Blessings are not Magic

“As we open the ark, please rise while the Cantor intones the “Call to Worship” the Barchu.

How many times have we heard this “Call to Worship?” And how many times have we responded with the words, “Blessed are you G-d, the blessed one, forever and ever.”?

Do these words really focus our mind on prayer or do we respond to this call like some Pavlovian response that we’ve been conditioned to say? Perhaps understanding the Hebrew would help us become more connected.

The Hebrew name for the “Call to Worship,” i.e., Barchu, comes from the Hebrew base/root word: Bet, Reish, and Chaf (BaRuCH).   It is usually translated as “bless” or “a blessing” – we see this word in many different iterations, e.g.:

  • Barchu and ham’vorach from the “Call to Worship”
  • Baruch from our every day blessings, e.g., Candle Blessings, Kiddush, Motzi etc.
  • Yitbarach from the Kaddish
  • Barech is one of the steps in the Pesach seder
  • Mi SheBeirach is the prayer for the ill

So, what exactly is a blessing? How is G-d the “Blessed One” and are we “blessing” G-d? Can one really bestow a blessing on someone else? The answer comes from understanding the word baruch. Baruch is very similar to the word Kadosh – both mean to “make holy.” The definition of making something holy is to set it apart.

When one bestows a blessing on another, in essence, the “blessor” is agreeing to set apart and/or change the image, the category, or their way of thinking about the “blessee.” A child becomes not just one of a bunch of children, but now is acknowledged as a child of a certain group, e.g., one of the tribe of Israel or one who is going to be married. The “blessors” are not giving a tangible item; rather, they are giving the “blessee” their support in the endeavor. The “blessor” chooses to see the “blessee” in this new light.

Many times people believe that there is a miraculous quality to a blessing. We acquaint blessings with fables or the supernatural. Blessings aren’t magic. Blessings are awareness. This is an important distinction. Blessings are choices, acknowledgments, and actions. They come from us and not from some magical source outside of us.

In this light, we can reword our “Call to Worship” to read:

  • We will set apart
  • the one
  • who sets apart
  • forever and ever

In other words, we will choose to create a unique, separate place in our thinking where we recognize a power (called G-d) that is greater than our understanding, and to acknowledge that this power has the eternal ability to create many different categories, talents, thoughts, etc.

Perhaps the reason our prayers start with the Barchu is simply to help us get perspective, to focus our minds on the differences (the things set apart) in our world, and to ponder the idea that they all come from a single source. We may be set apart, but we are not disconnected.

May you be blessed.

May you be able to set apart those things and people that create shalom (peace and completeness) in your life.

May you choose to be with them more and with distractions less.

May you be blessed.