Meditation on the Morning Blessings

Image: Sunrise in space. (Qimono/Pixabay)

I am very fond of a section of the morning service known as Nisim B’chol Yom [“For Daily Miracles.”] Often when I chant it, I am half-awake, clinging to the melody in an effort to keep my eyes open. It is a laundry list of blessings, things for which I ought to be thankful. As I wake up to the new day, these prayers wake me up to my life.

Each blessing begins with the same opening phrase: “Praise to You, YHVH our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who…” Each concludes with the good thing that I might otherwise forget to notice. (I normally say or sing them in Hebrew, but it is fine to use English.)

As I chant each line, I wake up a bit, because the mention of all these good things is itself a stimulation of the senses:

…who has given the mind the ability to distinguish day from night.

Yes, the brain is working! I may not know much, but I know it is morning. It’s wonderful to have a brain that can do that.

…who opens the eyes of the blind.

My eyes are open, maybe bleary, but they are open. I can see things. How wonderful is that? And it also brings up the question: are there things that I am refusing to see?

…who frees the captive.

I was taught that the ancient rabbis put this in because when we were asleep, we were captive to it, locked in our beds. But it also reminds me that freeing the captive is an important mitzvah. To what or whom am I captive? Whom might I have the power to free, if I opened my eyes?

…who lifts up the fallen.

I was taught that this has to do with the gesture of getting out of bed. I don’t just lift myself, I am lifted! As a person with arthritis, sometimes I wish a Divine Hand would lift me and get me past those first excruciating moments walking. However, so far I’m still getting up and I should appreciate that. I guess you could say this one is still a work in progress.

… who stretches the earth over the waters.

This one is a favorite. Just as the God in Genesis created the world, I am beginning my day by stretching… stretching… stretching. It’s the only way to get these joints to move, but it works! Another miracle.

…who strengthens our steps.

Whatever I face in the day to come, I trust that I can handle it, that I will be given or I will find the strength to do what has to be done. I do not walk forward alone; I will be surprised by the strength that finds me.

…who clothes the naked.

This blessing corresponds to the process of getting dressed, but it also points to the fact that I need to be God’s hands in my little corner of the world. Who’s going without something they desperately need? How can I help? Who might suffer embarrassment (nakedness) unless I am present to their need?

…who gives strength to the weary.

I love this one. The year I learned it was my year in Israel, and many mornings I would hear Chazzan Eli Schliefer chant these blessings at the morning service. He always did this one with special emphasis on “Koach” – strength – and I always chant it that way, too. Some of it is the love for my teacher, and some of it is that I have learned that if I boom out that word, I often will feel stronger!

…who removes sleep from the eyes, and slumber from the eyelids.

Some mornings I scrub my face with a washcloth, trying to get my eyes to wake up and work. Sleep can be such a powerful need that when I allow myself to run short of it, nothing will lift that heaviness. This blessing is a subtle and poetic reminder that God brings the morning, but it is up to me to get enough sleep!

…who made me in the image of God.

This blessing replaces an older pair of blessings in which men give thanks for not being women, and women give thanks that God made them the way they are. I like it because it reminds me to be grateful that I live in a time when I am not regarded as chattel by most of the people I encounter. I still need to stand up for myself and for other women, and for other people who are mistakenly seen as “less than” but I am grateful for the progress I continue to see in my own lifetime.

…who has made me free.

Occasionally this one stops me in my tracks. There are many people who are not as free as I am: people who are literally in prison, people who are in prisons of their own making, people who are held captive literally or figuratively by employers, people who are trapped in impossible situations. The first step in helping them is the simple act of appreciating my own freedom.

… who has made me a Jew.

I confess this blessing always gives me a thrill. I am delighted to be a Jew, even on occasions when that is not easy. I was not born a Jew, and I will never, ever take it for granted. Thank you God for making me a Jew – and buckets of gratitude to all the people who guided me to this day.

…who girds Israel with strength.

This blessing can mean so many things. It can be a celebration of the deep core strength of Am Yisrael, the Jewish People, who have managed to hang onto the covenant and to out identity through millenia of challenges. It can be a prayer for the survival of the State of Israel, when those millions of Jews are under threat. It can be a prayer for strength for any Jewish community in danger: it reminds me that we have endured for a long, long time. It also reminds me that we have to be responsible for whatever strength we have, to use it justly and wisely.

…who crowns Israel with splendor.

Suddenly, just before the end, the blessings take a turn for the mystical. I do not yet see the “splendor of Israel” – I do not yet quite know what that means. There’s something there about being an ohr l’goyim – a light to the nations – or perhaps it is about someday seeing the Holy One panim al panim, face to face. I don’t know. I count it as a blessing that I do not yet know everything.

Then finally, inevitably, because we are Jews, we conclude:

…who sanctifies us with mitzvot, commanding us to engage with the words of Torah.

When the sage Hillel was asked to summarize the Torah on one foot, he said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to any person. That is the whole Torah: go and study.”

And then the day can begin.

Note: This version of the Nisim B’chol Yom is from Mishkan Tefilah, A Reform Siddur. The blessings will differ slightly in other prayer books.

To hear these blessings chanted to the daily nusach (tune) try this link to the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue.

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rabbiadar

Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi based in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, mom, poodle groomer, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at https://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ as the Coffee Shop Rabbi.

4 thoughts on “Meditation on the Morning Blessings”

  1. Beautiful drash. Each morning I just silently say thank you, but don’t get into the details. This makes me rethink the morning.

    Like

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