fbpx

A World Bursting With Shehecheyanus

The shehecheyanu blessing reminds us to return to the real, to rediscover what makes us human, to make the old new again.
[additional-authors]
June 7, 2022
kieferpix/Getty Images

As the COVID pandemic begins to fade and we recover from two years of devastation and isolation, we’re entering a transition phase, slowly coming out of hibernation, battered and numb, and still a little anxious. We’re gamely trying to reclaim our old lives, going to parties and events, mingling live and in person. 

Many of us are socially rusty. No kidding. 

I’m writing this from Montreal, where I grew up and where much of my immediate family still lives. It’s my first visit here in nearly three years, by far my longest absence from a town where virtually every street corner holds a personal memory.

But human beings are survivors. When a crisis disrupts our lives, we adjust and compensate. For me, compensating during the pandemic meant doubling down and tripling down on phone calls, especially to my mother in Montreal, who like millions of elderlies felt the sting of isolation. The simple phone became our lifeline. Calling her during the pandemic became a hard-wired habit. If I can’t hug those I love, I can fight back with my voice. 

We shared a lot more than our voices on the first night of Shavuot, as our family gathered around the holiday table. Finally, we were face to face, just like the old days. It was like nothing had changed, as if three years had shrunk to two minutes. The familiarity of family returned in an instant.

One of my nieces got all excited when she heard the shehecheyanu blessing, which is recited on the first night of holidays. Given that it was nothing out of the ordinary, why did she get all excited?

It turns out that at the school where she teaches, they recently had their annual “hagiga” festival in person, after long stretches of COVID lockdowns. That in-person reunion triggered such elation that the whole school joined in reciting the shehecheyanu blessing. So, when my niece heard it again at the Shavuot table, it brought back pleasant memories.

The shehecheyanu blessing is traditionally recited when we do something for the first time that year — such as lighting Hanukkah candles, hearing the shofar, shaking a lulav and etrog during Succot, on the first night of holidays, or eating a seasonal fruit. 

Over the years, though, more and more people have used the blessing to punctuate anything that feels new or feels like a “first.” It could be an extraordinary sunset that looks unlike any other, meeting an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time, or, in the case of my niece, holding an event in person after COVID lockdowns.

We’ll have an abundance of shehecheyanu moments to look forward to in the post-pandemic era. Every time we leave our cocoons to do something we haven’t done in a while, it’s another opportunity to recite this special blessing. That in itself is a blessing. 

Of course, not everyone is hurrying to leave their cocoons. For those who have become addicted to the supreme comforts and convenience of staying home, it won’t be easy to break the habit. I’m sure that every synagogue in America is hoping that those pandemic homebodies will indeed break their habits and return in person to their synagogues— and join in reciting a communal shehecheyanu.  

We should all hope for that. Communities, not to mention human relationships, can’t sustain themselves on virtual technology—whether it’s on Zoom or any new gizmo Big Tech will invent to keep us chained to our homes. There is no reclaiming of our lives if we’re stuck at home. If we don’t go out and re-engage, the schehecheyanu moments will be few and far between. 

The beauty of a blessing is that it brings holiness to an ordinary act. It makes us pause and appreciate a specific moment. We don’t just drink a glass of water; we recite a blessing and then we drink. We pause for gratitude.   

Shehecheyanu moments won’t run after us; we must seek them out. As we come out of our pandemic isolation to reclaim our lives, we can rejoice that we are alive to recite this sublime Jewish blessing of renewal. 

The shehecheyanu blessing is perhaps the best known in our tradition. It has become a ubiquitous shorthand to signify anything new. But the blessing itself doesn’t spell it out:

“Blessed are You Eternal Spirit who has given us life, sustained us and allowed us to arrive in this moment.”

Where is the new? Where is the first?

They’re embedded in a deeper meaning. We give ourselves “life” by relying on what “sustains” us. And what sustains us to help us “arrive” at those moments that add meaning to our lives? Our relationships, our families, our communities, our tradition. The shehecheyanu blessing reminds us to return to the real, to rediscover what makes us human, to make the old new again.

Shehecheyanu moments won’t run after us; we must seek them out. As we come out of our pandemic isolation to reclaim our lives, we can rejoice that we are alive to recite this sublime Jewish blessing of renewal.

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

Beauty Without Borders

I was amused by this scene of an elderly, ultra-Orthodox couple enjoying a coffee while a sensual French song came on. Do they have any idea what this song is about? I wondered.

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.