Sunday, September 6, 2009
Several years ago, standing naked and chest-deep in the startlingly bathtub-hot water of the mikvah, hair dripping from the second of three dunkings, I said this prayer for the first time. I stumbled over it and had to ask Rabbi Laurie to repeat part of it because the words were unfamiliar. "Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu, Melech ha Olam, shehekianu, v'kiamanu, v'higianu l'zman hazeh." Blessed be our God, Sovereign of time and space, who has sustained us, protected us and brought us safely to this moment...to this very moment in time...who has allowed me to live to see this day.
Since then, I have said it many times, spontaneously, and I no longer stumble on the Hebrew words. Sometimes my breath is taken away by the beauty of life around me...Shehekianu! Sometimes I feel so loved...Shehekianu! Sometimes everything clicks into place and I am aware of the sheer elegance of creation...Shehekianu!
In July, for the first time in many years, all of my children and their children gathered to celebrate my son Judd's fiftieth birthday. As I, an only child who grew up with almost no family, looked at the joyous array of my five kids and eleven grandkids and their wonderful "married-ins" (as my daughter Cheryl put it), I was overwhelmed with love and gratitude. I realized that what I missed out on as a child, I had managed to provide for my children: those beautiful young ones swimming and laughing and enjoying each other, the older generation settled into easy, friendly enjoyment of the moment, Lindsay and her wonderful Alex a sort of in-between generation, enjoying each other and being with all of us, and me, the matriarch, enjoying a true Shehekianu moment. (see picture at the bottom of the page)
And even though I say this prayer truly from the heart, I don't really believe that God micromanages our lives in the way suggested by the prayer. I believe we are loved in a mystical way and I have felt that love so tangibly so many times, I can't doubt it at all. Still, I was reading through some of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy last night and feeling glad we do it almost entirely in Hebrew so I am not fully aware of what I'm saying. It's all about getting your name inscribed in the book of life or the book of death -- as if some transgression will cause God to kill you at some unspecified date during the year to come, and doing good deeds will cause God to let you live for another year. I don't think most Jews believe that in any literal way, yet we all show up. I mean, all of us show up -- for you Christians, think Christmas and Easter. In about two weeks, the walls will be bursting with people we only see at this time of year. Jews we never knew existed will come to shul by the droves, exchanging L'shana tovas and kisses. The vast rolling lawns will be covered with parked cars. They will run shuttle buses out to taxi people to the door. They will be seated in every inch of space we have, folding doors opened up and space expanded out into the broad hallway and the social hall. Of course, we are celebrating the birthday of the world. The new year begins.
And then, those of us who have been allowed to live for another year, joining together again for yet another go at getting it better this time, will say (or sing) -- what else? Shehekianu!
photo credit (below): Loyd Sherwood