Awake and Aware| December 4, 2019
This brachah is the grand finale of the birchos hashachar
We’ve come to the end, to the very last brachah. You’d expect this brachah, appearing after we’ve thanked Hashem for all of our physical needs and recognized our spiritual uniqueness, to be a grand finale. And on the face of it, it seems anticlimactic to thank Hashem for removing the sleep from our eyes.
Shouldn’t this brachah, which was once said when washing one’s face, be found toward the beginning of the set of brachos? And haven’t we already thanked Hashem for opening the eyes of the blind? What does this brachah add? Finally, what’s the connection between this brachah and the yehi ratzon that follows it, asking Hashem to enable us to follow in the Torah’s ways?
Windows to the Soul
We thank Hashem for removing the slumber from our eyes — the window of the soul. Since our eyes are the gateway to such holiness, the Vilna Gaon emphasizes that we must daven that we use our eyes solely in pursuit of Torah, and not to follow our desires.
We daven each day, “V’ha’eir eineinu b’Sorasecha — light up our eyes with Your Torah.” Rav Chaim Friedlander explains that we’re asking Hashem to enable us to see the world with the correct perspective and value system; it’s so easy to deceive ourselves, to convince ourselves that values antithetical to the way of Torah have some aspect of truth.
Everything we see impacts who we are, and becomes the compass through which we direct our pursuits in life — to such an extent that Chazal teach us that we should not even look at the face of a wicked person. Therefore, notes Rav Bernstein in Laboker Rinah, after we’ve rinsed our eyes, and are ready to face the world, we need help from Above to ensure that we use our eyes for the correct purposes.
Now we can understand the juxtaposition of this brachah to the yehi ratzon that follows, in which we request that our direction in life should be in the service of Hashem. This brachah serves as the segue into our daily lives — now that we’re awake, we need to make use of our eyes to lead us in the path of Torah and mitzvos.
Rav Shimon Schwab explains this brachah as a continuation of the previous brachos. The last few brachos are about the supremacy of the Jew, the ability of the soul to overpower the body and enable us to be surrounded by spirituality all day. This brachah continues exploring the theme of the special role that the Jewish People have in this world. Rav Schwab explains that when Hashem created Chavah, he put Adam into a deep sleep — and the Chumash never informs us that he woke up!
Like Adam, all of mankind walk around in this perpetual deep sleep, unaware of the presence of Hashem in their lives. Hashem, in His infinite kindness, has given one nation the ability to be awoken and perceive glimpses of great spiritual vistas. The Jews saw Hashem at the Splitting of the Sea and at Har Sinai.
Rav Yerucham Levovitz relates a parable of a community of blind people. The people marry, work, and go about their lives despite their physical limitation. One day, a professor visits the town and offers to operate on one of the town’s inhabitants. The surgery will enable the person to see for one day. One person is chosen to undergo the operation, which is successful. After 24 hours, the man returns to his original state of blindness. His fellow townspeople make him the leader of their community, since he has seen what none of them have.
Similarly, the Jews are the ohr lagoyim, since we’ve experienced the light and know the path of truth, even though we’ve also reverted back to a world of darkness. In this brachah we thank Hashem for having given us the brief opportunity to have the slumber removed from our eyes, allowing us to experience moments of clarity. We therefore end the yehi ratzon by thanking “Hagomel chasadim tovim l’amo Yisrael,” and expressing gratitude to Hashem for the great kindness He did for us of opening the Heavens, enabling us to have spiritual clarity.
The reality is that the entire world is in a spiritual slumber. In L’fanav Naavod Rav Ephraim Fordsham points out that the Rambam discusses this in the laws of shofar and mezuzah, explaining that both these mitzvos serve to wake us up from our spiritual slumber. It’s our responsibility to awaken ourselves.
One way we can do this is by recognizing the spectacular beauty of the physical world. It is said that Rav Avigdor Miller would often walk around with one hand in his pocket. When asked about this practice, he explained that he always carried two apple seeds in his pocket, to “feel Hashem.”
It behooves us to stop and notice the beauty around us: the exquisite colors of the fall leaves, the unique shape of each snowflake. When we remove the veil of sleep from our eyes and appreciate the magnificence of creation, we perceive Hashem and are invigorated in our avodas Hashem.
Another medium we have to enable us to feel the presence of Hashem is tefillah. Kuzari (3:5) points out that just as we need to eat three times a day to nourish ourselves physically, we need to daven three times a day to nourish ourselves spiritually. The word “l’hispallel” literally means to judge oneself. Tefillah is a time for introspection, for examining why we’re in This World. It’s a venue that allows us to reflect on our needs, and how we’re using the blessings we’ve been given in our avodas Hashem.
When said correctly, tefillah allows us to appreciate the beauty of the world and all Hashem created. The moments that we spend in tefillah allow us glimpses of clarity and focus, and so in this brachah, we thank Hashem for giving us these opportunities. Once we’ve done so, we recite the yehi ratzon, asking Hashem to enable us to use these spiritual opportunities for moments of connection and growth.
Rav Mandelbaum in Aromimecha Elokai Hamelech adds that this brachah thanks Hashem for giving us the opportunity to live a life of clarity and removal of doubts. Life’s hectic pace may lead to confusion, but Hashem takes away the obstacles that block us from seeing truth — whether we achieve this on our own, or with the help of rabbanim or good friends — and enables us to have clarity of vision.
Indeed, this brachah is the grand finale of the birchos hashachar. After we’ve awoken and readied ourselves for a new day, we need to thank Hashem for guiding us through the haze of slumber so we can live a life of spiritual awakening and closeness to Him.
May we merit to live such a special life.
The Brachos in Brief
אשר נתן לשכוי בינה
- Appreciate the small things in life; don’t take anything for granted.
- We’re gifted with a mind that can discern and understand.
- We have the ability to distinguish between right and wrong.
שלא עשני גוי
- We have a personal, not global relationship with Hashem.
- We can call out to Him, and He responds to our tefillos.
- He has specific expectations for each of us.
- We have the zechus to be part of the “chosen people,” the “captain of the ship.”
- We must check to see that we have no aspect of a non-Jew within us.
שלא עשני עבד
- Hashem took us from being slaves in Mitzrayim; we will never be enslaved by any nation.
- We can’t allow ourselves to be enslaved by our desires.
- We thank Hashem for giving us free choice, allowing us to choose to be dedicated to Him.
- Men are like the king’s guards; women are on the front lines, keeping His territory safe.
- Women safeguard the sanctity of their home and families.
- The word “ishah” is formed by adding a “hei” to the word “ish”; Hashem is always with her.
- A women’s life is a constant reflection of Hashem’s will; she can access kedushah directly from Him.
- The ultimate purpose of a woman is to be a giver; this is Hashem’s ratzon.
- Thank Hashem for the beauty of this world and the pleasure these sights bring to our lives.
- Close your eyes for a few minutes, then open them, and appreciate the gift of sight.
- Open your eyes to see the opportunities that Hashem gives us each day to grow.
- Thank Hashem for the spiritual mentors that help guide us in our lives.
- Clothing is a sign of our inner dignity.
- Hashem bestows gifts on us even when we’re not deserving.
- Mitzvos that we perform create a spiritual garment for our souls.
- Hashem supervises all of our limbs, enabling them to move.
- Hashem extricates us from difficult situations, physical as well as spiritual.
- Hashem helps us overcome our yetzer hara.
- We pray Hashem redeems His people.
- We’re created upright to remind ourselves of purpose.
- We can control our desires; our head needs to rule our heart.
- We must act with purpose, not out of inertia.
- Hashem uplifts those who are in a difficult place.
רוקע הארץ על המים
- Like the waters that retreated to create dry land, we subsume our desires to Hashem’s will.
- Waves always break at the shore; the world is not haphazard, there’s a system.
- The world exists in the merit of those who are involved in Torah, which is symbolized by water.
שעשה לי כל צרכי
- Hashem provides what we need, not necessarily what we want; things are exactly the way they should be.
- Challenges facilitate our ability to move forward in life, parallel to the function of shoes.
- We must be conscious to walk in Hashem’s ways and do His will.
המכין מצעדי גבר
- Hashem leads us to the exact location we need to reach; his direct hashgachah oversees all of our movements in life.
- We daven that we have siyata d’Shmaya in the paths we choose in life.
אוזר ישראל בגבורה
- We have the ability to separate the physical from the spiritual.
- We have the ability to “gird our belts” and overcome our desires.
- We have free choice in how we respond to difficult situations.
- We need to practice saying no.
עוטר ישראל בתפארה
- Head covering constitutes a continuous reminder of Hashem’s presence in our lives.
- We should have humility as we stand before Hashem.
- Whatever we do, we need the help of Hashem.
- Hashem crowns us with the glory of his Shechinah through our performance of mitzvos.
הנותן ליעף כח
- Hashem infuses us with renewed energy.
- We reflect on how we’re using the energy Hashem grants us and if we’re truly accessing all our strengths.
- Hashem gives us the strength to handle the spiritual challenges of each day.
מעביר שנה מעיני ותנומה מעפעפי
- We need to ensure that our eyes are used for the correct purposes.
- As Jews, we’ve been granted the opportunity to see the light of truth; we must access this realization in our lives.
- We must be awakened to see the spectacular beauty Hashem creates in our world.
- We thank Hashem for removing the obstacles to our experiencing spiritual truth.
To see many of the maareh mekomos used in developing the “Song at Sunrise” series about birchas hashachar, you can contact Rebbetzin Shira Smiles at email@example.com
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 670)
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