Today is Rosh Chodesh Kislev, the first day of the new month of Kislev. This letter is dedicated to the memory of Solomon Novogrodsky (Shlomo Ben Shimon) in honor of his yahrtzeit - the anniversary of his passing.
Blessing Each Other:
"A tzadik - righteous person - will constantly bless each and every individual." (The Vilna Gaon - Cited in "Consulting the Wise" by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)
A Story: Although Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna, the head of the Chevron Yeshiva, was ill and very weak, he exerted himself one Satuday night - a few weeks before he passed away - to go to the yeshiva in order to pray with the students the evening prayers. As he was walking up the steps, he and the person accompanying him realized that the students had finished praying. Nevertheless, Rabbi Sarna continued up the steps. "Why are you troubling yourself?" asked his companion. "They have already finished praying!" Rabbi Sarna responded: "Praying with the congregation is the fulfillment of a rabbinical obligation, but blessing the students to have a good week is the fulfillment of "Love your neighbor" - a Torah commandment!" Although he missed the opportunity to pray with the congregation, he could still fulfill the mitzvah of loving others through blessing them. ("Love Your Neighbor" by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)
There is another way in which we can give to others through our words: We can bless each other. We can give each other a blessing when we greet each other, when we separate from each other, or even during our conversations with each other. In fact, the word that we use to greet someone or to part from someone is "shalom" - a blessing for peace, harmony, and wholeness. This may be another reason why the Torah encourages us to greet each other, as our traditional form of greeting is also a blessing!
Anyone who visits a traditional Jewish community will notice how Jews love to bless each other. This is especially true when Jews are about to depart from each other. Among traditional Jews, there is no such thing as a simple "good-bye," especially when one is departing from family members or friends whom one may not see for a long period. (For some Jews, the definition of a long period is any absence which lasts more than a week!) During the departure, there is often hugging, crying, and the flow of many blessings, such as: May Hashem give you good health and a good livelihood; may Hashem fulfill the requests of your heart for the good; may Hashem give you the strength to do many mitzvos; may you find joy in your Torah study; may you have "nachas" (satisfaction and pleasure) from your children; may Hashem watch over you; and "lech l'shalom" - may you journey to shalom." A short and sweet Yiddish blessing which is popular among many Jews is, "Zei Gezunt" - Be Healthy.
In formulating a personal blessing, we should choose words that are appropriate for those whom we are blessing; moreover, the poets among us can use their creativity in composing the blessing. We need to remember, however, that even a simple "Good morning" can be a beautiful blessing, when the words come from the heart. The words "Good morning" should therefore be expressing our desire that the other person truly have a good morning. ("Love Your Neighbor," page 44.)
It is fitting to give a blessing for success to one who embarks on a new venture or undertakes a new job. And we should certainly give a blessing to someone who is starting a mitzvah project! We should not, however, give a blessing to any immoral or unethical work which is prohibited by the Torah (ibid).
We have a tradition that the blessings of individuals who have achieved greatness in Torah and/or good deeds have special merit. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, a leading 20th century sage in the Land of Israel, told over a story which can serve as an example. In this story, he describes one of his encounters with the tzadik, Rabbi Aryeh Levin, during the ten days of "teshuvah" - spiritual return and renewal - which begin on Rosh Hashana and conclude onYom Kippur:
"I once met Reb Aryeh trudging at his usual pace through the streets of my neighborhood, the Sha'arey Chesed section of Jerusalem, during the ten days of teshuvah. 'Where are you going?' I asked him. 'Oh,' he replied, 'I am heading for the home of Dr. Miriam Munin.' Anxiously I asked him, 'Who is sick in the family?' His answer was: 'Thank God, we are all well. But the holy day of Yom Kippur is approaching, and since Dr. Munin is an outstanding physician who has treated people with lovingkindness all her life, I am going to her to receive a blessing for the new year that has started for us.' " (From "A tzadik in our time" by Simcha Raz, Feldheim Publishers)
One does not, however, have to be a tzadik in order to give a blessing. Each of us is precious to Hashem, and each of us has some spiritual merit; thus, we all have the ability to bless others. In this way, we become messengers of the One Who is the Source of all blessings. Our sages therefore caution us not to underestimate the importance of another person's blessing, even if this person seems to be an "ordinary" individual. As the Talmud teaches:
"Rabbi Elazar said in the name of Rabbi Chanina: 'A blessing given by an ordinary person should not be unimportant in your eyes." (Megillah 15a)
This teaching is also relevant to the giver of the blessing, for no one should underestimate the importance of the blessing that he gives to others. Both Jews and Gentiles, states the Talmud, have the spiritual potential to bless others and to have their blessings fulfilled (ibid).
May the Compassionate One help us to develop the love, wisdom, and strength to give many blessings!
Zei Gezunt, and Much Shalom,
And a Chodesh Tov - A Good Month!
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
It is proper to answer "Amen" if someone gives you a blessing; moreover, you should also respond "the same to you" or a similar phrase. (You can also give the one who blessed you a special blessing.)These customs, based on biblical, talmudic, and midrashic sources, are discussed in "Eved Hamelech" - Genesis, p. 51a. "Eved Hamelech" is an inspiring commentary on the Tanach - Our Sacred Scriptures" - which explores the various mitzvos that we can learn from the various verses in the Tanach. The author of this work is Rabbi Shmuel Houminer, a 20th century sage of Jerusalem.
Hazon - Our Universal Vision: www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/