Finding Freedom and Fireworks in Our Hearts with Cantor Emma Lutz


Shabbat Shalom! Thank you to Cantor Emma Lutz from Stephen Wise Temple for sharing her wisdom this past week about Fireworks, blessings and finding our way back to adventures. What she wrote really spoke to me and I asked for her permission to share it here:


As we continue to enjoy more normalcy after a challenging and unconventional year, the blessings of our life unfold renewed before us. This week, I will share some of the brachot (blessing) formulas that come from our tradition for special and eye-opening moments. 

Every single year of my life—except the year that I lived in Jerusalem and celebrated in Gan Atzmaut, Independence Park—I have enjoyed Fourth of July fireworks with my father. Of course, I learned early on that Independence Day is our time set aside to honor the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, officially forming the United States of America. And even with my pride in living in such a remarkable (if complicated) nation, I think of the Fourth of July as the day when I watch the night sky light up while laughing, joking, singing, and holding hands with my dad. I hope that yesterday you were able to enjoy seeing the night sky light up with fireworks, creating a new memory with loved ones, holding gratitude for our country’s rich history and for the gift of our independence, and perhaps experiencing awe and wonder for the greatness that is the sparkling sky above us.

Our ancestors’ fascination with the sky and attempt to understand the great light shining down on us appears in the very first verses of our Torah. We read in Bereshit that God created the heavens and the earth first and immediately after, God created light; God quickly divided light from darkness and experienced the inherent goodness of it (Genesis 1:1-4). There is something so affirming, comforting even, about these first verses of Torah. As human beings, we stand small under the vastness of the great sky. And yet, as Jews, we trust that as we stare out into the sky, we are connected to God, connected to the first moments of creation, connected to something so much greater than ourselves.

Of course, fireworks are manmade and temporary, but I love them because they draw our attention skyward in celebration and wonder. Our rabbis certainly did not have a blessing for fireworks, but they created blessings for the great lights above us, including lightning, comets, meteor showers, and shooting stars (and other natural wonders). May we continuously draw our attention to the sky and ponder the mystery of creation and our place in it with immense gratitude for the inherent goodness of God’s light.
ברוך אתה ה’ אלהינו מלך העולם עושה מעשה בראשית
Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, oseh ma’aseh b’reishit
Blessed are You, God, who re-enacts the work of creation
— Cantor Emma Lutz


As we continue to enjoy more normalcy after a challenging and unconventional year, the blessings of our life unfold renewed before us. This week, I will share some of the brachot (blessing) formulas that come from our tradition for special and eye-opening moments. 

Both wisdom and mysticism are embedded in the highly organized, ancient grammatical system of biblical Hebrew that also crafts our blessings. Hebrew, as you might already know, is formed on a system of three root letters attached to every word, creating organic connections between words with the same root. The Hebrew word for blessing, bracha, which comes from the Hebrew root bet reish chaf, is linked to the word to both breicha, or wellspring, and berech, meaning knee. I love these associations because, of course, we often bend our knees in the ritual of prayer, and it seems only fitting that our blessings are identified with a great wellspring, ever-flowing if only we open our eyes to life’s generous offerings.

In addition to adhering to a brilliant set of grammatical laws, Hebrew letters also hold numerical values. The letters for blessing—betreish, and chaf—are assigned the values 2, 20, and 200 respectively. The word bracha (blessing) is made up of a series of twos, signifying the multiplicity of our blessings and insinuating the power of reciting a bracha to bring even more goodness into the world. 

When I think of one of the most special blessings in life (albeit mundane or overlooked because we ideally have access to it every single day), I think of food. Enjoying food is an opportunity to nourish our bodies, but also a time to share with others and to create new memories around meals, multiplying the blessings of our health and our joy. While we often recite HaMotzi, our prayer for bread, there are many Hebrew blessings for specific types of cuisine and one prayer that can be recited over almost any type of food. This week, take an extra ten seconds at meals to express gratitude for the wellspring of sustenance available to you.
.בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהַכֹּל נִהְיָה בִּדְבָרוֹ
Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam shehakol niyah bidvaro.
Blessed are You, God, at whose word all that is offered to us came to be.
— Cantor Emma Lutz


As we continue to enjoy more normalcy after a challenging and unconventional year, the blessings of our life unfold renewed before us. This week, I will share some of the brachot (blessing) formulas that come from our tradition for special and eye-opening moments. 

When I became a mother for the first time in January 2020, new blessings unfolded before me in so many magical and unexpected ways. And two days after finally accompanying my daughter to receive her eight-week shots, allowing us the new freedom to take her out of the house safely, our city and much of the world beyond went into lockdown. Like so many parents, grandparents, and caregivers, we spent a year-plus finding ways to entertain and teach our child exclusively at home. As we have slowly regained normalcy, our lives have opened up in so many seemingly routine but now extra special ways. After so much loss, life’s blessings still abound.

Last month, for the very first time, we went with Ruby and her friend, Ziggy, to the zoo! For many months prior, we read books at home about all of the different kinds of animals, from basic birds to giant elephants to the rare okapi, Ruby’s favorite. Watching her and Ziggy’s eyes open widely to the new wonders of the animal world after spending the majority of their life at home brought tears to my eyes. We missed so much, but we have so much to look forward to, and these beautiful children (like all of us) are so grateful and excited for all of the exploration ahead.

There is a hilarious and endearing Yiddish term that my grandparents used to describe us kids when we were particularly rambunctious—vilde chaye—lovingly likening us to wild animals. Each of us, kids and adults alike, might feel a bit like newly freed animals who are tentative but excited to explore the world again. For those of us enjoying the zoo, taking trips to Yosemite and other national parks, or gazing upon animals outside our windows, our tradition teaches us to recite a special blessing upon seeing unique animals, an invitation to acknowledge the majesty of the sacred creatures with which we share God’s earth. Wishing you adventurous time out of doors this summer and many opportunities to utter this special blessing!
.בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶך הָעולָם משנה הבריות
Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, m’shaneh habriyot.
Blessed are You, God, who makes creatures different.
— Cantor Emma Lutz


As we continue to enjoy more normalcy after a challenging and unconventional year, the blessings of our life unfold renewed before us. This week, I will share some of the brachot (blessing) formulas that come from our tradition for special and eye-opening moments. 

Now that the world is slowly and, God willing, safely returning to a new normal, many of us are planning long-awaited trips to visit family and friends, to enjoy the calm and beauty of a beach, or to see a new city we have long-yearned to explore. Travel is an opportunity for us to open up our lives to new experiences and to create sacred memories that sustain us through difficult times. Even a short or nearby trip can help us change our perspective, reset, or feel a deeper sense of appreciation for what we have at home.

When I was nineteen, I took my first trip to Israel, which changed my life in so many ways. While preparing for that trip through Birthright and my UC Davis Hillel, I was given a small Traveler’s Prayer (Tefillat HaDerech) that I still carry in my wallet to this day. Every time Adam and I get on an airplane, we hold hands and recite the special prayer for travel. I have missed this ritual, a moment that not only helps me set an intention for a safe journey, but a special time set aside to fall into the rhythm of the comforting Hebrew words, to connect with my husband, and to express my deep gratitude for the great opportunity to wander God’s earth.

For those of you who are planning to travel near or far in these summer months or anytime in the future, I hope that this blessing will open your trip in thankfulness, safety, and presence. Nisiah tovah, safe and happy travels!
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ וֵא-לֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁתּוֹלִיכֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם וְתַצְעִידֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם. וְתִסְמְכֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם. וְתַדְרִיכֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם. וְתַגִּיעֵנוּ לִמְחוֹז חֶפְצֵנוּ לְחַיִּים וּלְשִֹמְחָה וּלְשָׁלוֹם וְתַצִּילֵנוּ מִכַּף כָּל אוֹיֵב וְאוֹרֵב וְלִסְטִים וְחַיּוֹת רָעוֹת בַּדֶּרֶךְ וּמִכָּל מִינֵי פֻּרְעָנִיּוֹת הַמִּתְרַגְּשׁוֹת לָבוֹא לָעוֹלָם וְתִשְׁלַח בְּרָכָה בְּכָל מַעֲשֵֹה יָדֵינוּ, וְתִתְּנֵנוּ לְחֵן וּלְחֶסֶד וּלְרַחֲמִים בְעֵינֶיךָ וּבְעֵינֵי כָל רוֹאֵינוּ וְתִשְׁמַע קוֹל תַּחֲנוּנֵינוּ. כִּי אֵ-ל שׁוֹמֵעַ תְּפִלָּה וְתַחֲנוּן אָתָּה: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’, שׁוֹמֵעַ תְּפִלָּה.

Y’hi ratzon milfanekha A-donai E-loheinu ve-lohei avoteinu she-tolikhenu l’shalom v’tatz’idenu l’shalom v’tadrikhenu l’shalom, v’tagi’enu limhoz heftzenu l’hayim ul-simha ul-shalom. V’tatzilenu mi-kaf kol oyev v’orev v’listim v’hayot ra’ot ba-derekh, u-mi-kol minei pur’aniyot ha-mitrag’shot la-vo la-olam. V’tishlah b’rakha b’khol ma’a’se yadeinu v’tit’nenu l’hen ul-hesed ul-rahamim b’einekha uv-einei khol ro’einu. V’tishma kol tahanuneinu ki E-l sho’me’a t’fila v’tahanun ata. Barukh ata A-donai sho’me’a t’fila.
May it be Your will, our God and God of our ancestors, that You lead us in peace and help us reach our destination safely, joyfully and peacefully. May You protect us on our leaving and on our return, and rescue us from any harm, and may You bless the work of our hands, and may our deeds merit honor for You. May you hear our requests and our prayers. Praise to You, Adonai, who listens to prayer.

— Cantor Emma Lutz

Cantor Emma, Thank you for all of the blessings and for including the traveler’s prayer!
Thank you for the music and your stories to guide our way! Lisa


Lisa Ellen Niver

Lisa Niver is an award-winning travel expert who has explored 102 countries on six continents. This University of Pennsylvania graduate sailed across the seas for seven years with Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Renaissance Cruises and spent three years backpacking across Asia. Discover her articles in publications from AARP: The Magazine and AAA Explorer to WIRED and Wharton Magazine, as well as her site WeSaidGoTravel. On her award nominated global podcast, Make Your Own Map, Niver has interviewed Deepak Chopra, Olympic medalists, and numerous bestselling authors, and as a journalist has been invited to both the Oscars and the United Nations. For her print and digital stories as well as her television segments, she has been awarded three Southern California Journalism Awards and two National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards and been a finalist twenty-two times. Named a #3 travel influencer for 2023, Niver talks travel on broadcast television at KTLA TV Los Angeles, her YouTube channel with over 2 million views, and in her memoir, Brave-ish, One Breakup, Six Continents and Feeling Fearless After Fifty.

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