In a conversation with a co-worker, I was struck by something he said.
“A lot of the time, I feel like life is just happening to me. I’m rarely able to take even a moment to just pause and appreciate what is going on. I wish I had a technique that would allow me to hit the pause button on the world and let me enjoy what is taking place.”
This sentiment struck me — not because I felt the same way, but because I used to. Then I found the perspective-shifting power of brachot.
Brakhot/brachot (בְּרָכוֹת) (with a ‘kh’ like you’re clearing peanut butter out your throat) or “beh-ra-khot” is just the Hebrew word for “blessings.” The singular form of the word (bracha) also contains the word “berek” which literally means “knee” and “barak” meaning to kneel. Literally, a bracha is a lowering of one’s self. Think of whenever someone is knighted by the Queen of England, that kneel before she taps them on the shoulder with a sword and they gain magic powers. That’s how that works, right?
In Judaism, a bracha is a statement you utter to thank the Creator for a specific item or experience. This statement is usually predetermined, though it can be improvised. And boy-howdy does Judaism have a bracha for all sorts of things.
Waking up has a bracha.
Going to sleep has a bracha.
Drinking a glass of water has a bracha.
Washing your hands in a certain way has a bracha.
Every type of food is categorized and has a bracha.
Witnessing a rainbow has a bracha.
Even using to the restroom or witnessing a political leader has a bracha…and no, they’re not the same.
Most every bracha starts out with the same pre-loaded intro:
“Blessed are You, Lord, our God, Master of the Universe….” fill in the blank. The “blanks” are the icing on the cosmic cupcake.
“…Who brings the fruit of the tree.”
“…Who creates different kinds of fragrances.”
“…Who has given us life, and sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season.”
Not every bracha is happy. For instance, when we hear terrible news, such as hearing that someone has passed away, there’s a bracha for that.
“Blessed is the True Judge.”
Many make the mistake in thinking that we’re blessing objects or experience. While we have the capability to bless each other, Judaism is pretty firm about not blessing objects. Instead, we bless God not only for the object or experience itself but for our ability to experience it. In a way, a bracha is like tagging the artist of a painting you shared on Instagram to make sure they get the full credit.
What is a bracha…for us? Sure, God enjoys our brachot, but we know that the concept was also created for our own benefit. That takes us back to the original woe of my co-worker — experiencing life instead of life simply happening to us.
The famous alternative peace activist Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen summed up the purpose of a bracha better than I ever could.
“A bracha (blessing) is a protest against taking things for granted.”
Like we always feel the need to snap pictures of the beautiful things in life with our phones, we should be even more eager to snap emotional memory pictures of our blessings. Even if you don’t follow the Jewish recipe, there is a certain consciousness you give moments you have been gifted by simply taking a few seconds to use your lips like a camera shutter and vocalize your gratitude for your own perspective of life.