Handwashing is Holiness

Dear Friends,
What can we do when we are faced with health concerns at home, at school, at work and in the world? A blessing practice can support our anxious hearts. A traditional blessing, a mitz’vah, can set a spiritual intention, a reminder, for us, throughout the day. This blessing, in Hebrew, English, and transliteration, is below.

I have also included a poem by Lynn Ungar, Pandemic, which ironically speaks to the essence of “Shabbat, the most sacred of times.”

Hand Washing is Holiness. Here’s our traditional blessing for hand washing before meals. Ritually, one pours water from a vessel two times over each hand and concludes with the blessing. I think can use this mitzvah/commandment in a new way, throughout the day. As we scrub our hands with soap and warm water before and after all events (as it says in our Friday night liturgy, Shalom Aleichem: bo’a’chem l’shalom/ come in peace, tzeit’chem l’shalom/depart in peace) we can say this simple blessing (20 seconds), affirming our awareness of the blessings of holiness, health and healing in ourselves and in the world.

“Blessed are you, Sovereign of the Universe,

who has sanctified us through your commandments

and has commanded us concerning the washing of hands.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה הָ׳ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם

אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ עַל נְטִילַת יָדַיִם

Baruch Ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech HaOlam,

asher kid’sha’nu b’mitz’vo’tav v’tzi’va’nu ahl n’tilat ya’dayim.

The following poem, by Lynn Ungar, speaks to “The Sabbath, the most sacred of times.”

Pandemic, by Lynn Ungar

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love—
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

Shabbat Shalom,