Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 21 November 2020 / 5 Kislev 5781

Rise & Choose to Shine the Bathroom Blessing From the Mundane to the Sublime

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
Library Library Library

“Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who fashioned man with wisdom and created within him many openings and many cavities. It is absolutely clear and known before Your Throne of Glory that if but one of them were to be ruptured or but one of them were to be blocked, it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who heals all flesh and acts wondrously.”

There really is no more mundane action than going to the bathroom. It is a vital component to our physical wellbeing but it certainly does not seem to have any kind of spiritual dimension to it. And yet, on leaving the bathroom we are supposed to wash our hands and recite a blessing. One of the many beauties of Judaism is that there is no action that we do that does not have some kind of a spiritual connotation to it. Even after performing the most banal act of all, we utilize the moment to recognize to Whom our health belongs.

In truth, the meaning behind the blessing and the necessity to recite it is really quite self-evident. Despite that, I would conjecture that many of us imagine that the human body is just supposed to function properly. That it is some kind of automatic process that requires little input from our side. We wake up in the morning and simply expect our organs and limbs to do what they are designed to do. But, at heart (pun intended) we all know the reality. The human body is a delicate and complex tapestry, and there really is no overwhelmingly logical reason why it should function perfectly. As one of my students once quipped, anything labeled as “worry-free” is normally something that needs to be worried about! And that is exactly what the text of this blessing is imparting to us.

How are we to combat the inclination to take our bodily functions for granted? By reciting a blessing after having been to the bathroom. Yes, even going to the bathroom can be a vehicle to a heightened awareness of G-d’s continuous involvement in our lives. Our blessing reiterates what we already know — that each person’s survival in this world requires Divine involvement.

Many years ago, one of my students had an emergency appendicitis in the middle of the academic year. With G‑d’s help the doctors operated and took out the septic appendix just in time, and she made a complete and speedy recovery. At the end of the year she gave a little speech to all of her fellow students and the faculty. Her message was very simple. From now on she would be sure to recite the blessing on leaving the bathroom carefully and with intent. Not just rattle it off unthinkingly. Definitely a beautiful lesson for us all and one that we should take to heart. But then she added a line that spoke to every single one of us personally. She said, “Don’t wait for something to go wrong with your body to appreciate what you have!”

Even today, more than two decades later, those words reverberate in my mind. It is such a simple and obvious message. And, yet, it is a message that we can overlook so easily, without even trying. But, armed with the knowledge that we are expected to recite a blessing after each visit to the bathroom, we have been given a powerful and effective means of remembering that the health and the functionality of our bodies is always dependent on G‑d.

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