You are coming soon. And when you arrive, we will bless you. But for whom is this blessing? Is it for you? Or is it for us?
I can already feel the moment. It’s January, and the wind is leaking through the window. Your mother will be spent, and in the drafty night, crankily demand that I try to soothe you.
You will be at my shoulder, both of us stuck between sleep and alertness, barely able to see.
And then will come my blessing for you, remembering how my father and I recited the Shema together before bed. We would name each aunt, each uncle, each cousin, and then finish with a patriotic flourish that invited God to look after “all the Jewish people, the United States, and all Earth.”
Jacob to Manasseh and Ephraim. All the way down, from me to you.
I can already feel that sensation of your tired lungs on my chest. I will find your head with my hands, issuing a directive into the darkness:
god bless and keep this child. send him on the right path.
above all, bestow on him a perfect jump shot.
keep his feet square to the basket. make sure the elbow is tucked at ninety degrees beneath his shooting hand.
Is there a difference between a prayer and a blessing, especially a blessing lost on an unknowing infant? We use the terms interchangeably, but there seems to be an abiding difference.
To pray seems suitably humble. It is a beseechment.
To bless a child suggests I have some power, some priestly redirection, to channel God’s wishes. God, show my son Your favor! And right now!
Here I must level with you, son: I’ve got no pull. My blessing will rise from the earth like all the others, a moisture for clouds. But it is really up to God or whatever forces you may one day understand: luck, genetics, parenting, economics, evolution.
On this night, son, the blessing will not soothe you or cheer you. The blessing is to soothe and cheer me.
And before long, you will understand words. And you will watch your father fret about this world and your role in it.
It will be hard to resist assigning you a path. Maybe I will regard you as a Reuben, too intemperate for your own good.
Or you will be lavished with expectation, a Judah in your parents’ eyes.
Prophesy is dangerous stuff, son. Not that saying it will directly make it so. But that slowly, unconsciously, I will try to shape your adult self to some vision erected when you were a child.
I will teach you all that I know. But we must remember: This is your gig.
The years move on, and I can see you again. Your tired lungs have grown strong. You are nearly a man yourself, and far from home, angry with me. In the dark, I will say a prayer for you, thinking of myself no more.
And then the moment further off, perhaps, when the blessings lost on you as an infant are finally made whole.
You are in the dark with your own son, my grandson. You are tired, and not sure how things will go. And then you will discover your own words, left like a cask of bourbon biding its time.
square to the basket. feet set. elbow. please, god.
This piece is excerpted from UNSCROLLED, a new book in which 54 leading Jewish writers, artists, photographers, screenwriters, and more grapple with the first five books of the Bible, giving new meaning to the 54 Torah portions. Join the conversation at unscrolled.org and on Twitter with #Torahin140.
Copyright © Dennis Berman. Excerpted from Unscrolled. Copyright © 2013 Roger Bennett. Reprinted with permission from Workman Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.