Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 16 May 2020 / 22 Iyyar 5780

The Morning Blessings: Our Stairway to Heaven

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
Library Library Library

The format of our Daily Prayers is very exact. Most of our formal prayers were composed by the Men of the Great Assembly, many of whom had been blessed with Divine Inspiration. Subsequently, the prayers that they wrote were imbued with holiness and an uncanny insight into the human psyche. Among their beautiful compositions are fifteen blessings that are recited each day as a prelude to the prayers that are recited every morning.

Why fifteen? Every letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a corresponding numerical value. The number ten corresponds to the letter yud, and the number five to the letter heh. When the letters yud and heh are combined, they spell one of the central Names of G-d. In Jewish thought, whenever the number fifteen appears it is always associated with the intensely spiritual dimension of G-d’s Name — yud and heh. Therefore, our Rabbis teach us of the fifteen levels of spirituality that we are supposed to scale in our pursuit of spiritual meaning.

This is also the reason why the number fifteen was significant in the Holy Temple. For example, there were fifteen steps that led from the Women’s Courtyard to the Israelites’ Courtyard, and there are fifteen chapters of Psalms that are called the Songs of Ascent because they were sung on the fifteen steps.

To our great sorrow, the Holy Temple has been destroyed and we are left waiting for the Third and Final Temple to be built. In the meantime, our Sages granted us the ability to connect to G-d through prayer in place of the Temple service. And, in the place of the fifteen steps leading to the Temple, the Sages composed the fifteen Morning Blessings.

In effect, each blessing serves as an integral stair to the next blessing. Each blessing is essential both for our climb upwards towards the spiritual realms and for our understanding of the blessing that follows it. When these blessings are said with the correct intent and concentration, they bring us to the very gateway of connection to G-d. It is a truly inspirational idea. When we reach the fifteenth blessing, we look back and see that we have ascended a stairway that has brought us to the Heavens.

In the coming weeks we plan to explore the fifteen Morning Blessings, to try to reveal and understand the deeper meanings that lie behind them. And by doing so we will be able to enhance our connection to G-d, which, after all, is the most fundamental reason for prayer to begin with.

(There is more than one opinion as to the order for reciting these fifteen blessings. In this column the standard Ashkenazic opinion will be followed. That does not mean, however, that what we will learn together is applicable only to those who follow the Ashkenazic custom, but, rather, the depth and beauty of the blessings are equally applicable to all.)

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