Last evening, as I was cutting some bread for our dinner, I recalled the dinner I attended prior to the interfaith panel on pilgrimages I participated in the other night.
The hosts asked Rabbi Norman Cohen, one of my co-panelists, to offer a blessing before the meal. He prayed the traditional Jewish blessing over the bread, the transliteration of which is “Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam, ha’motzi lehem min ha‑aretz.” For me, a New Yorker currently living in Minneapolis, there was a sense of warmth and home in just hearing (and joining in the recitation of) these words, which I heard with some frequency in New York, but have never heard uttered here in the Twin Cities. But it is the translation of them that really is my focus.
The translation of the blessing of the bread is “Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.”
We don’t tend to find loaves of bread growing from the ground or hanging from the trees. As Rabbi Cohen observed, the bread we would eat at dinner was the product of someone’s labor – the land produced the wheat that was made into flour, which was then added to other ingredients by the work of someone’s hands.
But when humans were first created, food literally fell from trees, he explained. All that we needed was made available without any need to work for it. The blessing, thus, speaks not to our present state, but the state in which we once existed and the state to which we will return after redemption. We pray as thought we had already reached that which we know will be forthcoming.
When I remembered his words, I recalled reading similar words in an essay in Beside Still Water: Jews, Christians and the Way of the Buddha that describes a discussion between a rabbi and the Dalai Lama. The rabbi explained that the Jewish Shabbat “harkens back to the creation of the world at the same time that it envisions the future messianic redemption.” When the Dalai Lama suggested that the Shabbat is the equivalent for Jewish people of Tibetan visualization practices, the rabbi realized “that is exactly what we do, although we would never see it that way. On Shabbat, we live as though the world were already redeemed, and by so doing, we hasten the cosmic redemption itself.”
I was struck by that language when I first read it, as I was when Rabbi Cohen spoke the other night. Although some might scoff at the notion that “pretending” like this would have some effect, it rings true to me that living “as though the world were already redeemed” helps transform us, which then transforms the world.
“Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam, ha’motzi lehem min ha‑aretz.”