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Updated April, 2013
Jewish ritual builds islands of time that encourage us to stop and savour. These islands are isolated form the rest of the pell-mell week-month-year making us slow things down and infuse the fleeting days with deliberation and sweetness.
Judaism's ritual structures help us see that, although we are subject to clock and calendar, our days do belong to us... When we stop and pay attention.
Jewish tradition sanctifies time with blessings and holidays, calling us to live in the present, to open our eyes, to give thanks, to be here now! This ancient — and at the same time, very modern — tradition provides the means to wake us up and remind us that it is our parental responsibility to focus our children's eyes on the wonders of life and the universe at every possible measure of time (moment to moment, day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year and generation to generation).
Rituals are a special gift to parents watching their children change from week to week, milestone to milestone. The Jewish calendar is full of ways to stay in touch with and teach this "mindfulness of the moment," this sense of holiness of time.
One way to stop, slow down, appreciate those moments is by marking them with blessings.
Barukh Ata Adonai Eloheynu Melekh ha'Olam
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe
This is the standard beginning for all Jewish blessings, though the Hebrew may be translated in other ways. It acknowledges God as the source of all blessing. To recognize that a moment is blessed is to stop, appreciate and sense its distinctness, specialness or holiness.
Blessings can be said at "religious moments" like lighting Shabbat candles, but there are also blessings for seeing a rainbow, eating the first ripe fruit of the season or going to the bathroom. According to one tradition, we are invited to recite one hundred blessings each day and experience one hundred moments of mindfulness.
How wonderful it is to have a tradition that wakes us up to wonder. Blessings remind us that we are not the center of the universe (bread comes from the work of many hands and the miracle of photosynthesis), that is it good to be alive (and healthy enough to wake and use the bathroom). Blessings give our sense of awe (at sunshine, mountains and rainbows) expression in Jewish language.