Tuesday, November 27, 2012

TEFILA: Elo-hay! Neshama... the blessing of a new day.

א' נְשָמָה שֶנָתַתָ בִי טְהוֹרָה, אַתָה בְרָאתָהּ, אַתָה יְצַרְתָהּ, אַתָה נְפַחְתָה בִי, וְאַתָה מְשַמְרָהּ בְקִרְבִי...

"My God! The soul You gave within me is pure. You created it, You formed it, You breathed it into me, and You guard it while it is within me. One day You will take it from me, and restore it to me in the time to come. As long as the soul is within me, I will thank You, HaShem my God and God of my ancestors, Master of all works, Lord of all souls. Blessed are You, HaShem, who restores souls to lifeless bodies".

"Elo-hay! Neshama..." is the first blessing of Birkot haShaḥar, the morning benedictions that we say upon waking up in the morning. The Talmud  (Berakhot 60b) explains that when we wake up--before we even open our eyes-- upon realizing that we are alive, we praise God for having restored our souls to our inert bodies.  The Rabbis explain that every morning we witness in our own bodies a virtual act of resurrection (teḥyiat hametim), the beginning of a new life, since when we sleep, the soul--a fraction of it-- departs the body.  

This berakha also states an extremely important idea that differentiates Judaism from many other religions. We do not posses an unclean soul. Our God-given souls are originally pure. The task ahead of us is not reparation but preservation: each new day we must apply ourselves to keep our souls pure. We are beginning each morning anew, clean and pure as a newborn individual.

In this blessing we also acknowledge that our soul does not really belong to us.  God insufflated it within us; He did not give it to us. We know (and we say) that in the same way God gave us (= lentus) our soul, one day He will take it back... In the meantime, while the divine soul is within us, we will praise Him and thank Him for the most generous gift of all: life.

"A Cantor's tears" Dudu Fisher sings  Elokay! Neshama... at a Synagogue in Krakow.