Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have been reading the morning blessings, and am confused about their order. Specifically: The blessing “spreads out the earth” is followed by “provides me my every need,” and THEN “firms man’s steps.” Why is “every need” between the other two? Why do we jump to the two blessings about Israel and then back to ”strength to the weary,” which seems like it belongs with the blessings at the beginning referring to “releasing the bound” and “becoming unbent”? This is followed with “sleep from the eyes, slumber from the eyelids” which seems like it should be at the beginning as one of the first blessings since it refers to waking up. Also — can “sight to the blind” be read as a metaphor for insight? Or “distinguish day from night” as a metaphor for right from wrong, etc.? Are these blessings metaphorical as well as physical?
Thank you for any understanding you can give me.
I’m inspired by the depth and thought with which you are studying and approaching the prayers!
The 15 blessings you are referring to (which are enumerated in the “ArtScroll Siddur,” pp. 19-21) have their source in the Talmud (Brachot 60b). There the sages teach us that as we experience G-d’s blessings every day we should recognize these gifts and express our appreciation to Him. The essence of Judaism is appreciation; the first word uttered by a Jew upon waking up is “Thanks!” (“ArtScroll Siddur,” p. 3)
You are correct that these blessings are to be understood both physically and allegorically. As with the rest of the siddur, multiple layers of meaning are encrypted into the words of the prayers. Everyone should find the meaning that speaks most to his or her heart and have that in mind while reciting the prayers. The words of the prayers are like the notes in a grand symphony; the notes are always the same but each musician injects their individual, spontaneous feeling into those notes.
The first blessing, “Who gave the heart the understanding to distinguish between day and night” is as it reads, and also expresses gratitude to G-d for the wisdom to differentiate between right and wrong, as you mentioned.
The next three blessings thank G-d for who we are: Jewish, free and with a focus on the specific blessings inherent in our gender.
The next blessing is for the gift of sight, and includes the gift of intuition and insight.
Following sight comes the blessing for clothing. This comes before thanks for the ability to get out of bed, as the trait of Jewish modesty commands that one don some clothing before getting out of bed.
Next is thanks for “releasing the bound,” the ability to rise from bed, remembering there are many who, unfortunately, are not able to do so. It also includes a daily expression of gratitude that we were freed from Egypt. This is followed by thanks for the ability to stand erect, and includes appreciation for living with honor.
We then thank G-d for the earth we stand on, which includes stability in our lives. Next we acknowledge Him for providing “my every need,” which the Talmud says refers to shoes to wear with which to stand steady on all types of earth. I usually have in mind my car, and whatever else I need to move ahead in the world. We then thank Him for the ability to walk, which includes moving forward in life.
The next two blessings focus on our part in the destiny of the Jewish people and the unique station of the Jews among the nations, because with every step we take in life we need to walk and carry ourselves as Jews and bring glory to the Al-mighty.
We conclude by summing it all up and thanking G-d for, through the gift of sleep, giving us the daily strength we need to utilize all the aforementioned gifts to carry out our missions for another day.
I hope this will help you, and I wish you much success in achieving meaning in all the prayers.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at email@example.com.
Dear Rabbi Fried,