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Build a Year of Blessing, One Step at a Time

01/13/2021 11:04:49 AM


Before his death, our ancestor, Jacob, bestows blessings on all of us. They thrum and echo in the heart of every Jew. Each of us draws our spiritual strength from these blessings, said so long ago but still reverberating. We were meant to be a blessing and so we have been.
But there is a strange uncertainty: how many blessings did Jacob bestow? Was it thirteen? One to each tribe and a double blessing to Joseph through his sons Ephraim and Menashe? Or was it fourteen: Joseph, Ephraim and Menashe each given a blessing?   But at the end of it all the text says, "Jacob blessed his children." Does that mean one additional blessing, bringing the total to fifteen?
Does it matter? That at least we can answer. Yes. Every detail, every word, letter and event in the Torah carries meaning. So let's take a look at those three numbers: 13, 14, 15.
It's not an idle look either. The message of the text frequently extends into numeric meaning. Case in point: the blessing of Chanukah. The way that we say the blessing, there are 14 words. We say, להדליקנרשלחנוכה, l'hadlik ner shel Chanukah: to light the candle of Chanukah. The Rambam and others shorten it to thirteen words. Instead of נרשלחנוכה, ner shel chanukah, "candle of Chanukah," they say, נרחנוכה, ner chanukah: "Chanukah candle."
Why the variant? Because the thirteen-word blessing evokes the Thirteen Attributes of love and compassion that Moses proclaimed when he beheld G-d's presence on Sinai. The miracle of Chanukah, the secret of the light, says this interpretation, is kindled through love and compassion.
And why do we add a word to make it fourteen? Because the fourteen-word blessing evokes the word/number corresponding to fourteen: י׳׳ד, Yud Daled, which means Yad (literally "arm") but which in Torah terms means action. Because the miracle was kindled through action.
Number fifteen, the final number of possible blessings, corresponds to Yud Heh, ׳/ /ה, one of the holiest and primal names of G-d: Yah, the beginning of the word Yehudi, Jew. Because the miracle was kindled through a renewed connection to Judaism and Torah.
So, the number of blessings speaks to a deep secret. Blessing begins with thirteen: compassion. It is nurtured through fourteen: concrete action. And it is continued through our living our Judaism.
I can think of no better guidance for the civil year ahead: Respond to every challenge and every opportunity with compassion. Repair with specific action: every action, whether it be a smile, a handshake, a donation, a respectfully expressed point of view, a sharing, is essential. And finally, strengthen your Jewish practice: one letter, one word, one mitzvah, one prayer or celebration at a time.  
As we go into 2021, let us focus on these three commitments: a commitment to compassion, a commitment to action, a commitment to Jewish practice. 13, 14, 15.   That's my bumper sticker for the year ahead. May it be one of blessing.

Wed, July 28 2021 19 Av 5781