REB JONATHAN BAKER
The morning blessings are often slurred, or skipped, or mumbled through. Their repetitive structure leads to rote recitation, rather than listening to the words. But they set the tone for the Jewish day.
The Gemara in Berachos 60a describes the morning blessings. The berachos were intended to be said on arising, as one went through the motions of awakening and preparing to greet the world; today we recite them seriatim in the synagogue, divorced from their referents.
But what is a Berachah? These morning blessings are mostly praises of G-d. What does it mean to bless G-d, the Source of blessings? R’ Shimon Schwab, following the lead of R’ S.R. Hirsch, interprets the classic Berachah phrase as follows:
“Baruch” – Blessed, but “beireich” also means to increase. We are increasing that in the world which is dedicated to G-d. “Atah” – You are the One whom I address, to whom I dedicate this praise. We have a dialogue, a relationship. Addressing the “You” implies the “I”.
“Ado-noi” – the cognomen of the Shem Havayah, the Tetragrammaton, the unpronounceable Name of G-d that signifies His Infinite Essence and His Timelessness (as a contraction of “Hayah, Hoveh, Yihyeh”, the three tenses of Being). Further, the cognomen itself is holy, as the Shem Adnus – the Name of Lordship, signifying the Power to whom we pray, who has control over our lives.
“Elo-heinu” – expresses a closer relationship, addressing our G-d, not just the Infinite, Transcendent G-dhead. This G-d, the Master of Forces according to the Shulchan Aruch, is the Authority who commands us to pray, who directly sustains us and drives our lives, who allows us to talk with Him and hope it will make a difference in ourselves and in the world.
“Melech ha-olam” – distances us again, yet we remain in a relation with the King of the Universes. The King is crowned by His subjects, and commands them, both in the physical world (olam) and in the spiritual world, the hidden world, that which is “ne’elam”.
Combining these ideas, we find that we say, over and over: We join You, O transcendent G-d yet G-d with whom we are granted a true relationship, O ruler of all of physical and spiritual reality, in dedicating our lives, and the objects and processes of Your world, to You. We join with You in the sanctification of the universe. Six simple words, yet they lay the foundation of our relationship and partnership with the Divine.
The baraisa in Berachos begins: “When one opens the eyes, one says Elokai Neshamah – the soul which You, my G-d, have created in me is pure, is granted for my use, and will finally return to You” (paraphrased). The soul is not ours, it is G-d’s, it is in His care, as He is responsible for our continued existence, for which we constantly are grateful.
We typically recite Elokai Neshamah shortly after Asher Yatzar, with, in some nuschaos, the Torah berachos interposed. Outside of Eastern European traditions, Asher Yatzar immediately precedes Elokai Neshamah – a highly suggestive apposition. When we awaken, we are conscious of the physical body asserting itself. So we thank G-d that the body works properly, knowing that it is very easy to become ill. Immediately, we thank G-d for the loan of a soul. This suggests a link between the two. We bless and praise G-d for our very existence. Asher Yatzar thanks G-d for our physical existence, and Elokai Neshamah establishes a state of constant gratitude for our spiritual existence, our link to the Divine.
We link ourselves, through the act of blessings of praise, to all Jews, to all who praise G-d, to all the worlds, to G-d Himself, dedicating our total existence, phsyical and spiritual, to the Holy One, blessed is He.