn from Yom Kippur this year? I have a short attention span, and am easily bored. I enjoy repetition – but only up to a point. We went to a more religious service – and I didn’t always have the God connection that I rely on Yom Kippur to bring. So, I’m not sure that it did the job and heled me to choose blessing rather than curse.

I will have to keep trying. I see my bad habits glaring at me since I started watching for them – “ha,” they seem to say “you chose the curse that time.” It feels almost impossible – not through the many repetitions of song and story, not through checkmarks on a page, not through earnest prayer – to be rid of them. In fact, all that happens is, over the course of the day, I get more and more defensive and less and less able to accept my errors and I start justifying the most ridiculous things in the most ridiculous way.

Luckily, there is another holiday that follows Yom Kippur and that one worked better at helping me choose the blessing. Sukkot was beautiful this year. It was exactly what Sukkot should be – a holiday where love of God and love of goodness brought so much joy that choosing blessing was easy. During Sukkot, sometimes, I forgot about everything and just chose to do the right thing because it felt good. That’s a rare thing. When I can do the right thing – not because I have to, but because it feels fantastic. So, I will try to use that – to hold on to that blessing throughout the year. This year, for the first time, I understand why those books of right and wrong, good and evil, aren’t closed until Simkhat Torah. Because if it didn’t happen through the gritted teeth hard work of Yom Kippur, one can still choose life through the joy of Sukkot.

This post – probably my last Elul blog of the year, as it’s Kheshvan tomorrow – took me a month to write in snippets. It’s disjointed, and has more flaws than most posts do. It reminds me of our sukkot. It reminds me of my family. There may be rough or ill-fitting bits. There may be confusion, it may take forever (most things that I do take forever), it may not make perfect sense – but it expresses joy, and it reaches for blessing.

Elul 27

I bless you for a sweet new year, one full of promises fulfilled. May your heart be strengthened through courage and love. May your mind be filled with questions and ideas. May your body remain healthy and strong, able to accomplish what you ask of it. May your presence – your words, your ideas, your actions, just your being there – may all of it be a blessing to others. May you find comfort and serenity in your life. May your actions be successful – may this year be a gainful one for you financially. May you be free from hunger and loneliness.

May you find purpose. May the work you do transform the world around you. May it be meaningful and more than just a way to earn an income. May it be a life, not just a livelihood. If you are studying, may you learn well enough to use what you learn successfully and gainfully. May your footprint on earth be a gentle one, one that contributes to the well-being of all that is..

May you enjoy the world around you the way you wish to. If you want to travel, may you travel. If you want to find a home, may you find one. If you want change, may the parts of your life that need changing undergo profound transformation. If you want stability, may you find traditions that work for you and help keep you sane.

May you get enough sleep. And for those that think this is a small blessing compared to the others, congratulations, and don’t visit me first thing in the morning after one of *those* nights. May your life be free enough from stress and worry that sleep is possible. May you have time enough for all that you want to accomplish, and a comfortable place to rest. May you have the people in your life to fill in when you just can’t, to hold you should you need help.

Maybe I’m quoting here. There is a song Cradle Song by Shriekback, which in itself comes from older folkloric sources, that I just love. It’s a haunting blessing song, and I’ve copied the last few lines, because it says the right stuff:

May you hold to your truth
As you walk the dark night of unreason
The stone walls which surround us – may your spirit fly round them
Like the wind from the sea…

May the fire be your friend and the sea rock you gently,
May the moon light your way – till the wind sets you free

May you never know hunger: may you love with a full heart –
The light stay in your eyes…

May the fire be your friend and the sea rock you gently,
May the moon light your way – till the wind sets you free

Or maybe it’s the Irish blessing I’m quoting:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Both blessings make me think of my little ones, now not so little. Some of them are far away from me this Rosh HaShanah and it’s hard not to want to hug them and bless them and hold them.

Eh, maybe it’s just the way blessings are, full of our desires for ourselves and for each other. So I send blessings, both to the kids and to everyone. I bless you. This year may you pray with sincerity and act with kindness. This year, may you sing, freely and often, and be strong enough and be full enough to bless others. This year, may you break through any limits that keep you from achieving your dreams. May you succeed. May you dream. May you love. May you live. May you be.

Elul 16

I pray. That’s really all there is to it. I can’t remember a time before I prayed – from when I was very very young until now, really. I say words, I sing songs, I think thoughts and I write journal entries – I use all sorts of ways to connect to God. I think it works – in that I’m a better person when I do so – and I’ve talked about that in this blog before. Today, all I can think about is how hard prayer is and how, after so many years of practice and experience, I still am not all that good at it.

The problem is that my thoughts wander. It’s amazing – one moment I’ll be earnestly repeating words that praise God, the next, I’ll be thinking of that really great thing I should have said to that person. One minute I’ll be asking for help in a situation which I find difficult, the next, I’ll be worrying about when I’ll have time to wash that whatever-it-is. I’ll be focusing on God being present through the generations, for just a moment, before I’ve wandered off, at least in my head, the grocery store or worse yet, the library. Hmm, if that character just visits that other character an talks to her, I know the two of them could connect and get past that issue they’ve been having and the one will be able to use magic to…what was I doing? Writing a blog? Praying? Where was I? Oh yes, blessed be God…

I do various things to help my brain focus. As I’ve said I use different media. I say my own words, I say fixed words, I chant or sing. I meditate in silence and I write. That helps a bit but still, my brain wanders. Sometimes, I find I can focus better in the right surroundings. If I could just magically find myself with time to go hiking daily, maybe my prayers would be better (although with a convenient forest behind my house, that’s happening way more often, actually – yay.) I find that having a routine helps – a time when I definitely talk to God every day. However, given that my brain is like a steel sieve, my ability to stick to a routine is highly imperfect.

Ok, but my mind just switched topics, so… Have you noticed how the first words in many Jewish prayers are “God is blessed?” What on earth is that about? It’s always intrigued me – why not “Thank you, God”, or “Praised be God?” Why “Blessed be God?” What on Earth are we blessing God for? A blessing, by the dictionary is something promoting or contributing to happiness, well-being, or prosperity; a boon. It’s a wish for something good to come, or a promise of something good to come, right? God is to be blessed for bringing forth bread? It almost sounds like we’re judging God, deciding that bringing forth bread is good, and that we can therefore give God a reward, a blessing. It’s bizarre really.

See? No focus whatsoever! You have no idea how much editing goes into this blog to keep it even vaguely cohesive. May God be blessed with people who pray in a focused, consistent way! Unfortunately, God is stuck with me and I’m stuck with me, so let’s see if I can pull a rabbit out from under my kippa and connect it all.

Maybe that’s exactly what the blessings mean. Maybe it means that these things – be they bread that we have helped God bring forth from the ground, or these prayers that come haltingly and disjointedly, these things are blessings to God, good things that bring God joy. Maybe She considers even the mixed-up distracted, half-there but mostly not prayers I can produce a blessing. And because She wants me to remember that God is pleased with this world, with the people in it, with the mitzvot we do, all short prayers begin and long prayers end with “God is blessed…”

My prayers are good enough. My attempts to focus and talk, write, meditate and sing with God have been noted and accepted. In fact, they are a blessing. I can work on better focus … where did I put down my phone, again? I have to check what time the bank opens … but meanwhile, what I do is sufficient for God to be blessed by it – to find it a desired goodness. That’s something to smile about this Elul.