Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 23 May 2020 / 29 Iyyar 5780

The Morning Blessings: Blessing One - As Clear as Day and Night

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
Library Library Library

“Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who gave the heart understanding to distinguish between day and night.”

The very first blessing seems to be somewhat oblique. Even though all of the contemporary translations that I found read, “Who gave the heart understanding,” the word used for “heart” is not quite clear. According to some of the commentaries, the word is related to an Aramaic word that actually means “rooster.” If so, the blessing now reads “Who gave the rooster understanding to distinguish between day and night.”

What is so special about a rooster that we recite a blessing over it? G-d granted a special ability for roosters to differentiate between the nighttime and the day. They are able to recognize when the dawn is breaking and they announce it to mankind.

Historically, humans have lived their lives around the daytime. Daylight is a time of clarity. Light represents a time of action and creation. The rooster is announcing to the world that a new day has arrived. It is time to start getting up and begin utilizing the precious time allotted to us. It is a time that will allow us to be productive. Studies are now being published which prove that our constant preoccupation with being “connected” twenty-four hours a day is actually counterproductive. Paradoxically, businesses that expect their staff to be available at all hours have learned — to their surprise — that their employees were generally less productive than other workers who clocked in and out of their jobs at fixed times and were not expected to be “on call” at all hours.

We are expected to rest and sleep at night so that we can start each new day with enthusiasm and verve. This is why the main part of the Temple Service was done during the day, because daylight is given to us so that we can achieve.

However, this explains the blessing’s intent when translating the word in question as “rooster.” What about the standard, accepted translation of the word as “heart”? “Who gave the heart understanding….” What exactly is this great event that is taking place each morning that our hearts are able to discern the difference between day and night? Is it something that is so momentous that we should recite a blessing over it?

Our Rabbis explain that the words “day” and “night” are words that are analogous to good and evil. Good is day. Good is clear. Good is obvious. Night, on the other hand, parallels evil. Darkness is the absence of light. Night removes clarity from the world and leaves us groping in the opacity for meaning and connection to G-d.

The very first blessing reveals to us a fundamental of Jewish belief. G-d has instilled in human beings the ability to differentiate between good and evil, to be innately aware that certain things are obviously good and others are just as obviously evil. The blessing is not referring to subtleties, to actions that are not so easily defined one way or the other. The blessing refers to those actions that are immediately recognizable and definable as either good or evil. This is what is often described as “logical morality.” An example of this is murder. A person may try to convince himself that he had no idea that murder was evil, but the very first blessing — a blessing that is applicable to all mankind — teaches that such a perspective is not true. When it comes to the basics, we are all accountable for our actions.

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