Avi Garelick

Investigation of a Blessing


Background: I tutor a 12-year-old boy in basic Hebrew. He has minimal knowledge of Jewish religion and culture, mostly gleaned from his socialist-Zionist summer camp and from paying attention during his handful of visits to the synagogue. In this session, we are reading from a different siddur [prayer book] than usual. We start, as always, by sounding out the blessings on Torah study.

Me: Do you see any other blessings on this page?

(My student chooses a part of the page, basically at random.)

Elijah: Here.

Me: Why is that a blessing?

E: Because it’s in the siddur!

Me: There are things besides blessings in the siddur!

(He examines the page, looking for word patterns he can recognize. After a little while, he notices a shaded text directly below the blessing he just read.)

E: That’s a blessing! It starts with Baruch atah.

Me: Very good.

E: I didn’t notice it because it’s gray.

Me: Can you guess what it means?

E: Maybe… it’s the blessing you say when there’s a double parsha [weekly Torah portion], to connect the two.

Me: Huh?

E: Sometimes at synagogue they read two parshas together instead of one. Don’t they need to say a blessing for that?

Me: There actually is no blessing for that. We just go ahead and do it. I’ll give you a hint: It’s not for the service. It’s something personal, for the person saying it.

E: Maybe…It’s an extra blessing you say after you turn 100!

Me: You mean, like as a reward?

E: Yes.

Me: That’s a good guess. But that’s not it.

E: Maybe girls have to say it, as an extra blessing.

Me: That’s interesting. Why do girls have an extra blessing?

E: Because they have to do more work.

Me: They do?

E: In order to make up for being girls.

Me: Ah. Well, that’s not right.

E: Maybe it’s for priests.

Me: Why do priests have an extra blessing? For the same reason as girls?

E: No, because priests are special.

Me: It’s true that priests are special, and on special occasions they get extra blessings. But this isn’t that. I’ll give you another hint. It’s for something that could happen to anyone, at any time.

E: Anyone? Any age?

Me: Yes.

E: Any gender?

Me: Yes.

E: Is it a thing that happens in synagogue, or in outside life?

Me: Good question. It is a thing that happens in life.

E: A haircut.

Me: No.

E: Maybe it’s for if you broke Shabbat.

Me: And why is there a blessing for that?

E: To make up for it.

Me: Very interesting, but no. It is something that happens, not something you do.

E: Maybe it’s if you make a new friend.

Me: …But how do you know when you’ve made a new friend?

E: What do you mean? You know.

Me: Oh, OK. Well, that’s not it.

E: Maybe if there’s a new baby in your family. Or maybe something happens at work.

Me: What kind of thing?

E: I don’t know. A good thing, or a bad thing.

Me: Uh huh. Well, remember. It could happen to anyone. And your idea could only happen to someone with a job.

E: Oh yeah.

Me: And what if you’re someone who has no family?

E: Everyone has a family!

Me: No, what about orphans?

E: They are a family with other orphans!

Me: I don’t think orphans feel that way. Also, new friends only happen if you get along with people, and haircuts only happen if you have hair. What is something that could happen to anyone?

E: …dying.

Me: Well, you can’t say a blessing if you are dead.

E: If you are sick! Or, if you were sick.

Me: Yes! But which is it?

E: It’s if you were sick, and got better.

Me: How do you know?

E: If you are still sick, why would you come to synagogue?