In a recent piece for the Huffington Post, my friend Reverend Lillian Daniel urges us to eat out less. She recommends meeting friends and family at home rather than at a restaurant. Why?
Lots of noise and people make it easy to avoid the more meaningful conversations. Raised menus can hide expressive faces. At home, however, we are more open. We reveal more of ourselves. We deepen our connections to one another.
She's right. The most sacred moments happen at home. The upcoming Thanksgiving is an opportunity for such sacredness. One way to make it happen is to say a blessing before the meal. Why?
1. Blessings create gratitude: It is hard to be grateful when we are rushed. When we focus our minds and say words of thanks, we become more aware of what we are doing. It doesn't matter what we say. (So long as we don't do the famous Bart Simpson grace: "Dear God, we worked for all this stuff, so thanks for nothing.") The act of pausing and acknowledging what is in front of us can make us feel more grateful for it.
2. Blessings elevate the conversation: Have you ever noticed the way the feeling of a meal changes when we say a blessing before it? We become more aware of ourselves. We may feel a little more embarrassed if we start engaging in small talk or petty gossip. The experience becomes more elevated, and thus more meaningful.
This change doesn't automatically happen. But there is a reason people have been saying blessings for thousands of years. They connect us to one another and to something larger than ourselves.
3. Blessings make memories: By making us more aware of the moment, a blessing can help sear it in our memories. As Rabbi Yael Levy has written, "In Hebrew, the word for thanksgiving--Hoda'ah--also means acknowledgment. And when we say prayers of thanksgiving, we are also saying, 'I acknowledge this moment, I am aware of this encounter.'" This awareness is more than simple recollection. It rests in our hearts.
4. Blessings make the food taste better: I admit this is entirely subjective. Yet, I recall the the old Jewish story about a King who once dined at a Jewish home on the Sabbath. He was amazed by the food.
The next day he asked his chef to figure out why the chicken tasted so good. The chef went to the family, got the recipe and make it for the King. The King lifted up his fork and knife, cut the chicken, put it in his mouth, and said it didn't taste the same.
"It's the exact same recipe! " said the chef. So the King went back to the family and asked why their chicken tasted so good. They replied, "We used the secret Sabbath spice." "What is that spice? " replied the King. They answered, "The blessings of family and friends."Discover the Jewish blessing said before a meal and listen to it sung by the great Cantor Vicky Glikin.