Monday, April 6, 2009

Another Thought

I've often heard that giving tzedakah to hachnasas kallah is a special zechus for a refuah sheleimah for someone. We say every mornrning in eilu devarim, "bikur cholim, hachnasas kallah, levayas hames" - meaning that visiting the sick and escorting the dead is separated through the mitzvah of hachnasas kallah. I've heard miraculous stories about this as well.

In Shemoneh Esrei, the bracha of "atah chonen l'adam daas" should be said having in mind that Hashem should grant wisdom to the doctors to know what to do and how to treat him, and without this gift of wisdom from Hashem, that doctors have no power on their own.


We've done so much but so much more has to be done.

someone sent this to me asking to send it out, its a little lengthy but it has some very deep ideas about asher yatzar and good eitzah to help bring a refuah shlaimah to dave.

Food For Thought- The Sun and Man, and their Respective Berachot:

Some Thoughts to help us merit a complete and Speedy recovery for Dovid Chaim (Yosef) Rottenstreich

As the Jewish world prepares to recite in awe the once in a generation opportunity of Birkat Hachama, the blessing noting G-d's hand in the return of the sun to the beginning of its orbit at the approximate same time, day, and place as creation, many of us have lost the focus on our Pesach preperations and our excitement for this wonderful bracha. As circumstances have it, it seems appropriate to spend a few short minutes also focusing on another blessing we make numerous times daily, one which we often take for granted until we are shaken up by a rude awakening.

After hearing the alarming news of Dovid Chaim (Yosef) Rottenstreich's, Rotty as he is affectionately known to us all, heart-rending condition, our initial surprise developed into a search for an avenue to channel our feelings in an effort to storm the Heavens and merit Divine compassion. In the perusal of the Tehillim site set up, we were awakened by a rather innocent little request, " Also, it would be nice if everyone could take upon themselves one thing, or even something that you already do, and have extra Kavannah, especially in the ברכה of אשר יצר, having in mind the רפואה שלימה of David."

Those short words got us thinking about a little thing we may have never though about in our lives. That little brachah, Asher Yatzar, the bracha we so often make while running somewhere, if we remember to make at all, is one of the unsung heroes of our daily lives, but we probably would never know. Its ordinary, normal, and even surprising existence leaves it rather unnoticed, and certainly not understood. Though there are certainly many books, and rightfully so, documenting, explaining and seeking to capture the essence of Birkat Hachama, the bracha of Asher Yatzar remains without its fanfare. In the merit of Dovid Chaim, let us take a few short moments to begin a short analysis of this "ordinary" brachah, and hope to help his body back to its former self.

Birkat Hachamah marvels at the miraculous existence of the world, and expresses our recognition of the As Rav J. David Bleich so poignantly points out, it is not a berachah like others with the same text, but rather recognizes an ordinary occurrence, the existence of the sun but yet is restricted to the time it returns to its orbit; "The blessing on this occasion, it would seem, is evocativer rather than responsive. It is designed to arouse man from his lethargy, to force him to reflect upon this cosmic phenomenon, to summon him to contemplation. Marking yet another solar milestone in the calendar of eternity, the occasion calls out to man: Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these?" However, Rav Bleich remarks in the preface, that regarding Birkat Hachama, "Indeed, the rarity of its occurrence has served to magnify the rejoicing in its performance, and to enhance the scholarly attention it has received".

As we marvel at the seven wonders of the world, sunsets, and the solar system, we often forget that the glory of G-d's creation is also expressed in us, our physical bodies bear testimony to the wisdom of G-d's creative ingenuity, and all our scientific advancements merely pail to the knowledge of the greatness of G-d, Galuy Viyadua only to Hashem the extent of the miraculousness of man's existence, though everyday may unravel another piece of the puzzle (see Rav Pinkus, Siddur Tefillah).

Once upon a time, science used to be the base of the philosophical battle against the existence of a Deity, but that has long since changed. As scientific discoveries disproved just about every one of Aristotle's scientific assumptions, his metaphysical conclusions were also obliterated. The laboratories of Science and Medicine have become virtual synonymous with believers (though not always adherers), who find it impossible to deny a G-dly designer to a world so complexly magnificent. A recent discussion in a law firm witnessed two Jewish attorneys, one observant and one not- yet practicing, discussing the connection between medical knowledge and belief in the Almighty. The observant attorney remarked that he has yet to meet a doctor who doesn't believe in G-d, to which the other lawyer challenged him that two mutual clients of theirs, both successful doctors and businessmen, leading lives which, suffice to say, are far from devote, could not possibly believe in G-d. The observant attorney accepted the challenge and responded "why don't we ask them?" Both doctors were telephoned, and without a moments hesitation responded in the affirmative, "Of course we believe in G-d", after all they were doctors, and knew that complex bodies can only come from an infinite being.

But yet when all goes well, and our body needs only minor tuning to our inborn systems, we fail to concentrate on the debt of gratitude we owe for our bodies, and simultaneously lose a part of our soul in the process, because as we will see they are integrally connected. Let the difficult situation we find ourselves in be a wakeup call to appreciate our health and daven for those who lack it. So let us begin with a few questions, which can hopefully underscore a small splatter of the uniqueness of this bracha's message:

Soul and Body-Interconneted in Spirit and Berachot

Why do we make this berachah, and why is it the second berachah we say in the morning, right at the beginig of the day? Why is it coupled with Elokai Neshamah, and why is there no request in the berachah, but a mere acknowledgement of G-d's hand in creating man with genius? What is the meaning of the bracha and what does it seek to evoke within us? What is its power if said properly?

The Gemara Berachot (60b) quotes Abaye who tells us that after one relieves oneself but Asher Yatzar seems to play a larger role, it's placement at the start of ones day seems to underscore its significance. The Jewish day begins with Modeh Ani, recognition of ones connection to the Almighty and his acknowledging and thanking (the two definitions of "Modeh") Hashem for the return of his soul to his body. Our Teachers tells us that sleep is one sixtieth of death and to a certain degree every new day of ones life is a Techiyat Hameitim, a resuscitation of the dead, and a new bond between ones body and soul is formed. Immediately after washing our hands and blessing על נטילת ידים, Al netilat yadayim, we recognize this new creation with two berachot, one expressing our divinely magnificent bodily function and one recognizing our pure soul, asher Yatzar and Elokai Neshama.

The language of the beracha of Asher Yatzar, in fact, seems to make explicit reference to the original creation of man at the beginning of Sefer Bereishit, 1:27, and 2:7, which describes creation of man with the two verbs in the beracha, ויצר ה' אלקים את האדם...ויברא אלקים את האדם בצלמו, G-d's forming of man and creating him. The language of Asher Yatzar also seems to express an explicit pasuk (Bereishit 2:8), ויטע ה' אלקים את האדם בגן עדן מקדם...וישם שם את האדם אשר יצר, G-d placed the man he formed in the Garden of Eden. The beracha seems to express our new creation of the day, and our ability to relive the Gan Eden experience in this world even in our current existence if we only know the secrets to success.[1]

Rav Shimshon Refael Hirsch (Siddur Teffilot Yisrael pages 6, 10) explains these two berachot are very connected. According to a number of commentators, the reason why the beracha of Elokai Neshama doesn't begin with Baruch, is because it is the conclusion of Asher Yatzar. The conclusion Asher yatzar, מפליא לעשות, is in essence the introduction to Elokai Neshama, marveling at Hashem's ability to combine the destiny of the soul in the body of man, see Rav Hirsch and the translation below. As Rav Hirsch explains, after concluding Asher Yatzar we begin to recognize that this new body which was given us today contains a pure soul, which cannot be contaminated by our sins, and gives us the ability to wake up every morning to a new air of purity, with our soul and body working together.

Rav Yosef Dov Haleivi Soloveitchik zt"l pointed out numerous times in his writings and recorded species about the precious way a Jew recognizes his physical body, and its functioning in his religious life. Man's physical body can be sanctified, a notion which stands in stark contrast to the dualistic approach of Western (i.e. Greek and Christian) thought. The Rav describes how the latter "despaired metaphysically and morally of man's natural side and devoted itself to his spiritual-intellectual side... It created an unbridgeable gap between the physical and the spiritual. While the Torah declared, "And you shall eat before the Lord your God, in the place where He will choose to establish His Name, the tithes of your new grain and wine and oil, and the firstlings of your herds and flocks, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always" (Devarim 14:23), Greek thought would not be able to fathom such a command: "The animal eats; man thinks and cognizes the spiritual, general and ideal. The intellect, not the stomach, approaches God. 'And you shall eat before God' - is there anything more self-contradictory? [But Judaism says:] Nevertheless!" (Uvikashem Misham, translation from Hebrew, p.207- 208)

And as the Rav So eloquently declares: "Indeed, the Halakha is the law of the body. But this is where you find its greatness; by sanctifying the physical, it creates a unified psychosomatic individual who serves his Creator with both his spirit and his body and elevates the animal [in him] to the heights of eternity." (Uvikashtem Misham, translation from Hebrew p. 215)

Rav Shimshon Pincus (Siddur Teffillah pages ) makes a similar point. Though our pure neshama is the heart of our existence, its ability to function on this world is based upon our body's continued health. When the body goes, the soul has no means of expressing itself in this world. While on the one hand, רחמנא ליבא בעי, G-d wants our hearts and Kavanah, we are also told הכל לפי רוב המעשה , our status is determined by our physical actions, but which one is it, our soul or our bodies which determines our spiritual status?

Rav Pincus explains that while the heart of ones existence is his soul and his motivation, G-d created the world in a way that the only means of determining ones true motivation is by analyzing their actions. One may really feel connected to Torah and Mitzvot, and uplift himself with his pure motivations when studying and performing, but if it is not coupled with actions, then one really doesn't love the Torah and Mitzvot. If one can only muster up romantic feelings, but can't make the Divine command part of his body's existence, then his love for them is truly lacking. Our bodies in effect express the true nature of our heart.

As we recognize in Adon Olom, our soul, which we entrust with Hashem when we go to sleep, בידו אפקיד רוחי, allows us to awaken to an existence where our "Spirit shall remain with our body", ועם רוחי גויתי, and live our lives with Hashem and without fear of anything ה' לי ולא אירא.

Rav Pincus explains that our recognizing that our soul is a pikadon, a deposit, allows us to keep it connected to Hashem, its true owner, throughout the day. In so doing, we allow our body to reach untold of heights that the soul couldn't achieve without its interconnection.

With this in mind, we can maybe start to understand the beracha we make on relieving ourselves, or the fact that this act deserves a blessing at all. Hashem created our bodies with ultimate wisdom, בחכמה, and gave us the ability to exist and persevere. Most translate "Bichachma" as Hashem's creation of man with tremendous wisdom. The Maharsha describes "Bichachma" as possibly referring to man, not Hashem. If so, it is a brachah thanking Hashem for creating us with intellect, that which differentiates us from the animal kingdom.

In fact, the Kuzari already expressed "how great is this bracha in its contents, and how perfect are its words for all who contemplate in it with a truthful eye. It begins with the word בחכמה and concludes with רופא כל בשר ומפליא לעשות, to express the extreme wonder in G-d's creating all animal life with the ability to excrete and take in, and that is in reference to all animal life as is expressed in the conclusion of the bracha".

Often we need to be awakened to the power of a bracha and its contents, but let us use this experience to truly wake up.

The Healing Power of Ashar Yatzar

Numerous stories depict the power of Asher Yatzar said properly with understanding and intent, and the merit of furthering its recital, actions which have in the past brought about complete recoveries even from Polio (well known story of the Chazon Ish).

Rav Mendel Weinbach, Rosh Yeshiva of Ohr Sameach, recounts a remarkable story of the power of Asher Yatzar. A father of a six year old autistic child decided to sponsor 300 posters of Asher Yatzar, placed outside of bathrooms, to help his son. The next morning his son woke up and began to speak, his autism was gone. See:

The Seder Hayom even codifies, "One should make this bracha with proper kavana, and say every word etc., and if one is complete in his thoughts… he will not become sick his entire life, nor will he need a doctor or healing, and therefore, one must make the bracha with complete intention and full cognizance, to the Healer of all mankind and the wonderous creator".

Relieving oneself is merely a means of identifying and reflecting on the wondrous nature of our physical existence, and its connection to our spiritual well-being and abilities. However, in fact the bracha has little to do with going to the bathroom, and everything to do with marveling at G-d's miraculous handiwork. In the merit of the Seder Hayom, let us say this bracha with newfound meeting and erase the need for pain and sickness for Dovid Chaim (Yosef) and all others.

This little letter is far from the final word or even any word at all on the subject, it is merely an acknowledgement of what may be our wakeup call to gain a newfold appreciation of our health and the blessing we make daily regarding our bodily functions. It is a subject that needs further research to truly appreciate the bracha, but hopefully it will provide a little jumpstart. We were endowed by Hashem with a powerful, pure Neshama, entrusted in a human body, where together they can rise beyond the Heavens, way above the levels of angels (see Tractate Shabbat 88a) or, G-d forbid, sink to the depths of sin (though the Neshama always remains pure to the core, and can bring one back-see Rav Soloveitchik, Al Hateshuva).

This year as we celebrate Hashem's continuous creation of the world with Birkat Hachama, let us also concentrate and pray that we recognize the beauty of our physical existence along with the beauty of the world.

While writing this short little piece it became clear that this bracha is an unearthed treasure, and the more we use our bodies the more we should study its magnificence and the bracha dedicated to ingraining within us our miraculous body, in order for it to house and nourish our pure souls.

For the speedy recovery of Dovid Chaim (Yosef) ben Sima Perl Rottenstreich- May our teffilos reach the Heavens and may we travel beyond.

A short, free, translation primarily based on Rav Hirsch (though not only- please do not rely on this translation, just some things to think about):

ברוך אתה -The source and wellspring of all blessing (see Introduction to Halachos of Brachos, Rav Pinchas Bodner, for reason behind this translation) are you

ה'-the ruler of the world who was, is, and always will be

אלקינו- our all-powerful G-d (ideally translated as our G-d who is all-powerful and creator of all)

מלך העולם- master of the World

אשר יצר את האדם who has fashioned man-

בחכמה- with wisdom (both Divine wisdom in the formation of man, and G-d's creating man as a wise being)

וברא בו and created within him

נקבים נקבים openings of external organs, such as the nose, ears, and the excretory system-

חלולים חלולים-openings of internal organs (also gematria 248, the number of limbs in a persons body and the number of positive commandments)

גלוי וידוע -it is known only to you (Rav Picus-only to you is it known how truly magnificent man is)

לפני כסא כבודיך-from before your Holy throne (imagine how powerful this bracha is that It makes reference and reaches Hashem's throne)

שאם יפתח אחד מהם-that if even one of these openings were ruptured

או יסתם אחד מהם-or one of these openings was blocked

אי אפשר להתקיים- we could not exist

ולעמוד לפניך- to stand before You in service (Rav Hirsch explains how the term "stand before" is alwsy a reference to standing to serve G-d)

[(אפילו שעה אחת) [found only in Nusach Sefard- even for one moment

ברוך אתה ה'-The source of all blessing are you, Hashem, the ruler of the world who was, is and always will be,

רופא כל בשר- the Healer of all life, maintaining a Healthy body

ומפליא לעשות- who does the wonderous act of combining the physical body with the spiritual soul (and as Rav Hirsch adds, who devised that the continued performance of the soul in this world is based upon the health of ones body)

For Further Reading On the Subject:

For those who can read Hebrew, a beautiful discussion of the nature and meaning of the bracha

ניתן למצוא את המאמר בכתובת:

[1] The Beracha of Asher Yatzar is also said in other contexts new recreation and noting of lack of creation, see also Dr. Gezundheit, Hebrew reference at the end of the letter.

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