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.
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.
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.
“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)
One of the first activities incumbent upon Jews as preparation for morning prayer and meals is the act of ritual hand washing. One of the more interesting features of this mitzvah is the language of the blessing one recites upon performance:
Decisiveness is a middah that really holds the amidah together. This shows up in a few particular ways.
Not surprisingly, the name for the collection of blessing and davening texts for the Jewish people is the siddur, which comes from the word, seder (order).
Our patience is tested the most when we encounter life circumstances that alter our vision of how the world around us should look. These circumstances most often come in the form of interruption.
Some interruptions are minor and irritating (traffic jam, long line at the market, etc.). Some interruptions feel devastating (death of a loved one, serious illness, etc.). Patience does not let us off the hook. We still have to do our part to initiate change, but patience is crucial in those circumstances in which we have to deal with the hand we've been given. A key prayer in the Siddur utilizes moments of interruption as opportunities to connect with God and one another: kaddish.
There is a common question regarding prayer: If God is perfect, and I am imperfect, why would I need to pray for anything?
As we consider our prayerbook, the siddur, as a crucial component of an ordered and prayerful life, remember that it is also the simple prayer of a contrite heart and the proper intention that Hashem desires as well.