Share a Prayer: Birchot Ha Shachar – The Preliminary Morning Blessings

Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our daily, Shabbat or Holyday Prayer Service. Often during the course of the service we encounter some real gems that we don’t have time to reflect upon; this will give us an opportunity to select one prayer and take a closer look.

The public part of each morning prayer service begins with a series of Brachot (Blessings) that reflect our first thoughts and actions of the day. As I have often said, the purpose of a blessing is to connect an action, event, state of being or feeling with God. Thus, just as saying the Motzi prayer connects the act of eating bread with God, the Birchot Ha Shachar enable us to begin each day with an affirmation of the deep connection every aspect of our existence has with the Creator. The additional benefit of reciting this series of Brachot is that it helps the worshipper avoid taking that with which we are blessed for granted.  Joni Mitchell, the popular ’70’s recording artist sang a perfect song to illustrate the danger of this feeling of entitlement or ingratitude, ” don’t it always seem to go they never no what they’ve got ’till it’s gone..” Just as someone who temporarily loses his vision appreciates the gift of slight, any one who has suffered an injury will confirm that the ability to stand and move around freely is certainly something for which to be thankful each day.

Ben Keil author and freelance journalist points out that these Brachot come for two Talmudic  sources; fifteen, mainly expressing gratitude, coming from Tractate Brachot (60b) and three being listed in Tractate Menachot (43b.) At their inception, each of these blessings was intended to be recited by the individual in order of relevance early in the morning. Thus, for example, the blessing for restoring vision to the blind was recited when first opening one’s eyes, while the blessing for clothing the naked was recited prior to getting dressed. Even though some debate ensued, the sages who framed our formal liturgy decided to include these blessings communally in the synagogue service so that people of all comfort levels with the prayers would have an opportunity to express their gratitude together.

Not surprisingly, there is a marked difference in the way in which Conservative and Orthodox Siddurim articulate some of these Brachot. So, while the Orthodox version of the blessing thanking the Lord for not creating the worshipper as a woman, the Conservative version of the prayer thanks God for creating us in God’s image. Similar differences can be found in the Blessings thanking God for not making one a Gentile or a slave. According to some Orthodox commentators, the reason for the negative connotation of the above blessings is that Gentiles, woman and slaves do not have the same opportunities to fulfill Mitzvot (biblical commandments) as Jewish men have.  Rabbi Reuven Hammer , celebrated  scholar in the field of Jewish Liturgy and author of Or Hadash the authoritative commentary on the Sim Shalom Siddur explains that the process by which the changes in the Brachot were derived by the Conservative Rabbis involved consultation of classic Rabbinic texts as well as historic documents found in the Cairo Genizah, an ancient repository of sacred texts. Rabbi Hammer describes the approach of the Conservative Prayer Book in the following manner:

 Siddurim of the Conservative movement, taking their cue from the Tosefta and from the Genizah, use a positive formulation in order to express our feelings of gratitude, while showing sensitivity to others and demonstrating an appreciation of the status of women. We are indeed proud to be Jews, to be free and, above all, to be human beings made in the divine image.

As with almost all blessings, the Birchot Ha Shachar are each introduced by an  ancient formula which has roots dating back to the biblical Book of Chronicles; “Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha Olam – Praised are You Adonai our God, who rules the universe.” This formula serves to underscore the personal nature of our relationship with God as we begin our morning and throughout each day.  Rabbi Meir, one of our greatest sages, taught that we should endeavor to recite 100 blessings every day. Reciting Brachot  enables us to connect every moment of our existence – from the mundane to the miraculous, to the Holy Presence of our Creator.

I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion, question or request, email me at hazzan@e-hazzan.com.

 Here is a link to the text in Hebrew and English

Hazzan Michael Krausman

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One thought on “Share a Prayer: Birchot Ha Shachar – The Preliminary Morning Blessings

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