With the COVID vaccine rollout well underway, we can see the glimmer of a post-pandemic beginning, the gradual return to life lived in person.
About 18 percent of US adults have gotten at least one dose of vaccine. Millions upon millions — in the US and around the world — await their turn. So, there is still a very long way to go. Nonetheless, after a year of staggering loss of lives and livelihoods, after a year of whose wreckage we can scarcely tally, we must celebrate every bit of good news that comes our way.
Ahead is a joyous time of post-pandemic “firsts,” moments that merit a blessing — Shehechayanu moments.
The Shehechayanu prayer is traditionally recited when we do something for the first time in a given year, such as lighting Hankkah candles or hearing the shofar. It gives us the language for expressing our awe and gratitude for having lived to reach this particular occasion. We also turn to its timeless words at milestone events, when the enormity of the moment leaves us awash in wonder and appreciation for all the blessings that made it possible.
Awe and wonder, blessing and appreciation. These are the vaccine-day emotions. We see them in countless photos on social media — a rolled up sleeve, a masked face, eyes shining with joy and relief. It is, without a doubt, a milestone event, the Shehechayanu moment that opens the way for many more.
What other post-pandemic firsts might be worthy of the Shehechayanu blessing? What other moments might we want to elevate with words of gratitude? Here are just a few:
- The first holiday or Shabbat with a full table
- The first time we see family members in person, the ones we’ve not seen in ages.
- The first time we get together for dinner with friends, after a year of separation.
- The first time we set foot in a synagogue.
- The first time we walk our child back into school.
- The first time the curtain rises on a live performance and we are in the audience
- The first time we return to the gym
- The first time we gather with colleagues, with no screen in sight
- The first time we embrace a mourner
- The first time we dance the hora around a newly married couple
- The first time we cuddle a newborn
- The first time we share a L’Chaim toast on a milestone occasion…and countless other firsts
These moments are times of wonder, when we marvel and celebrate the very act of being. We remember all we lost this year, see a return of life’s simple joys, and feel our hearts overflow with gratitude. The Shehechayanu blessing is a sacred expression of those emotions.
Here are my thoughts on how the ancient words of the Shehechayanu can encompass the profound gift of these post-pandemic moments.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ
Blessed are You, Lord Our God,
God, Source of all Blessing, Who endows humans with the capacity for gratitude, wonder, and the ability to acknowledge blessing, God of all humanity, Creator of all life, we turn to You as we take the first steps back toward life lived with others…..
אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הַעוֹלָם
Ruler of the Universe….
God, Master of a universe beyond our ability to fathom, whose creation is filled with mystery, and whose laws of nature allow deadly illnesses, You endow us with the ability to create vaccines and the compassion to care for each other.
Who kept us alive….
God of Life and Healing, we hold your precious gift with humility and reverence, profoundly aware of how many lives were cut short in the pandemic. May we, the living, strive to be worthy of the years we’ve been granted. May all those who suffered grievous loss find comfort and may the memories of their loved ones be a blessing.
God of Hope, You endowed us with resilience to withstand a year that tested our endurance. Months of loneliness and isolation, or it’s opposite—the never-ending toil of parents juggling work, family, and online school.
And enabled us to reach….
God of Deliverance, You sanctified the work of medical teams and truck drivers, scientists and grocery store workers, all the essential people who showed up to their jobs every day. You granted them courage at a terrifying time and fortified them with strength.
God of Lovingkindness, our existence is an improbable miracle. May we, whom you have granted your greatest blessing, the gift of life, cherish that gift and all the firsts we are privileged to experience. May we never take for granted the blessings of everyday life, the precious gift of moments lived with each other.
With heartfelt thanks to my wonderful friend, Shira Pasternak Be’eri, for her invaluable insights as I wrote this piece.