We’re learning the new rhythms of sheltering, unending Shabbat. New bedtimes, new dances, new outfits, new quiet, new family, new lonely, new heartache. And we’re making new blessings over it all, the near-sacred metaphysics of Zoom transmissions, the unusual gift of time with housemates, the respite from the capitalist rat race.
It’s natural to our base mindset to be thankful for the good, the gratitude conveyed in words, laughter and song, sung to deities and friends. What’s less than natural for us, is the instinct to bless the less-than-good. To offer gratitude for all that is, even the things we’d never wish for.
The prophets understood the dilemma. Isaiah wrote us this line: “Blessed is the one who forms light and fashions the darkness, the maker of peace, and the creator of the less than good.”
His wording was actually “the creator of Ra, bad or evil.”
Though it’s not our inclination to the bad aspects of the world, there is something strange about being picky-choosy with God’s creation, even if some of those works manifest in our pain, heartache and suffering. It’s haughty, lacking in humility, to be thankful only in seasons of joy. When the sages wrote the prayer book, they used Isaiah’s line but amended it, accounting for the fragility of the human psyche. Blessed is the one who forms light and fashions the darkness, the maker of peace, the creator of everything.
What would it mean for us to bless this moment? To aspire to a position of acceptance, if not gratitude, at a moment of profound distress?
Did you know there was a blessing prescribed for the moment one hears of a death? Baruch Dayan Emet. We might render it — Blessed is truth. Or — Blessed is what is. When we meet a moment of suffering, we have the choice of refusal or acceptance, turning away, or turning towards. And though we may think that turning away from suffering eases our suffering, it does not. She lies in wait, haunting all of those who refuse her, the deity of what is.
Usually our hearts swim in little gatherings of water, small pools with the occasional disturbance of a frog’s splash, the wind’s blow. Our hearts have been flung into oceans. And our fears and worries, they are little shields from the enormity of the love and fear that is all around us.
The reason we aspire to bless everything, the force that fashions light and dark, peace and her counterpart, is to dwell in the wholeness of ourselves and the world. The virus without is a reflection of the viruses within. All the places we are broken, debilitated, wounded, and the urges toward further destructiveness, away from healing. When we bless everything we make room at the altar within us, that all who’ve been scorned, may be welcomed. This is the first posture of healing. Welcoming, blessing, all. If we can practice saying yes right now, the rest is a piece of cake.
Rabbi Zach Fredman writes and teaches from Brooklyn, NY. He is the bandleader of The Epichorus, purveyors of new Arabic folk and prayer music. Drawing from devotions in mythology and mysticism, Zach is translating Jewish wisdom from tribal roots to human futures. Connect at — zachfredman.com