You are ushered into a small room where time has stood still for centuries. An oil lamp flickers on the table; holy tomes cover every inch of the walls. A tzaddik with piercing eyes and a gentle voice pronounces the magic formula.
That's the picture that comes to mind when we think about receiving a blessing. Blessings are other-worldly things, resorted to when some drastic intervention is needed in our lives.
The truth is much simpler and much more profound. Everyone needs blessing, each and every moment of his or her life. And everyone can bestow a blessing.
Chassidic teaching explains that the word berachah (blessing) literally means "drawing down." Everything in life -- health, prosperity, joy, wisdom, peace of mind -- needs to be drawn down from its potential, spiritual state into the actuality of our physical existence. It's all there -- spiritually we are all healthy, wealthy and wise. The "problems" we experience in life are basically a matter of something gone wrong in the wiring. We're not connecting; our spiritual and physical selves are having trouble communicating.
The solution? Bestow a blessing.
Here's how it works. Let's say that your friend Chaim is experiencing financial difficulties. So you put your arm around his shoulder and say: "Chaim! May G-d grant you the money that you need!" By saying these words sincerely, with warmth and love and joy, you've blessed him. You've roto-rooted that clogged supply line, opening up the flow. Just like that? Just like that.
We've all had the experience of hearing someone else give voice to an idea or describe a course of action, and suddenly realizing that we've been carrying this idea or action around in our own minds for the longest time. But until that person verbalized it, it was trapped inside our heads. Although we "had" it, we couldn't do it or even consciously think it. We didn't have the words for it, so it wasn't real to us yet.
A similar thing happens when you bless someone. The potential has been there all along, but saying it makes it real.
Your friend needs the blessing because he has reached a limit of what he can make real of his spiritual resources on his own. With your caring and compassion, with your love and joy, you bond with him to make an expanded self, thereby broadening the channels and unsnarling the lines of communication between his soul and his body, between his heaven and his earth.
Of course, being a holy person increases your blessing-giving powers. But the only thing you really need is a loving heart. And a nice big smile.
May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life for a year of goodness, health and prosperity.