Me and the other 7th grade finalist stood there, ready for the final question…

What is the blessing for a tuna fish salad?

I offered my best guess

Why? The contest judge countered

I thought for a minute…if you can only say one blessing, and there are two categories of food (fish and vegetables) you would make the blessing on the main food item – fish –so, it must be the more general blessing of "Shehakol"!

And that’s how I became my Jewish Day School’s Bracha Bee Champion.

What in the world is a Bracha Bee? you may be wondering.

Well, let’s start with what a bracha is. A bracha, Hebrew for blessing, is said before eating any kind of food, on special occasions, and even for daily activities. It connotes a thank you to the Creator for what is about to be enjoyed. For example, the blessing for an apple would be:

Baruch Ata Adonai Elohanu Melach HaOlam Borah Perei Ha-etz. (Thank you, God, king of the world, creator of the fruit of a tree).

Saying this, we are acknowledging that the apple is here because somehow a world was created where trees can produce delicious fruit.

Or it can be a blessing of thanksgiving for one’s healthy human body functioning, one’s home, or the awesomeness of the world-at-large.

Like a Spelling Bee, and with no less enthusiastic competitiveness, the Bracha Bee tests students’ knowledge of all the various blessings; not only which is the correct blessing to be said in each situation but also understanding the reason why that blessing, and not another one, would be used.

It left me with a deep appreciation of just how many blessings there are in Jewish practice and just how seriously they're taken.

There's a Blessing for Everything

We all remember that line in Fiddler on the Roof when they asked the Rabbi for a blessing for the Czar. The rabbi playfully replies that of course there is. (Watch the clip below to discover the blessing.) That's really no joke.

Blessings follow us every step of the day. A blessing for getting up in the morning, a blessing for going to the bathroom, blessing before learning Torah, blessings for hearing good news, and, surprising, for bad news. We even bless God as the true Judge upon hearing of a death.

There are blessings to be said on all the different types of fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, dairy, etc. Blessings for food items are categorized as to where they grow, and each category of food has its own blessing.

Beyond food, there are blessings for special occasions – a new home, new clothes, holidays and, of course, at candle lighting on every Shabbat. A blessing is said for a new moon, and for seeing natural phenomenon like lighting or a rainbow.

Blessings help us be mindful throughout our chaotic day.

And the bride and groom get seven blessings under the chuppah.

I could go on but you get the idea. Nothing should be taken for granted. Both special and mundane things require one to stop and think and thank.

Blessings as Spiritual Practice

Saying blessings can function as a spiritual practice. Like meditation or yoga, it's meant to be done continuously and consistently, becoming an ingrained habit to strengthen your gratitude muscles. And when we feel gratitude, our hearts open, we feel joy, and see the world in a more positive light. When counting blessings, it is not so much the words, as the feelings that really count.

Blessings help us be mindful throughout our chaotic day, serving as tools to be fully present to where we are and what we are doing in each moment. The benefits include reducing stress, gaining insight, and increased well-being.

Blessings help us appreciate the good, acknowledge the mundane, and accept the bad.

Take it from a Bracha Bee Champion!