Monday, May 04, 2009


Villager: “Is there a proper blessing for the Czar?”

Rabbi: “A blessing for the Czar? Of course! May God bless and keep the Czar... far away from us!”

The above exchange from Fiddler on the Roof is familiar to many of us. And there’s quite a bit of truth to it, for observant Jews will say blessings for pretty much any occasion, including seeing a rainbow; encountering especially beautiful or strange-looking people, trees, or animals; on smelling fragrant shrubs or trees; or performing any of several hundred religious commandments. The list is as long as my arm... maybe longer.

Eat a piece of bread? You say a blessing first.

Take a sip of wine? You say a blessing first.

Get up in the morning and take a whiz? You say a blessing, (popularly known as “asher yatzar”) thanking God for designing us with all the appropriate holes. Really:

Blessed are You, ha-Shem our God, King of the Universe, Who fashioned man with wisdom and created within him many openings and many cavities. It is obvious and known before Your Throne of Glory that if but one of them were to be ruptured or but one of them to be blocked, it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You...

Yep - there are blessings for all kinds of occasions. According to my friend Barry (who evidently knows about such things), there’s even a blessing you’re supposed to say before you rub one out:

Barukh Atah ha-Shem Elokeinu melekh ha-olam, ha-motzi zera l’vatalah.
(Blessed are You, ha-Shem our God, King of the Universe, Who brings forth seed in vain.)

Who knew?

Now, biblical scholars will point to the story of Onan in Genesis 38 as proof of the sinfulness of self-gratification. After Er, Judah’s eldest son, died childless, Judah commanded his second son Onan to “consort with your brother’s wife and enter into levirate marriage with her, and establish offspring for your brother.” Onan - knowing that any children he sired on his brother’s widow would be considered to be his brother’s from the standpoint of inheritance - wasn’t happy with this arrangement, and so whenever he performed his Husbandly Duties “he would let [his seed] go to waste on the ground so as not to provide offspring for his brother.” This angered the Lord, and so He killed Onan - leaving the exact details to our collective imaginations.

Is this a case of “stop doing that or you’ll go blind drop dead”? Not at all. God wasn’t pissed off at Onan for practicing coitus interruptus; He was pissed off at Onan for deliberately avoiding his responsibility to his deceased brother and to his brother’s bloodline.

But back to (you should excuse the expression) the matter at hand.

The mere fact that there is a blessing for shelach yad al ha-qof - raising one’s hand against, i.e., spanking, the monkey - makes me wonder just what other Arcane Blessings are out there. Anybody got any ideas?

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