I first learned the shehecheyanu as a young 20 something, and it quickly became my all time favorite blessing. My friend and I were strolling through a vineyard on a drive through Napa Valley. We were giddy New Englanders discovering California and finding great amusement in the paper booties we were required to pull over our shoes during our visit to the vineyard. The farmers were trying to prevent tourists from tracking in pests as they wandered through.
I can’t remember exactly what my friend experienced as “a first” that day, perhaps her first time seeing grapes actually still attached to the vine. But something inspired her to say the shehecheyanu, a Jewish prayer to celebrate experiencing something for the first time or for the first time that year.
Baruch ata adonai elohenu melech ha olam, shehecheyanu, v’kiyimanu, v’higiyanu laz’man hazeh. Which translates as Blessed are You Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe who has given us life, sustained us, and allowed us to reach this day — (or this particular moment).
I immediately knew I had to learn this blessing. We all need tools to pause and celebrate new experiences, even just long enough to utter a sentence. And this one was so appealing with rhyming words that seem to intertwine. I remember it took many repetitions in the vineyard and later in the car until I could say it myself. And since then I haven’t stopped. Years later, my friend is a rabbi and I am a farmer, so maybe that day was formative.
The blessing has marked major life events. It was the first thing I said as I stepped foot into my new house and through tears when I first held my newborn son and later my daughter. But I also say it for much smaller more personal moments like the taste of the first strawberry of the season, or the sight of the ocean after a long time away from the sea.
As a mother it helps me create memories from first foods to first scribbles that might never make the baby book. I remember saying it the first time my son pulled my hair (something I so associate with holding a baby but does not happen during the newborn stage), the first time my daughter pushed into the crawling position or grabbed the spoon away from me. I said it the first time I saw my son experiencing pride, after he stood a spoon inside a shoe and then sat back and smiled at his creation.
A couple of weeks ago, my son pointed to his baby sister pulling books off a shelf and said, “Look mom, it’s the first time she reached that shelf, say the shehecheyanu.” So we said the blessing together, my son mumbling some parts and belting out the ending, my daughter smiling and swaying to the tune. And then quietly I said it again, this time to celebrate the first time my son initiated a shehecheyanu. Over the top, perhaps, but I warned you. I really love this blessing.