Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 28 November 2020 / 12 Kislev 5781

Coming Back to Life Every Day - Part 1

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
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“My G-d, the soul You placed within me is pure. You created it, You fashioned it, You breathed it into me, You safeguard it within me, and eventually You will take it from me, and restore it to me in Time to Come. As long as the soul is within me, I gratefully thank You, Hashem, my G-d and the G-d of my forefathers, Master of all works, L-rd of all souls. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who restores souls to dead bodies.”

The depth and significance of this blessing are almost limitless. Contained within its few lines are several tenets that are fundamental to the foundations of Jewish belief. Perhaps the first place to begin is with the opening words of the blessing.

“My G-d, the soul You placed within me is pure.” What is the soul and how are we supposed to define it? It is a problem, because the more spiritual something is, the harder it is to describe in physical terms. And, of all our faculties, it is the soul that it is the most acutely spiritual of them all. Our Rabbis describe the soul as being a part of G-d Himself (see Alshich on Genesis and Tanya chapter 2, based on the Book of Iyov 31:2). It is the soul that is the Divine “sparkplug” that gives us the ability to transcend the physical and connect to the spiritual realms.

The soul is truly something wondrous because it is not uniform. Each person is the recipient of their own individual and unique soul. And the soul is the most sublime dimension of all because it reflects the Divinity within mankind. This is what the opening words of the blessing are conveying. Found within each person is a part of G-d that is exclusive only to them. It is a part that is fashioned by G-d Himself, specifically for that person. For this very reason, the first sentence ends by telling us that the soul is pure. G-d is pure — therefore, the part of Him that resides within us is also pure.

The inference of the blessing is truly startling. The soul remains pure regardless of our sins. Our Rabbis explain that when we go to sleep at night, our souls go through a process of Divine cleansing. The sins that were accumulated throughout the day are removed and stored away in the spiritual realms. They remain there, either until the person repents or until the person passes from this world, at which point they will have to give an exact accounting of their actions. On reawakening in the morning, the soul is restored to the person in a pristine state. This is, perhaps, the most astonishing act of kindness of all. Because without this overnight cleansing, each day’s spiritual grime would be added to the already overwhelming amount that had accumulated throughout a person’s life. There would be such a buildup that even if a person managed at some point to harbor thoughts of repentance and a desire to return to G-d, he would not be able to penetrate the manifold layers of sin. And that would be the biggest tragedy of all, as it would render a person incapable of reconnecting to his beautiful and chaste soul.

So, this is the reason for the blessing beginning with a declaration that the soul is pure. The nocturnal purification is a Divine act of pure, unadulterated benevolence. It is an affirmation that each and every morning begins unencumbered by previous sins and mistakes that were made. And it is our daily task to try to protect and shield the soul to the best of our ability so that its purity remains discernable. Because, by doing so, the soul retains its spiritual integrity.

In effect, our blessing is telling us that, as each day begins, its uncharted spiritual potential is waiting to be discovered and explored. And the most effective and potent tool at our disposal to reveal all of its sublime possibilities is our freshly cleansed and pure soul.

To be continued…

Please note that there are two opinions as to where this blessing should appear in the order the Torah Blessings. The Tur, Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, rules that it should be recited immediately after the blessing for the bathroom. The Mechaber, Rabbi Yosef Karo, rules that it should be recited at the end of the Torah Blessings. Both opinions are accepted within Jewish Law and are followed according to the customs of each community. Accordingly, each person should follow their own family or community custom. Anyone who is unsure as to what the correct order is for them should consult with a local Orthodox Rabbi.

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