You are probably aware that Judaism provides us with opportunities to imbue with sanctity virtually every experience through the recitation of a b’racha–a blessing. There are b’rachot to be recited upon hearing thunder, encountering a person of unusual stature or extraordinary beauty or seeing a head of state. There is a b’racha to be recited when one encounters a friend that one has not seen in more than thirty days. That blessing is known as Sh’hechianu, a formulation that praises God for giving us life, sustaining us and enabling us to reach special moments...such as reunions. Rabbi Levi Cooper, of Jerusalem’s Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, writes: “This blessing is generally recited at festivals and upon other seasonal events, such as tasting a new fruit. The benediction is also mandated for moments of personal joy, for instance upon the acquisition of significant new possessions. In this spirit, seeing a friend after a lapse of 30 days warrants the recital.”
There is extensive debate in rabbinic literature over the obligation to recite this blessing. Understandably, the rabbis are concerned that, in certain situations--such as a monthly market-day--one would be so involved with reciting that blessing that one would never be able to engage in commerce.
There is another b’racha mandated by Jewish tradition when one encounters a friend that one has not seen for a year. It praises God for “giving life to the dead”. Rabbi Cooper continues: “It sounds somewhat strange to recite the blessing over the revival of the dead just because you have not seen a friend for a year; an extended absence is hardly akin to the finality of death. One early hassidic master - Rabbi Pinhas of Koretz (1726-1791) - explained the blessing in mystical terms: The joy of two people meeting creates an angel. This angel has a limited life expectancy of one year. If within this period the two meet again, the angel receives a new lease on life. Alas, after a 12-month separation between friends, the angel is no more. When friends meet again after a year-long absence, the angel is resurrected. The blessing is pronounced over the miraculous revival of their joint angel and thus the benediction over resuscitating the deceased is appropriate.”
I love that image....loving reunions engendering angels!
I had two occasions in recent months to think of the blessings that are recited, and created, by reunions. In the first instance, I received a phone-call from a first-cousin of mine whom I’d not seen in at least twenty-five years. It turns out that he has been living in Falmouth for the past six years and only recently discovered that we live in the same town! We had a wonderful reunion.
On the second occasion, I reconnected with a dear friend I had last seen in 1979. We had met when we were both unemployed, living in New York next door to one another. He was a talented young Brazilian musician and we spent many an evening on the stoop of our apartment building, making music together.
I lost touch with my friend, wondering often through the decades what had become of him. Then, last year, I opened the Boston Globe to see a photo and an article about my long-lost friend! It seems that he has been a globe-trotting street musician in the intervening decades and he often spends the summer in Boston, entertaining tourists with his music. Through a time-consuming and convoluted process we reconnected by e-mail and finally, in early June, we had our face-to-face, angel-birthing, reunion. It was extraordinary, deeply-moving and spiritually uplifting for us both.
In a Googling, Facebooking, Twittering age, it is easier than ever to track down those we’ve not seen in years. Not every long-lost friend wants to be found and not every formerly-healthy relationship can be resurrected. But I can personally attest to the power of such encounters and the potential therein to give birth to “angels” of holiness and blessing.