Ger Tzadik (Sorta)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Challenge: Brachas

This is going to become an ongoing series. Thanks to a lack of creativity, it will simply be the “Challenge” series. It’s going to document the most difficult parts of observance either at that moment, or in the past.

Brachas (blessings) were not a concept I really grasped until a few months ago. Not that the concept itself was hard to understand, but the SCOPE. The place of the bracha in daily Jewish life is not “normal” to an outsider. The realization that there is a bracha for just about everything in life has taken time to sink in. Brachas for eating. Brachas for traveling. A bracha for people dying. A bracha for going to the bathroom. (This one blew me away.) I’m amazed there isn’t a bracha for sex. (Wait…Is there?)

The vast world and importance of brachas in Jewish life was revealed to me in a very strange fashion: The radio. A normal Friday night, previous to my observing Shabbat 100% of the time, consisted of listening to This American Life on NPR. This is a fantastic show, with topics covering all areas of life, always told in a compelling fashion. I still listen to it on the web since it’s no longer an option to listen Friday nights or Saturday mornings.

One night last year, (1/21/05 according to their calendar) the show consisted of stories following the theme of “My Big Break.” The entire show was very good, but the last of three segments caught my attention. I was *just* starting to poke my toe into the waters of Orthodox observance at this point, and was intimidated by everything. This segment gave a peek at what I was facing, and while it was amusing, it made clear what lay ahead.

The third segment was by Shalom Auslander, a formerly frum Jew who relates the story of being in 3rd grade. The story focuses around his desire to be a talmid chacham (a great Torah student) to make his mother proud, and to sin so that God should kill his physically abusive and alcoholic father. The central point in time this revolves around is his classes’ upcoming Blessing Bee. This is the part that really clicked in my head. He discusses the challenges of prepping for this bee at length, with all the various food combinations, blessing combinations, and everything else. Sitting there listening, all I could think was: “How will I ever pull all this off?”

I suggest anyone who feels their emunah (faith) is strong listen to the story, which begins about 37:30 into the recording. (Click on the little Real Player logo on the far left.) I feel nothing but heartbreak listening to him tell it. Despite the fact that he is almost monotone for the whole thing, it’s impossible to not hear the pain of an abused little boy in the story. The fact that he injects it with so much comedy suggests that was really his coping mechanism.

It’s strange how something so unrelated to your own life can make the significance of a practice snap clear in your head. The moment sticks out clearly. Anyway, back to the more local challenge: My Hebrew isn’t anything to be proud of at this point (another topic) so remembering the brachas is a struggle. Remembering to do them is even harder. Only recently have I achieved anywhere near a one-third rate for eating. Usually I dig in and get a few bites choked down before remembering…and those are supposed to be the easy ones! I’m not sure the bathroom one will penetrate anytime this decade.

The stopgap solution that many BT’s resort to I am sure is to always have a pocket blessings book in my backpack or somewhere else handy. That doesn’t help me remember, but when I do, it’s handy. If anyone has any handy suggestions on how to make this more “sticky”, please leave them in the suggestions. It will be greatly appreciated!

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