One of my favorite musicals is Fiddler on the Roof. I have had the good fortune to see it performed both live on stage and on the big screen in the lavish 1971 Norman Jewison production. The Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick songs comprise the best score of any musical ever, in my opinion. But I will readily admit that my exposure to the musical genre has been limited to such staples as My Fair Lady, Oklahoma, The Music Man, and Camelot. Therefore, my knowledge of and appreciation for such things can be considered by others as elementary and uninformed. So be it. My perspective on the Bock/Harnick achievement, however, will suffice for the duration of this message.
My favorite moment comes fairly early in the program. It shows the family gathered around the table at the start of the Sabbath. Golda, the mother, lights two candles and gestures over them with her hands in a gathering kind of motion, as if to summon everyone to her. Then she covers her face with the palms of her hands and feigns to weep, like Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted. It is then that Golda, with her husband Tevye, blesses their five daughters with the evocative song Sabbath Prayer.
Protection is their chief desire for their children; protection from shame, pain, strangers and the general unrest that can rob us of our peace and happiness. It is a blessing all parents of every place and every time can desire for their children. And daughters, especially, can evoke this type of sentiment as witnessed by the potency of today’s Me Too movement.
A blessing is not a prophetic statement, as some would believe. It is more in line with wishful thinking as illustrated by the words of the song with its final, telling plea O, hear our Sabbath prayer. Amen. We desire something that is beyond our means to provide for others, whether they are our children, other family members, our friends, or those who comprise the larger social circles of our neighbors, colleagues and fellow citizens. And so we speak a blessing – a type of request – to a greater god-like power, who can transcend our human limitations and effect a change in keeping with our heartfelt desires for what is good, compassionate and satisfying to our souls.
We consistently bless people without even giving it a thought. Comments at parting like good-bye, farewell, God speed and the sophomoric have a nice day are blessings. They express our thoughtless hope that the person we are speaking to will literally have a good departure accompanied by the unspoken wish that their journey will end with a safe arrival.
Beyond this type of banal closure to a meeting, our impression of a blessing – if we have one – is to say a prayer before consuming a meal. But blessings have the power to inspire us to strive to meet the vision someone else has determined for us. This may be a parent or a teacher or some other type of mentor, whose faith allows them to see the potential for a positive outcome to which we are blind.
In light of our current memo obsession (and many other phobic moments to be honest) we need a Golda and a Tevye to gather us around their table, to light two candles and summon us into a caring fellowship, to momentarily grieve over the disgrace of our actions, and then to sing a Sabbath prayer that intones on our behalf this time to Favor them with peace and then to solemnly close with their reverential appeal O, hear our Sabbath prayer. Amen.