Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 7 November 2020 / 20 Heshvan 5781

Rise & Choose to Shine - the Torah Blessings: Starting Each Day the Torah Way

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
Library Library Library

To be a religious Jew means that each day is carefully mapped out. We live our days within the framework of Jewish Law and customs. One of the very first things we do after waking up is recite what are known as Birkot HaTorah — the blessings over the Torah. In fact, these blessings are considered to be so fundamental that our Sages teach (Bava Metzia 85) that the Second Temple was destroyed because the Jewish People did not recite the “blessings for the Torah” before they commenced their Torah study. The Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Yehuda Loew (1520-1609), explains that our Sages are imparting to us a major principle. All the undesirable and negative actions that the Jewish People were involved in prior to the destruction were founded on the fact that the Birkot HaTorah were being neglected and not being recited!

It is clear from this precept that the blessings over the Torah are such an integral dimension of our psyche that they have a direct influence over the way we relate to our spiritual selves. And that, in turn, shapes the way we express ourselves, both verbally and physically. To the point that it became the underlying cause of something as calamitous as the destruction of the Holy Temple and an almost two millennia exile.

Indeed, so essential are Birkot HaTorah that we are instructed not to commence learning any Torah after waking up in the morning until they have been recited. For example, a person who gets up early to learn Torah before the morning prayers must recite these blessings upon arising. Even a person who wakes up while it is still dark outside to learn Torah must recite the Torah Blessings, despite the fact that he might be planning to pray only a few hours later.

With the help of G-d, over the next few weeks we will investigate the Torah Blessings together. We will endeavor to plumb the depths of their profundity and enhance our appreciation for these beautifully composed blessings. These blessings are both thought-provoking and intriguing in their construction and meaning.

While it is true that the blessing over washing hands and the blessing recited after having been to the bathroom are not an integral part of the Torah Blessings, these other blessings directly precede them in the order in which the blessings appear in the Siddur. Consequently, next week it is with them that we plan to embark on our voyage.

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