Facebook Post by Rabbi Perlin in the Time of Coronavirus (5/27/2020)

Wednesday Post 5.27.20:  “Is there a blessing for putting on a mask?” 

by Rabbi Amy R. Perlin, D.D.

Gary looked at me the other day and asked, “Is there a blessing for putting on a mask?”  At first, I thought he was joking, but then I realized that not only was he serious, but brilliant.  We are a people who have navigated every aspect of our world through liturgy and ritual – from the blessing for the washing of the hands, to the breaking of bread, to seeing a rainbow, or circumcising a child — we have a blessing for everything!

When our congregation finished paying off the mortgage, I created a ritual of Havdalah, with blessings, candle, fire, and community to burn that mortgage.  When I came through a terrible car accident in 2009, my dear friend, Rabbi Shana Nyer, took me to the ark to say the HaGomel blessing, the blessing we say after being saved from a life-threatening situation. It was one of the most meaningful spiritual moments of my life.  So there definitely should be a blessing for putting on a mask, leaving quarantine/sheltering in place, or even taking the vaccine when it finally, and hopefully safely, comes out.

Rabbi Michael Knopf, of Temple Beth-El in Richmond, Virginia, wrote an article in the Forward, one of America’s oldest Jewish newspapers (since 1897), now online, on April 13th, where he cites wonderful reasons for reciting a blessing for face masks and suggested a new blessing that ends “AL SH’MIRAT HA-NEFESH – who has commanded us about protecting life.” Just because wearing a mask is burdensome, and will be hot in the summer, and is not what we would prefer to do, having a blessing will elevate this public health need to something spiritual and make this routine a holy act.

If I were asked, I would suggest a different blessing that would end “L’HEETAHTAYF BAMAHSAYCHA – who has commanded us to wrap ourselves in a mask.”  This is directly related to the blessing every child learns for his/her Bar/Bat Mitzvah in order to don a tallit (L’HEETAHTAYF BATZITZIT – to wrap ourselves in the tzitzit/the fringes commanded in the Torah).  Knowing the blessing already, just adding “in a mask” makes it easy to remember.  And the Hebrew word for mask is so close to the English, and also appears in a number of Purim songs, then everyone would only need to learn one word.  And you are welcome to create your own blessing, of course.

When we no longer need to be in isolation,  when we feel safe returning to a supermarket, or a mall, or a movie theatre, or doing something again for the first time, we can all say SHEHECHEYANU, our blessing for “firsts”: “Blessed are You, O Lord my God, who has kept me alive, sustained me, and enabled me to reach this time. Amen.”

Whether new blessings or old, having a ritual to sanctify a moment in time helps us move from one life experience to another.   God didn’t cause Covid-19, but my faithful heart knows that God is helping us get through it.  I also know that having a blessing can only help.