There are many brachot (blessings) in Judaism. Brachot when we wake up, when we go to sleep, before we eat, after we eat, hearing thunder, seeing a rainbow, learning Torah, even for drinking an especially good bottle of wine. And most of the time, I admit that my brachot are rushed, mumbled affairs.
Except for two. One is the weekly blessing as I light the Shabbat candles. The second is the blessing of “shehechiyanu,” which is said when experiencing something new. During this holiday-stuffed season, the blessing is recited fairly frequently—at candle lighting and Kiddush on both nights of Rosh Hashanah, again on Yom Kippur, again on Sukkot, and one last time on Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah.
It goes like this: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us and enabled us to reach this season.”
The message is direct and powerful: We made it. We are standing here again, listening to the shofar, fasting, erecting our sukkah. For me, the blessing is an opportunity to think back on the past year, to remember where I was last year at this time and think of all that transpired in the past 12 months. It’s almost like a little film montage runs through my head as I recite the blessing: The small baby kicking his feet on his playmat is now toddling around the house, weaving in and out of rooms and singing little songs softly to himself. The four-year-old, now five, growing taller and thinner; I can begin to imagine what he will look like as a young man. And the eldest, now a big third-grader, so curious and beautiful and funny and independent that sometimes, I just need to stare at her.
I think back to many years ago, many shehechiyanu blessings ago, when we were a family of two, and marvel how God has brought us to this point.
And I think about those whom God did not enable to reach this season. Grandparents, relatives, and friends who cannot say the shehechiyanu blessing this year. I think about them, too.
Once, a teacher told us that life is like a spiral. When we reach the same place, a year later, we should hopefully be on a higher plane. An improved version of ourselves. I hope this is true of me, that I am growing and improving and not stagnating. But what I love about the shehechiyanu is that it is not concerned with our spiritual growth. Its beauty is in its simplicity – thank You, God, for the very act of keeping us alive, for letting us experience this time, this season, this moment, once again.
This Friday night (October 7) is Yom Kippur; next Wednesday evening (October 12) begins the week-long festival of Sukkot. Whether you normally light candles or not, take a moment during sunset to say the blessing of shehechiyanu. And think back over all that transpired during your year, good or bad, big or small. And thank God for bringing you here, to this very moment.