"With what shall I bless you?
There’s a Friday night ritual where traditionally parents bless children. When, I had Shabbat dinner with Audrey Potter last week, I surprised and intrigued to hear the blessing that she offered her daughters. “May you be blessed to be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Ruth, Harriet, Elena, Jane, and Kamala.” Her list included traditional names, the names of the matriarchs, but it also included the names of others that she wanted to serve as role models for her daughters (imperfect individuals still, just like the matriarchs). It felt so intimate to see some hints of Audrey’s values through the composition of her blessing, and to see this glimpse of the promise that Audrey saw for her daughters.
In parshat Eikev, there is also a moment of blessing, where God offers a blessing to the people: “[God] will love and bless and multiply you, blessing the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain, your wine, your oil, the offspring of your herds and flocks…”
What values of God’s are communicated through this blessing? What promise does God see in the people, and what might this sort of blessing evoke for its recipients? As moderns, even with our access to historical research, only have so much access to what this blessing might have meant to its particular recipients. Even standing in the room with Audrey last week, I have limited sense of what her blessing evokes for her, even less of a sense of what it evokes for her daughters!
Blessings are moments of deep connection and have the potential to create greater intimacy with people we live. This Shabbat, I invite you to take a little risk and offer a blessing to someone whom you might not usually. If you don’t know the person very well, I will share my strategy. I start by asking a person a question that I learned from the Talmud, “With what shall I bless you?” (Taanit 5b)
And if you leave a comment, I would be honored to also offer you a blessing!
Shabbat Shalom and wishing you each a week of blessings.
July 22nd, 2021
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Tu B'av!
“To love well is the task in all meaningful relationships” bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions
In popular culture, love is often described as a feeling, an instinct. In romantic comedies, characters say “I think I’m in love,” upon meeting one another. But in the Torah, love is more than a feeling; it is an activity, an action. This week’s Torah portion contains a central text, the V’ahavta (“You shall love”) prayer. The rabbis of the Talmud interpret this text as to be teaching us how to love. The V’ahavta’s first verse reads:
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.”
What’s the difference between your heart, your soul, and your might? Why do all three of the these elements need to be listed? Rabbi Eliezer gives one suggestion: he suggests that different people might find it easier or harder to love in different ways. One person, he suggests, might find that they have a more protective relationship to their property (his interpretation of what “your might” means) so they might be less inclined to give away possessions in acts of love. Someone else might find it difficult to perform acts of service for loved ones that require one’s physical body (his interpretation of “your soul”). We don’t all have the same inclinations of how to love: some of us are more heart, some of us are more soul, some of us are more might. In the framework of Dr. Gary Chapman, we all have our preferred love languages. (I’d love to hear: which do you think you are?).
But the text doesn’t say, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, OR with all your might.” It says, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, AND with all your might.” From here we learn that loving requires us to engage with God, but really also one another, in all kinds of loving behaviors, both ones that come easily to us and ones that are more (sometimes much more) difficult. Loving is not an easy, instinctive task. It is also what our tradition calls us to do: love your neighbor, love the strange, love the orphan and the widow, love God. Heart, soul, AND might.
May you have a week of ahava, of love, and may you both give and receive it fully and deeply with your heart, with your soul, and with your might.
Rory Katz is the rabbi of Chevrei Tzedek Congregation in Baltimore. She was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in May 2019.