| Second Thoughts |

A Bank and a Brachah

What was striking was that although none of the staff was identifiably dati, no one wanted to pass up the opportunity of receiving the brachah of an old rabbi.


It was just a regular workday at an Israeli bank: the clerks were sullen, smiles were rare, the service begrudging and reluctant.

The imperious clerk behind the desk was bedecked in all the proper appurtenances of seculardom: tattoos on her arm, vampire fingernails, a wrist band bearing a ’70s pop buzzword, a T-shirt urging hostage release at all costs. When I finished my dealings with her, on an impulse I asked her if she would like a brachah. Her dark countenance suddenly brightened up: “A brachah? Yes, by all means!” In the spirit of the rabbinic dictum “Al tehi birchas hedyot kallah b’einecha — Do not make light of the blessings of ordinary people,” I blessed her and her family with long life, good health, joy and satisfaction in all her endeavors. She was genuinely moved and thanked me profusely.

The clerk sitting nearby, having overheard our exchange, called out, “Me, too! Please give me a brachah also.” (In all this I heard faint echoes of Bereishis 27:38: “Do you have only one brachah….?” but I pushed them aside.) So I gave her a similar brachah. She was overjoyed. From some desks further away came other voices: “How about me?” And soon enough, the entire staff seemed to be clamoring for a brachah.

What was striking was that although none of the staff was identifiably dati, no one wanted to pass up the opportunity of receiving the brachah of an old rabbi.

All of which made me think. If I were simply to wish them well, that would be meaningless and quickly forgotten. But when the identical sentiments are uttered within the framework of a brachah, they carry much more weight. This is because a wish simply expresses one person’s hopes for the other. But a brachah introduces a new element into the good wishes, something transcending ordinary courtesy, perhaps even adumbrating a touch of Divine involvement. “I wish you well” is a fine sentiment, but “may you be blessed” is on an entirely different level.

These clerks somehow reflected this. They did not articulate it, but I sensed that they were not merely asking for good wishes. They were reaching for something that was beyond ordinary understanding, something intangible from the non-material world, an element they could not quite define but that they intuitively knew existed, and they thought that a gray-bearded rabbi might introduce that extra component into their lives.

With such an eager audience present, I resisted the rabbinic temptation to explain to them the fascinating etymology of that word “brachah” and its connection to the Hebrew words for “knee” and for “water source” (a temptation to which I will succumb in a future column, please G-d….)

Whether the brachos of this gray-bearded rabbi will be effective, no one knows. But one fact is clear: there is no such thing as a vacuous Yiddishe neshamah. This neshamah is constantly in search of meaning and fulfillment; it does not reject G-d and all that He stands for; it longs for more, not less, spirituality. And perhaps the root cause of the secular-dati divide is that the datiim have not yet found the formula to close that gap.

Whether those brachos are effective or not, one fact was clear: The atmosphere in that bank changed radically, at least for a few moments. Because as I walked out the door, I noticed a rare phenomenon: the frowns had disappeared, and some of the clerks were actually smiling. —


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1012)

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