By Laura Seymour
The wonderful Jewish educator Joel Lurie Grishaver says: “I learned to make brachot at the dining room table. I learned to pray on the ball field.” The Talmud tells us: “A person should say 100 blessings every day.” There are rules for everything in Jewish life, but what kind of law tells you to say 100 blessings every day … and why?
When you really think about it, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have 100 things every day that we were thankful for? Maybe the law is suggesting that we look at life and find things — even everyday, common things — to be thankful for, and then we will be truly blessed. As we prepare for Thanksgiving and Chanukah, this is the perfect time to think about blessings. We are indeed fortunate!
How to say 100 blessings? Let’s start with blessings for food. Just think, we have lots of times each day to remember we are Jewish. However, there is another blessing that would add to the count each day: the blessing we say after using the bathroom. Children of different ages may respond differently to this one — some with giggles, some with embarrassment — but do think about it! “Blessed are You, our G-d, King of the Universe, who fashioned man with wisdom and created within him many openings and many cavities. It is obvious and known before Your Throne of Glory that if but one of them were to be ruptured or but one of them were to be blocked, it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You. Blessed are You, our G-d, Who heals all flesh and acts wondrously.”
Blessings are easy to learn and say, but prayer is another story. For many of us adults, prayer comes naturally, but many others struggle with questions. “Why pray? Are prayers answered?” and so on. Judaism has many rules for fixed prayer, and prayer books are filled with specific prayers. People often wonder why we need to say formal prayers, especially in a language that we may not understand (even the translation is unclear for many readers). But remember that praying is not just about asking G-d for something; it is first and foremost about building a relationship with G-d, which we do through communication, just as we build any relationship.
In “The Book of Jewish Values” by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, there is a chapter titled “Pray for Someone Else Today.” It tells of a talmudic text that praises Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, because he offered a prayer blessing G-d for delivering the Israelites from the Egyptians. Moses also offered a prayer, but his was not praised. Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter explains that Moses thanked G-d for what was done for him and his people, while Jethro thanked G-d for what He did for others.
At this time and for all times, let’s give our children (and ourselves) a way to express our caring for others through prayer. Prayers can be simple words spoken spontaneously from the heart, or you can sit down with your children and write special prayers for certain occasions or certain people. What do we say when a child’s inevitable concern arises: “But G-d didn’t do what I asked for?” In my work with children, parents and staff, I always tell them that God’s response was: “I hear you. I cannot always guarantee that I understand or that I can do what is requested, but I can guarantee that I hear and that I am listening.”
I believe G-d hears us even when we do not receive an answer.
Shalom … from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.