Shaina makes a Brocha

Our family wakes up at odd hours to do strange things. On Tuesday night, we had the Chicken Dance at 10:30 p.m. We have Games Night at midnight, 2:00 a.m. giggle sessions and the grand unpacking of cupboards at three in the morning. Shaina’s latest late-night escapade both surprised and gratified us. The room was dark and still, and we assumed she was asleep. Out of the blue, we hear her: “Baruch, atah…” She sounded each word deliberately, the blessing for fruit.

As Orthodox Jewish parents, we have taught our children the appropriate blessings for food from a young age. Jewish tradition mandates different blessings before eating various food types like bread, cakes, fruit, vegetables or cheese. There’s a fair amount to learn. Even before our children can talk, we say the blessings for them when we feed them.

For the last three years, we’ve debated trying to get Shaina to say blessings over food. Speech is a challenge for her. She loves to sing, which works for the daily prayers because each has a song. But, the blessings over food are too short to have their own tunes. Besides, mealtimes are challenging as it is. When Shaina agrees to eat, we have to move quickly. By the time we complete the blessing, she might change her mind about eating.

So, we’ve been inconsistent with the food blessings. When she’s in a good mood, we say them with her. Most of the time, we skip them. We don’t want to create additional stress for her.

Then she surprises us: Half-awake, in the dead of night, “Baruch atah…”

And she hasn’t stopped. Now, she starts a blessing most times before she eats. All blessings start with the same Hebrew formula, “Blessed are you G-d, King of the Universe”. Shaina can say that part- haltingly and deliberately but unprompted. We help her complete the sentence with the specifics for fruit, vegetables, fish, bread or cake.

We are only meant to say one blessing per food type per meal. Shaina has her own method. She will repeat her blessings two or three times in one sitting.

Our tradition also includes a hand-washing ritual before we eat bread. We say a special blessing then too, and Shaina has learned it. Only, she doesn’t limit this prayer to washing her hands for bread. Whenever she washes her hands, be it with soap, during water play or as part of the bread ritual, she pounds out each word of the blessing. 

I tried to explain that one blessing per meal is enough and that she need not bless her soapy hands. I may be the rabbi, but she does it her way. She probably thinks I’m crazy for suggesting she say fewer blessings.

I think she has plugged into the deeper meaning of “brocha”, the Hebrew for blessing. Jewish mysticism says that the word actually means to “draw down” from a higher, abstract plane to our tangible reality. When we bless G-d, we invite Him into our space. “Typical” humans only welcome G-d at predetermined times that fit a rational schedule. Before we eat, we invoke G-d. In our rituals and prayers, we hope to connect with Him.

Shaina isn’t typical, and neither is her relationship with G-d. She’s happy to invite Him in any time, multiple times and all the time. No matter if she’s at shul or in the bath, she blesses Him into her space. We live constrained by our rational reality and need for processes and routines. Once again, Shaina is the teacher. She models how we should bless and connect at every opportunity.

Shaina learns the blessing to say when preparing to bake bread.

Published by rabbiarishishler

Husband, father and rabbi of Chabad of Strathavon in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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