In this letter, I would like to discuss with you the following way to strengthen each other during this very difficult period for our people and the world.
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.
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. During such a departure, there can be a flow of many blessings, such as: May Hashem give you good health; 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 you have a good livelihood; may Hashem bless you and protect 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 more 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 powerful blessing, when the words come from the heart.
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. (Cited with sources in “Love Your Neighbor” by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, pages 44, 45)
We have a tradition that the blessings of individuals who have achieved greatness in good deeds have special merit. In this spirit, I will share with you the following story from the Chareidi community in Jerusalem:
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, a leading 20th century sage, describes one of his encounters with the tzaddik, Rav Aryeh Levin, during the ten days of “teshuvah” – spiritual return and renewal – which begin on Rosh Hashana and conclude on Yom 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 loving-kindness all her life, I am going to her to receive a blessing for the New Year that has started for us.’ ” (From “A tzaddik in our time” by Simcha Raz, page 355)
I also learned from my Chareidi teachers that one does not have to be a tzaddik 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 or she gives to others. Both Jews and Gentiles, states the Talmud, have the spiritual potential to bless others and to have their blessings fulfilled (ibid).
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, such as, “May the blesser be blessed.”
I am a member of the family of Kohanim, the descendents of Aharon. Hashem gave our family the mitzvah to bless the people each day; thus, giving blessings is our family business. The following is the traditional blessing that we say, and I give this blessing to all of you:
“May Hashem bless you and guard you. May Hashem illuminate His countenance towards you and endow you with grace. May Hashem lift His countenance to you and establish shalom for you.” (Numbers 6:24-26)
And I would like to add the following blessing:
“May Hashem bless you from Zion, and may you see the good of Jerusalem all the days of your life.” (Psalm 128:5)
Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
A Related Story and Comments:
1. Although Rav Yechezkel Sarna, the head of the Chevron Yeshiva in Jerusalem, was ill and very weak, he exerted himself one Saturday 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, Rav Sarna continued up the steps.
“Why are you troubling yourself?, asked his companion. They have already finished praying!”
Rav 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 as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18) – a Torah mandate!”
Although he missed the opportunity to pray with the congregation, he could still fulfill the mitzvah of loving others through blessing them. (This story is found in “Love Your Neighbor” by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, page 45.)
2. “A tzaddik in our time” is published by Feldheim: www.feldheim.com