We have a beautiful tradition with which most of us are unfamiliar. It is a blessing which an individual recites in the midst of the congregation after encountering and overcoming a serious challenge to one’s life. It might refer to surviving a serious auto accident, an illness, or any perilous encounter where one’s life is in danger. He or she recites:
“Blessed art Thou, O Eternal One….who has shown me every kindness.”
And the congregation responds:
“May the One who has shown you every kindness ever deal kindly with you.”
We call the blessing the “Birkat Ha-gomel.” It is a blessing of thanksgiving, but it is more than that as the congregation identifies itself with the individual who has been spared and granted renewed life.
Was God/the Eternal One really involved in saving the teenage boy who skidded on a winding road, resulting in the car turning over, even as the boy walked away unhurt? I don’t know. But what I do know is that the blessing seeks to make us all aware of the precariousness and the preciousness of life.
For me, the blessing recited by the individual and the communal response would seem to defy the observation of the singer, Bob Dylan: “I am a rock, I am an island.” No, none of us is invincible, and none of us need to go through this life feeling alone. So may we reach out to one another as we share the joys of life, and strengthen one another as we confront the trials of life. That is surely what it means to be a congregation in the most worthy sense.
Rabbi David Greenberg