May 18, 2024
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How Far Would You Go for a Bracha?

Two years ago I wrote about my journey of nearly 3,500 miles to get a blessing (bracha) from a very special gentleman in Manchester, England. It was a pleasure to meet Mr. Chaim Ferster, a 94-year-old man who had common Holocaust experiences with my late father. They had been inmates together in Auschwitz and had been liberated together from Buchenwald. We had lunch and conversed with him, together with his family, for hours. He had clear memories of his various experiences during and after the war. Before we said our goodbyes, Chaim was kind enough to bestow his blessings upon my wife and myself. Several weeks later I was saddened to learn that he had passed away. Our visit with him turned out to be fortuitous in terms of timing.

This past week I remembered to call an old friend, Joe Wolf. I met Joe in Boca Raton years ago when I would come down to visit my parents. His children eventually convinced him to move closer to them, in Rockville, Maryland, and live independently in an assisted living facility. Every Chanukah I would call Joe and wish him a happy birthday. This year I was especially excited to call him. He was turning 100 years old.

Joe is the kind of man you only meet once in a lifetime. He is a Holocaust survivor with a mild accent who is as sharp as a tack. He had outlived three wives. He remembered me quite well and was able to ask about my family, almost picking up on our conversation where we last left off. I had visited the Ring House to daven Shacharit a while back when I was in the area looking for a minyan. I was surprised to see him leading the davening for dozens of men. We were happy to greet each other and we took a “selfie” picture with our tefillin on. Joe is always happy to wish me the best and bestow many blessings upon me.

How important and significant are blessings in Jewish tradition? We see examples of blessings throughout Bereishit. The first mention of a bracha is when God blesses all the creatures, saying “be fruitful and multiply (Bereishit 1:22). Avraham received Hashem’s blessing for the future of the Jewish people, hearing that they would multiply like the stars of Heaven (15:5). Yaakov tricks Yitzchak into giving him the blessing reserved for the firstborn (27:28). Eisav, his older brother, “cried out an exceedingly great and bitter cry,” begging for a blessing too (27:34). Yaakov ends the book of Bereishit handing out blessings (49:1) and Yosef is perplexed when Yaakov switches his hands, blessing the younger grandson over the older one (48:9).

Obviously blessings are serious business. How are we, then, supposed to relate to this concept? What exactly is a blessing and how important is it to seek one out?

Rabbi Berel Wein offers an intriguing insight into this issue. He explains as follows: Blessings are a means to encourage and empower potential to become reality. A blessing is the use of potential to do good things such as to serve Hashem.

If blessings are a means to encourage and empower, then we all have the power to bless. We have the power to bless and encourage our spouses. As parents, we have the power to bless our children, as is a common Friday night custom, encouraging and empowering them. We especially have the power to bless our own efforts.

The Satmar Rebbe was once asked who is worthy enough in this generation to bestow a bracha. He answered that if we come across an individual who experienced the Holocaust and still wears tefillin, this is a righteous individual whose blessing should be sought.

This Sunday, Joe and I have a date to go out for breakfast right after Shacharit. I will be in the area visiting my son and his new kallah. Joe will undoubtedly bless me with a long and healthy life, as is his custom. I will treasure his brachot, just like I treasured those of Chaim Ferster whom I met two years ago in Manchester. How far would I go to get a bracha? In this case, the answer is 250 miles.

By Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg

Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist in private practice. He is president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos Gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn, NJ, and is a member of the International Rabbinical Society. He can be reached at [email protected].

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