We Jews say a lot of blessings. Like, a lot a lot. There are blessings for food (several different ones for different categories, both before and after meals), for lighting Shabbat or holiday candles, for hearing thunder, for laying eyes on the sea, for hearing good news, for hearing bad news, for the proper functioning of our bodies after using the bathroom, for seeing a rainbow, for seeing an unusual person, for opening our eyes in the morning. You name it, we probably have a blessing (called a b’rakhah in Hebrew) for it.
When the sun went down and ushered in the third day of Elul*, I was at a baseball game. Although some fans treat sports with the reverence due a religion (complete with sainted players, demonic forces wearing the uniforms of the opposing team, and “hymns” in the form of stadium rock), I am of the view that a baseball game is a secular event. At first glance, it didn’t look like we were going to be doing anything particularly Jewish that evening.
My third #BlogElul post was still unwritten as we headed to Pensacola Bayfront Stadium, so I had blessings on the brain. We have blessings we could say for just about everything, after all, and that ought to mean that any place, even one as secular as a stadium, should provide at least a few b’rakhah prompts. I started to wonder how many opportunities to bless God I could find at a baseball game. Here are just a few of the ones we found as we watched the Pensacola Blue Wahoos beat the Jacksonville Suns.
- This was my very first baseball game ever, so we could start strong with the Shehecheyanu, which we say for “firsts” and unique or infrequent joyful occasions.
- Pensacola Bayfront Stadium isn’t merely a name: we had a great view of the ocean, and the sea breeze helped cool down the summer evening. We got to bless God “who has made the great sea.”
- What’s a baseball game without a little stadium food? We couldn’t resist a hot, salty soft pretzel. There is apparently some debate over whether a soft pretzel gets the b’rakhah for bread or the one for other grain foods, but either way, it was a blessing opportunity.
- While we’re on the subject of food and drink, it was apparently “Thirsty Thursday” at the ballpark, which brought the price of a tall, frosty beer down to something reasonable. We blessed God, “at whose word all things come into being,” and settled in for a relaxing game.
- When the clouds started rolling in, I was concerned that we would soon be saying the blessings for seeing lightning or hearing thunder. The weather held pleasant, though, which ought to call for a blessing in and of itself.
My little experiment turned out to be an eye-opening mindfulness exercise. By deliberately searching for opportunities to say blessings, I gained intimations of the divine in an unexpected place. Perhaps that is why we have blessings for just about everything, from the obviously transcendent to the seemingly mundane: sparks of the holy are all around us — even out at the ballgame — if only we remember to step outside of ourselves for a few seconds to acknowledge their Source.
* In the Jewish reckoning of time, days begin and end at sunset, an echo of the world’s creation as described in Bere’shit, or Genesis: “And there was evening and there was morning, a first day.” As something of a night owl, given my druthers, this has always struck me as the sensible way to set things up.
#BlogElul, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the month leading up to the Jewish High Holy Days through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.