A Jew’s First Blessing

A Jew’s First Blessing

This Shabbat we hosted a large group of Canadian and Israeli university students.
I still clearly remember how blown away I was by my first magical Shabbat at an Orthodox family 30 years ago. Maybe that’s why I love so much sharing Shabbat with people, Jews and non-Jews, who’ve never experienced it before.
But this Shabbat something happened that doesn’t happen often, but when it does, for me it makes all the hours of cooking and dishes and logistics of hosting large groups on a regular basis feel like nothing. Like someone gave me a diamond in exchange for a nickel.
This Shabbat, before we ate challah, Josh announced that anybody who wanted could come and learn the special Jewish handwashing ritual.
And, as usual, there was a long line of people waiting at the sink for me to show them how to pour water over each hand, and then recite the blessing.
At one point, the turn arrived of a young Israeli woman with a beautiful smile. She said, “I’ve never done this before, you’ll help me?”
And I said, “Sure!” And I washed her hands.
And then I said, “Baruch.”
“Baruch” she repeated.
“Atah”
“Atah” she repeated.
This is when 99% of Jews take off running, rattling off the rest of the blessing.
But this young woman, a native Hebrew speaker, didn’t know the rest of the blessing.
She just said word by word with me. And I closed my eyes with focus,and felt my heart fill with joy and the Heavens open up. The angels gathered round.
To hear this Jewish woman recite the first blessing of her life.
“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who sanctifies us with his commandments and has commanded us upon washing our hands,”
And this young woman with the beautiful smile, and I (and the angels up above) called out, “Amen!”

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