Monday, August 27, 2012

#BlogElul Day 9: Blessings and more Heschel

We tend not to talk so much of Blessings, except in the most abstract sense; what a 'blessing' it is to succeed or fail at something, to be surrounded by friends, etc. This is different from the idea than the words we pronounce as blessings, which are a kind of 'Thank You', but also an acknowledgement of the sanctity of a thing (or a time, or person) and how we are changed by the opportunity for blessing. Blessings as speech acts are powerful, but we forget that power; as Michael Marmur pointed out to us a long time ago (I really remember his sermons!), we say 'bless you' mostly when people sneeze! I have always loved when people respond to questions about how they're doing, how their day is or the like with "God Bless" or "Baruch Hashem", and continue to respond in the same fashion most of the time. But we must also remember that those same blessings, those same speech acts can be turned to curses. 

So with that, the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, who speaks more eloquently on the subject:
Moreover, words must not be said for the sake of stiffening the mind, of tightening the heart. They must open the mind and untie the heart. A word may be either a blessing or a misfortune. As a blessing it is the insight of a people in the form of a sound, a store of meaning accumulated throughout the ages. As a misfortune it is a substitute for insight, a pretext or a cliché. To those who remember, many of the words in the prayerbook are still warm with the glow of our fathers’ devotion. Such Jews we must aspire to recall. While those who have no such memory we must teach how to sense the spiritual life that pulsates through the throbbing words.
Heschel, Abraham Joshua (1997-05-16). Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays (p. 117). Macmillan. Kindle Edition. 

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