Since I’m working on the middah of gratitude this week, I want to focus on the morning blessings, Birkot ha-shachar, in my daily prayers. These blessings all start with the foundational six words, Baruch atah Adonai Elohenu melech ha-olam, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, king of the universe,” and then go on to thank God for a specific gift—for opening our eyes, providing clothing, giving us a firm step, giving strength to the weary. By reciting these blessings—fourteen in the Koren Siddur that I use—I can build my day on a platform of gratitude.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov is well known for his promotion of a practice called hitbodedut (make-oneself-alone). Hitbodedut is the practice of taking one hour (or however long you can) every day and pour out all of yourself before God.
The Hebrew word for “true”, emet, occurs six times in the concluding portion of the Shema section of shacharit. In fact, it is the first word spoken after the third paragraph of the Shema (Numbers 15). The central placement of the word in the concluding portion of the Shema gives us a glimpse into our sages’ deepest values about our relationship with God. While there is no doubt that truth is embedded in all of the davening, the Shema itself is a very specific kind of statement about God and our relationship with him. The Truth expressed in the words of the Shema must be reiterated so as to embed its message into the mind and heart of the one davening.
In Cheshbon HaNefesh, calmness is not spoken of in terms of an internal state. In fact, it is equanimity that serves as the middah to deal with internal equilibrium. Calmness is spoken in terms of communication. Calmness requires that we step outside our emotional reactions to a situation and connect with true compassion for all who are involved, in a levelheaded and gentle manner. One might think that the primary way to achieve this is to rise above the circumstances of everyday life so that they do not move or affect us. Such an idea frightens me. How could we really be who God would have us be without deep compassion and caring? I cannot be a partner with God in repairing the world if I am mentally and emotionally detached. We need to be as invested in creation as God is if we’re to fulfill our purpose.
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone. --Colossians 4:6
Silence is not one of the first things that comes to mind when thinking about the davening experience. Any given service is saturated with words, words that one must say to fulfill one’s obligation to pray before God. Still, I cannot help but be struck that the Talmud states that the sages took one hour to meditate before praying (B. B’rakhot 30b). We also know the amidah is closed with a moment of silence (see B.Megillah, Ch. 2). This means silence is an essential feature of preparation for, and conclusion of, prayer.
Fiddler on the Roof teaches us that there is a blessing for everything in Judaism (including the czar)! One can come to the same conclusion with careful analysis of a siddur or halachic work that discusses blessings.
The Koren Siddur, for example, actually lists some of the rarer blessings to be found in siddurim, including the blessings over: seeing a rainbow, hearing thunder, seeing lightning, coming to a place where a miracle has occurred, etc. We also discover that many of the morning blessings were initially intended (and many still do this) to be recited while performing certain actions, such as the blessing over the body after using the bathroom, the blessing over crowning Israel with glory when covering one’s head, and so on.
“Please, Lord our God, do not make us dependent on the gifts or loans of other people, but only on Your full, open, holy and generous hand…” -- The Koren Sacks Siddur, p.982
It is a mitzvah to bless God before and after meals. The order of Birkat HaMazon takes us on a journey through various modes of thanksgiving as we see above from the third blessing, the blessing for Jerusalem.
“What are we? What are our lives? What is our loving-kindness? What is our righteousness… What shall we say before you, Lord our God?… Are not all the mighty like nothing before you?… Yet we are your people, the children of your covenant… Therefore it is our duty to thank you…” (The Koren Siddur, pg. 36)