Chapter 06: Birkhot Ha-shaĥar – The Morning Blessings

01. Berakhot of Thanksgiving

The Sages instituted the recitation of many blessings immediately upon awakening in the morning. The purpose of these blessings is to thank God for the good that He bestows upon us every day. The Talmud (Berakhot 60b) teaches that when one wakes up, she thanks God and says: “My God, the soul which you have placed within me is pure… Blessed are You, Lord, Who restores souls to dead bodies” (Elokai Neshama). When she hears the crow of the rooster, announcing the arrival of a new day, she says: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who gives the rooster understanding to distinguish between day and night” (Ha-noten La-sekhvi Vina). Upon opening her eyes, she recites, “…Who gives sight to the blind” (Poke’aĥ Ivrim). When she stretches her limbs and sits on her bed, after being held captive in the shackles of sleep, she declaims: “…Who releases the imprisoned” (Matir Asurim). When she dresses, she says: “…Who clothes the naked” (Malbish Arumim). When one stands on her legs, she recites: “…Who straightens the bent” (Zokef Kefufim). When placing her feet on the ground, she says: “…Who spreads the earth upon the waters” (Roka Ha-aretz al Ha-mayim). When she puts on her shoes, she says: “…Who has provided me with all my needs” (She-asa li Kol Tzorki).  As she begins to walk, she declaims: “…Who prepares a person’s strides” (Ha-mekhin Mitzadei Gaver). When she fastens her belt, she says: “…Who girds Israel with strength” (Ozer Yisrael Bi-gevura). When she puts on a head covering, she recites: “…Who crowns Israel with glory” (Oter Yisrael Be-tifara). When she washes her hands, she recites Al Netilat Yadayim. When washing her face, she recites: “…Who removes sleep from my eyes” (Ha-ma’avir Sheina).

Life’s routine generally erodes our awareness of all the bounty that God showers upon us. As a result of this ingratitude, even the blessings that God bestows on one daily fails to delight her, and her life becomes dull and empty. In order to emerge from this desolation, she seeks various pleasures. The Sages instituted Birkhot Ha-shaĥar so that we will not be ungrateful. In these blessings, we thank our Creator for all things, big and small, that help us function in this world. By expressing our gratitude, we are able to contemplate the world in its richness and fullness. We learn that every single element in our lives has godly value, and this in turn arouses our desire to add goodness to the world with every new day. 

Women and men alike must recite Birkhot Ha-shaĥar in order to thank God for all the good that is renewed daily. 1

  1. The straightforward meaning of Tur and SA 46:4 indicates that women are obligated to recite Birkhot Ha-shaĥar, which is what MB 70:2 and AHS 70:1 state explicitly. However, MB cites the opinion of Rashba and Derekh Ha-ĥayim (cited in MB 52:10 and BHL ad loc.) that since the time for reciting Birkhot Ha-shaĥar is limited to the first four seasonal hours, like the time allotted for the Amida of Shaĥarit, their recitation is time-bound, and women are exempt. Nevertheless, MB concludes, according to the custom outlined by Rema in 17:2, women may extend the obligation to themselves and recite the blessings.

    In practice, it is clear that women are required to recite Birkhot Ha-shaĥar, and that is even the Sephardic practice. There are several reasons for this, each of which is sufficient to determine the halakha. First the halakhic ruling is that the time of Birkhot Ha-shaĥar lasts the entire day (as clarified below in section 5 and stated in Yeĥaveh Da’at 4:4). Second, these are blessings of thanksgiving, in which women are obligated just as men, for it is forbidden for any person to derive pleasure from this world without reciting a blessing (Berakhot 35a). Responsa Maĥazeh Eliyahu §13, based on the rationale of Turei Even and Ĥokhmat Shlomo, maintains that Birkhot Ha-shaĥar are not considered time-bound mitzvot even according to Derekh Ha-ĥayim, yet the reality that we wake up in the morning dictates that they be recited at that time, immediately when we begin to derive that pleasure. (Or Le-Tziyon 2:4:1 states that women are indeed exempt from Birkhot Ha-shaĥar because they are time-bound; however, it is good that women recite them since they are berakhot of praise and thanksgiving. According to the reasons we have just outlined, women are in fact obligated.) Also, as we have already seen above (2:4-5), it is possible be-di’avad to fulfill the obligation of prayer with Birkhot Ha-shaĥar.

    There are two berakhot that were instituted in keeping with the men’s behavior, but since they include general praise for Israel, women are also required to recite them, as we will see below in section 4. The first is Ozer Yisrael Bi-gevura, which was instituted upon the girding of a belt used to separate between one’s heart and one’s nakedness (Rema 46:1), a law that pertains to men, as explained below (10:7). The second is Oter Yisrael Be-tifara, instituted for men’s head-covering (MB 46:9), as explained below, 10:5-6.

02. She-asani Ki-rtzono – For Having Made Me According to His Will

The Sages instituted three special berakhot of thanksgiving within Birkhot Ha-shaĥar. They are: “…for not having made me a gentile” (She-lo Asani Goy), “…for not having made me a slave” (She-lo Asani Aved”), and “…For not having made me a woman” (She-lo Asani Isha). Women recite, “…Who made me according to His will” (She-asani Ki-rtzono).

There are two interpretations of this berakha. According to one interpretation, it is a sort of acceptance of a harsh judgment (hatzdakat ha-din), of the fact that even though women do not have as many mitzvot, they bless God “for having made me according to his will” out of faith that everything is for the good (Tur 46:4). In contrast, the second interpretation emphasizes women’s superiority in this world. In this blessing, the innate additional virtue of women is brought to fruition, for women are inherently more in tune with God’s will. Therefore, only they can say “…Who made me according to His will.” The fact that women must fulfill less mitzvot than men is because by nature they are more refined and therefore require less mitzvot to improve themselves. Man was created from dust of the earth, whereas woman was created from a more sublime substance, man’s rib. In other words, women are a manifestation of a more advanced stage of development than men (Siĥot Ha-Ritzya, Bereishit pp. 77-78; Shemot p. 380; Olat Re’iyah vol. 1, pp. 71-72).

It is no coincidence that the simple interpretation shows favor to men and the deeper meaning to women. Indeed, at first glance, men have greater virtue. The virtue of women can only be recognized by means of a more profound analysis. Therefore modesty, a trait which emphasizes one’s inner virtue is more significant for women.

In practice, Ashkenazic women have the custom to recite this berakha in full: “Barukh Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melekh Ha-olam She-asani ki-rtzono” (“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who made me according to His will”), whereas Sephardic women recite this berakha without God’s name: “Barukh She-asani Ki-rtzono” (“Blessed is He Who made me according to His will”).  Even though SA 46:4 rules that God’s name should be uttered in this berakha, most Sephardic women customarily omitted it for fear of reciting a berakha le-vatala, as this blessing is not mentioned in the Talmud (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 46:41).

In the berakhot of She-lo Asani Goy and She-lo Asani Aved, Sephardic women customarily use the feminine forms of the berakha’s objects: “goya” and “shifĥa.” In contrast, Ashkenazic women customarily to recite these berakhot as they are said by men, because the words “goy” and “eved” can include both men and women.

03. The Order of the Morning Blessings

As we have learned, the original institution of the Sages was to bless and give thanks for each and every act immediately upon enjoying it: as one wakes up, she thanks God for the soul He placed within her and says Elokai Neshama; as she opens her eyes, she recites, Poke’aĥ Ivrim; as she stretches her limbs, she recites, Matir Asurim; and so on with all the blessings in that manner. However, today the custom has changed and we recite Birkhot Ha-shaĥar consecutively.

Why did this custom change? It is obviously more appropriate to thank God immediately upon enjoying His bounty. In that way, the process of awakening attains profound significance, as blessings of thanksgiving to God accompany each and every stage. Indeed, Rambam rules that all Birkhot Ha-shaĥar must be recited exactly as mentioned in the Talmud, each berakha at its appropriate time. There are some Yemenite Jews following this ruling even today.

However, as noted, the prevailing custom is to recite all Birkhot Ha-shaĥar at once. The reason for this is that if they are recited in the process of waking, there is concern that one berakha or more will be forgotten; however, if they are recited consecutively, it is more likely they will all be remembered. Moreover, we want to enhance the mitzva and recite Birkhot Ha-shaĥar in the most respectful manner, that is to say, with clean hands and while properly dressed, and therefore we delay the recitation of the berakhot until after all the preparations for prayer are finished. Furthermore, some people find it very difficult to concentrate immediately upon waking up, and only after they dress and wash their faces are they able to recite Birkhot Ha-shaĥar with kavana (based on SA 46:2 and Seder Ha-yom).    

04. Birkhot Ha-shaĥar for One Who Does Not Derive Pleasure

There is a dispute among prominent Rishonim about whether one may recite one of the Birkhot Ha-shaĥar from which she does not derive direct personal pleasure. For instance, may a blind person recite Poke’aĥ Ivrim?

According to Rambam (MT, Laws of Prayer 7:9), only one who derives pleasure from something may recite a berakha on it. Therefore, one who slept in her clothes does not recite Malbish Arumim, as she does not get dressed in the morning. A cripple does not recite Ha-mekhin Mitzadei Gaver. A paralytic does not recite Matir Asurim or Zokef Kefufim. Some people of Yemenite descent follow Rambam’s opinion. SA 46:8 considers this opinion and rules that these berakhot are recited without God’s name.

In contrast, according to the Ge’onim including Rav Natronai Gaon and Rav Amram Gaon, one must recite all Birkhot Ha-shaĥar in order, whether or not one enjoys the object of the berakha, because they were instituted based on the general pleasures of the world. Furthermore, the fact that others derive pleasure from something can be indirectly useful for someone who does not directly derive pleasure from it. Thus, a paralytic blesses God for all the other people who can help her. A blind person recites Poke’aĥ ivrim for the fact that others are able to see, show her the way, and tend to her needs. This is how Rema rules (46:8).

Likewise, the opinion of Arizal is that every Jew must recite all of the Birkhot Ha-shaĥar to thank God for all the general good that He showers on the world. Sephardic practice generally follows Arizal on matters of prayer, and therefore Sephardim also recite all Birkhot Ha-shaĥar in order. 1

  1. The berakha of She-asah li Kol Tzorki was instituted with regard to footwear. According to the custom of Ashkenazim and some Sephardim, we recite this blessing on Yom Kippur and Tisha Be-Av, days on which wearing shoes is forbidden, to give thanks for the general pleasure of shoes and for the ability to wear non-leather shoes on those days. Still, the custom of most Sephardim is not to recite She-asah li Kol Tzorki on Tisha Be-Av and Yom Kippur (Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 9 n. 1).

05. Until When May One Recite Birkhot Ha-shaĥar?

Le-khatĥila, Birkhot Ha-shaĥar should be recited as close as possible to the time one wakes from her sleep, for they were essentially established to be recited as part of the awakening process. Although we customarily recite them later consecutively, it is not proper to delay their recitation further.

Whoever did not recite Birkhot Ha-shaĥar upon waking must try to recite them before the time to pray Shaĥarit lapses, since some poskim link the time of their recitation to the time of the Shaĥarit prayer. In other words, one should try to say them within the first four seasonal hours of the day, and be-di’avad until ĥatzot (midday). However, if one does not manage to recite them before ĥatzot, be-di’avad she may recite them the whole day. The reason for this is that according to most poskim, the time to say Birkhot Ha-shaĥar differs from the time to recite Shaĥarit, because Birkhot Ha-shaĥar are blessings of thanks for the good things from which people derive pleasure throughout the day (see Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 9 n. 3).

A woman who recited Birkhot Keri’at Shema and prayed the Amida and then realized that she forgot to recite Birkhot Ha-shaĥar must make up all the missed berakhot with the exception of Birkhot Ha-Torah and Elokai Neshama. This is because according to many poskim, even without intending to do so, she fulfilled her obligation of Birkhot Ha-Torah with Ahavat Olam before Shema and fulfilled her obligation of Elokai Neshama with Meĥayei Ha-metim in the Amida (SA 47:7; MB 59:9; see below 7:5, and Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 9 n. 2).

06. The Time to Recite Birkhot Ha-shaĥar when Waking Up in the Middle of the Night

As noted, le-khatĥila, all the blessings should be recited as close as possible to the time one wakes up, and it is not necessary to say them specifically after dawn. Therefore, one who arises before dawn in order to work or learn, or for any other purpose, must recite Birkhot Ha-shaĥar immediately upon waking up. However, Birkhot Ha-shaĥar may not be recited before ĥatzot. Therefore, one who wakes up before ĥatzot must wait until after ĥatzot, and once she relieves herself, she recites Al Netilat Yadayim as well as the remaining Birkhot Ha-shaĥar. If she recites them before ĥatzot, she does not fulfill her obligation (the time of ĥatzot, or midnight, fluctuates depending on location and season; most locales have calendars specifying the relevant times; MB 47:31, Kaf Ha-ĥayim 29; Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 9 n. 4; above 5:4.)

One who wakes up after ĥatzot for a few hours with the intention to go back to sleep until morning should say Birkhot Ha-shaĥar after her main waking. If her main waking is the one in the middle of the night, and her sleep after that before morning is like a nap for her, then it is then best that she recites Birkhot Ha-shaĥar after her initial waking. However, if her main waking is in the morning, she must recite Birkhot Ha-shaĥar after the second rising. 1 That is the way she should practice regarding Birkhot Ha-Torah as well (see below 7:7). 

  1. That is the opinion of most poskim and this is the halakha. However, one who wishes to study further will note in Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 9 n. 5 that according to the kabbalists it is preferable to recite Birkhot Ha-shaĥar after the first waking. Someone who is afraid that she might forget to recite the blessings after the second rising, despite the fact that this is her main waking, may rely on the poskim who permit her to recite the blessings after the first time she wakes up. However, as a general rule, when there is disagreement among poskim who rule according to halakha and the kabbalists, practice follows the poskim, except for individuals who follow the Kabbala in all aspects of their lives.

07. One Who Was Awake All Night

As a general rule, even one who stayed up all night recites Birkhot Ha-shaĥar. As we learned (section 4 above), these berakhot were instituted on the basis of general enjoyment, and therefore, even if one does not personally derive pleasure from something, she still recites a berakha on it. However, there are differing customs regarding the number of berakhot recited.

With regard to netilat yadayim, according to Sephardic custom one does not recite a berakha (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 4:49). According to the Ashkenazic custom, if one is getting ready to pray the Amida, it is best that before praying, she goes to the bathroom and touches a part of the body which is normally covered, thereby necessitating netilat yadayim with a berakha (MB 4:30; see above, 5:5).

There is a dispute about whether or not one must repeat Birkhot Ha-Torah with the dawn of a new day. Therefore, it is best that the woman praying recites Ahavat Olam, which in addition to being one of the Birkhot Keri’at Shema, can take the place of Birkhot Ha-Torah. One who does so must take care to recite the Shema following the berakha in order to learn Torah after its recitation. 1

Likewise, there is doubt concerning Elokai Neshama and Ha-ma’avir Sheina, since some say that only one who has slept may recite them. In order to avoid uncertainty, it is best to hear these berakhot being recited by someone who has slept with intent to fulfill her obligation. If there is no one around to recite them, according to Sephardic practice and some Ashkenazic poskim, she may recite them herself (Peninei Halakha: Prayer 9:6 and n. 6; however, those who follow MB do not recite them).

  1. For men there is uncertainty whether the recitation of Shema is considered Torah study or not, as explained in Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 10 n. 2. However, concerning women, since they are not obligated to recite Shema, clearly its recitation is considered Torah study, as explained in MB 47:17. According to many poskim, men must recite Birkhot Ha-Torah with the dawn of a new day, and that is the practice of Sephardim and some Ashkenazim, as clarified in Peninei Halakha: Prayer 10:7. However, a woman, in any case of uncertainty, should be lenient and refrain from reciting the berakhot (Birkei Yosef; Kaf Ha-ĥayim 47:34). One reason for this is that in the opinion of many poskim, men have a biblical obligation to recite Birkhot Ha-Torah, and therefore in cases of uncertainty they must act stringently and recite the berakhot, whereas women are not biblically commanded to recite Birkhot Ha-Torah. Hence, the correct ruling is that in any case of uncertainty, a woman must recite Ahavat Olam (Ahava Rabba in the Ashkenazic liturgy) and with that she will have fulfilled her obligation of Birkhot Ha-Torah, as explained in SA 47:7. Even a woman who is not accustomed to reciting Ahavat Olam every day can still fulfill her obligation by reciting it. This is explained below, 7:5 (see also above, ch. 2 n. 10.)