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
- 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. ↩