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How a Buddhist Teacher Made Me a Better Jew…

08/10/2010 11:44:49 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

The Vietnamese Buddhist Thic Nhat Han taught me the deeper meaning of “motzi” , the blessing we say over bread. In his book, Peace In Every Step, he writes that “a poet can see clouds in a piece of paper”. What he means is that, with the right sight, one can see the whole chain of Being that culminates in what ever object you are observing. For the paper it would be rain, the growth of a tree, the birth of a baby who would some day grow up to cut and process the tree, and so forth. How does this related to “motzi”?

A piece of paper may inspire a poet but for a Jew there is nothing better than food – symbolized by bread – to get the juices flowing (And what about a Jewish Poet?). The literal translation of “motzi” is something like, “Blessed are you God, Sovereign of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the ground.” Have you ever seen bread shooting out of the ground? This is where Thic Nhat Han comes in because until I read his little book and the quote about a poet and a piece of paper, I’d never really thought about what the words of “motzi” really mean; I just reflexively said the prayer. But, with his insight the words came together in a new, deep and profoundly Jewish way: bread doesn’t shoot out of the ground! When we say “motzi” we are acknowledging and thanking God for the whole process that results in the bread. This process includes in it a Divine – Human partnership which we also bring to consciousness; God makes the seed that (miraculously) can grow into a plant, but we are the gardener and the baker. Wow! When you really think about it, there is a lot to a piece of bread, and great depth to a simple prayer like “motzi” if you say it with the right kavanah/intension.

Thic Nhat Han calls this understanding of the interrelated nature of things “interbeing”, we Jews say “Shemah Yisrael, Adonai Eloheynu, Adonai Echad!”

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