Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg
February 2, 2004 – Number 5764-17
Prayer V: Birchot HaShachar
The first prayer that is recited traditionally, in the morning, is “Modeh Ani” a simple prayer, giving thanks for the rejuvenating power of sleep. Since it does not mention the name of G-d, it can even be recited before one puts on the kipah in the morning.
The first prayer that is recited when entering the synagogue is “Ma Tovu” which is recited while standing in the doorway, with the secular world behind you and the Aron HaKodesh (the Ark) and the Ner Tamid in front of us and the mezuzah at our right hand. The prayer reflects our awe at being in the house of G-d and our discomfort that perhaps we are visiting at the “wrong” time. Ma Tovu assures us that it is always the right time to worship G-d and we can be sure that our faithful G-d will answer.
Adon Olam is a song most people sing at the end of the service. In reality, this is its original home. It has many catchy melodies that were used to keep children interested to the end of the service, but the words belong here, at the beginning. The author of Adon Olam is unknown (some attribute it to Yehuda HaLevy) and it answers the questions “what is G-d and why should we worship this G-d”. It speaks to the eternity and reliability of G-d. Note that the name itself, Adon Olam has an ambiguous meaning. It could mean “Lord of the World” or “Lord of all Time” referring to G-d as both ruler of the world and beyond the reach of time.
“Asher Yatzar” is the prayer that thanks G-d for the gift of our body. It describes the body as a tube within a tube and holes within holes. If what is closed should be opened or if what is open should be closed, life would be impossible. Some say this prayer upon leaving the bathroom (we never pray in a bathroom) Others see this a prayer over the miracle of childbirth where what is open must close (the umbilical cord) and what is closed must open (the lungs). This is the essence of the miracle of life. The miracle is that our body works without us having to think about it. For all this we are grateful.
“Elohai Neshama” is the prayer for our soul. This is also an ambiguous prayer since “neshama” could refer to either the soul or to our breath. You can actually read the prayer with either meaning. There are those in Judaism who are not “duality” who do not think that we have two parts, body and soul. The body is simply alive and the breath is what animates it. One who holds either position can still say this prayer. The mark of a good prayer is that it makes it easy for people to believe enough to do the rituals.
In some Siddurim, between the Asher Yatzar and the Elohai Neshama, there are passages from the Torah, the Mishna and the Gemara. This is to make sure that we get in a minimum daily quota of Torah study each morning.
The “Birchot HaShachar” are a list of 14 blessings were most congregations begin their service. Some Rabbis feel that this list originally was meant to be recited as we woke up each morning. The theory was that if we could think about G-d first thing in the morning, we would have G-d on our mind all day. The first blessing is for our alarm clock (the rooster) the next three are the reason we get up in the morning, that we are humans, in G-d’s image, we are Jews and we are free. These are followed by a prayer for opening our eyes, for our blanket, for streatching, sitting up in bed, putting our feet on the floor, for keeping our bodies working while we were sleeping, for walking, for getting dressed, and for putting on our kipah. The final prayer is thanking G-d for restoring our strength wile we slept.
Yehi Ratzon is asking G-d to help us get through the day, and Ribbon Ko Olamim reminds us of our place in the world, not angels to be sure, but wondrous creations none the less. This is followed by a number of passages we can study and the section closes with the Kaddish D. Rabban. Psalm 30 closes this section and is followed by the mourners Kaddish.
Next week: Prayer VI: Psuke D’Zimra- Verses of Praise.