May 29, 2015 admin

For a blessing

Among my favourite greetings is ‘May you be for a blessing’. Admittedly, it can sound pious when spoken, but much less so when written at the close of a letter, or even an email. We use the words frequently in reference to the dead, such as in the abbreviation z’’l which stands for zichronah liverachah, ‘May her memory be for a blessing’, but less often towards the living. Yet I constantly meet many people who, in one manner or another, bring blessing and perhaps, in all the busyness of our complicated lives, it’s the most precious thing we do.
The words go back to Abraham. ‘Be for a blessing’, God says to him, which the rabbis expand into, ‘Up until now the blessings have been in My hands; from now on they are in yours’. One can disagree about the first half of that sentence, but not seriously about the second. The very way a person says ‘thank you’ can make someone else feel that their life is worthwhile.
That goes to the heart of how we as humans have the capacity to bless. There are many blessings all around us: yesterday I went for a run in the paths through Scratchwood where the purple rhododendrons were in bloom. (I know they are considered foreigners, but then so probably am I.) A young rabbit was enjoying the spring grass at the edge of a field. The chestnut trees had their full candelabra of white and red.
We cannot create the grace of a goldfinch or the soft fragrance of a wild rose, but we can and do affect the way those who encounter us are left feeling about the value of their lives. Whether we are aware of it or not, we make a difference all the time. Sometimes this is through specific and directed activity. I admire those who have the skills to save lives, enable bed-ridden people to use their limbs more fully and with less pain, help children overcome fear, have the administrative wisdom to know how to distribute food to the hungry. No one can know the immeasurable extent of the blessings they bring. No one can fathom either the joy and humility which beautiful music has the power to engender, re-opening the heart.
But I have in mind the so-called little things. Suddenly, as I write this, I remember the first time I was given a flower. My father had taken me out on a walk. We passed through a nursery and he stopped to speak with the gardener. A kind man, he must have enquired after the health of my mother, who was terminally ill at the time. He reached down and gave me a small pot with a yellow and amber primrose. I don’t remember what he said; it was something like ‘For your boy’. That man blessed me not only with a love of plants. He made aware for one of the first times in my life how much it matters how we make others feel. That is something which is never beyond our power and, worryingly, we do it constantly, whether we’re conscious of it or not.
Of the three short sentences out of which the famous blessing we read this week in the Torah is comprised, I find myself thinking most about the middle part: ‘May God’s presence shine upon you’. I’ve met many people who reflect that gentle light, no doubt not always, because everyone has their moods. They do so without any kind of pious intention, in how they speak, in simple gestures, in the way they notice people, even things. Without a word they seem to say ‘Look!’ and the light seems now to show not an easier or less painful, but a wiser and kinder reality. It’s a healing light, because, whoever we are, in its presence we feel more whole.
May God grant each of us the grace to be for a blessing.

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