"Of the many things Reb Zalman showed us, one of the most exciting was how to give and receive blessings. There was actually very little to teach except to demonstrate the act of blessing someone and then blessing each other. If you haven't tried it yourself, you can begin by thinking of the concept of giving a toast to a friend. The idea of wishing someone well is not a foreign one. Imagine saying to a friend, 'I hope you get that job you are interviewing for tomorrow.' Then compare that to saying, 'I want to bless you that you get the job tomorrow.' The difference is immense. Using the word bless, for most people, seems to establish a feeling of connection to the divine nature of the universe.

"In one of my first forays as a student rabbi, I led services for a small group of people on Long Island, New York, who met in each other's houses. Like me, the people in this community had not often experienced prayer in a meaningful way. I was one of Reb Zalman's students at the time, and I liked to try out many of the approaches to prayer I had learned from him. It was a somewhat conservative community, and many of the innovations in prayer techniques were a bit of a stretch for the group. However, the practice that they most easily picked up and valued was the practice of giving blessings to each other. They loved doing it. Before you continue with the practice I am teaching here, try giving someone you know a blessing. It may be a blessing for healing or a blessing that their struggles with their child should be all for the good in the long run. Try tailoring the blessing to what you know the person really needs. Practicing in this way will make your use of these phrases much more real if you have never tried blessing someone before. It might also make you, and the person you bless, feel wonderful.

"In the blessing practice, you repeat the four phrases — 'May I be blessed with peace; may I be blessed with joy; may I be blessed with lovingkindness; may I be blessed with compassion' — silently over and over, in the order suggested. While variations are useful . . . begin by saying each of the four phrases one time and go back to the first phrase and keep the cycle going.

"You'll notice that each phrase begins with the words may I. Try saying the following two sentences and see if they feel different:

"I want to be happy.

"May I be happy.

"The phrase, 'May it be' has a softness to it compared to the phrase, 'I want.' It expresses a heartfelt wish for something without the whining of the ego for things we feel we must have in order to be happy."