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Peninei Halakha > Prayer > 09 - Birkot HaShachar – The Morning Blessings

09 – Birkot HaShachar – The Morning Blessings

01 – Blessings of Thanks

The Chachamim instituted the recital of many blessings immediately upon awakening in the morning. The purpose of these blessings is to thank Hashem for the good that He bestows upon us every day. Hence, the Talmud (Berachot 60b) teaches that when a person wakes up, he must thank Hashem and say, “My God, the soul which you have placed within me is pure… Blessed are You Hashem who restores souls to dead bodies” (Elokai Neshamah). When he hears the sound of the rooster, announcing the arrival of a new day, he must say, “Blessed are You Hashem, our God, King of the universe, who gives the rooster understanding to distinguish between day and night” (Hanoten lasechvi vinah). Upon opening his eyes, he recites, “…Who gives sight to the blind” (Poke’ach ivrim). When one stretches his limbs and sits on his bed, after being held captive in the shackles of sleep, he recites, “…Who releases the imprisoned” (Matir assurim). When he dresses, he recites, “…Who clothes the naked” (Malbish arumim). When one stands on his legs, he recites, “…Who straightens the bent” (Zokef kefufim), and when placing his feet on the ground, he recites, “…Who spreads the earth upon the waters” (Roka ha’aretz al hamayim). When one puts on his shoes, he recites, “…Who has provided me with all my needs” (She’asah li kol tzorki). As he begins to walk, he recites, “…Who prepares people’s footsteps” (Hamechin mitzadei gaver). When he fastens his belt, he recites, “…Who girds Israel with strength” (Ozer Yisrael bigevurah). When he puts on a head covering, be it a hat or a kippah, he recites, “…Who crowns Israel with glory” (Oter Yisrael b’tifarah). When he washes his hands, he recites, “…Concerning the washing of hands” (Al netilat yadayim). When washing his face, he recites, “…Who removes sleep from my eyes” (Hama’avir chevlei sheinah me’einai), etc. The Chachamim also instituted three special berachot of thanks which express gratitude to Hashem for choosing us and giving us His mitzvot. They are: “…For not having made me a gentile” (Shelo asani goy), “…For not having made me a slave” (Shelo asani aved) and “…For not having made me a woman” (Shelo asani ishah) Women recite, “…For having made me according to His will” (She’asani kirtzono).

Life’s routine generally wears away our attention from all the good that Hashem showers upon us. As a consequence of this ungratefulness, the daily blessing that HaKadosh Baruch Hu grants a person fails to delight him, and his life becomes dull and empty. In order to emerge from this desolation, he seeks out various pleasures. Hence, the Chachamim instituted Birkot HaShachar so that we will not be ungrateful. With these blessings we thank our Creator for all things, big and small, that help us function in this world. Out of this thankfulness to Hashem, we are privileged to observe the world with a rich and comprehensive outlook. We learn that every single element in our lives has Godly value, arousing our desire to add goodness to the world with every new day that God gives us.

02 – The Order of the Morning Blessings

As we have learned, the original institution of the Chachamim was to bless and give thanks for each and every act immediately upon deriving pleasure from it. In other words, as a person wakes from his sleep, he thanks Hashem for the soul He placed within him and says Elokai Neshamah; as he opens his eyes, he recites Poke’ach ivrim; as he stretches his limbs, he recites, Matir assurim; and so on with all the blessings in that manner. However, today the custom has changed and usually all Birkot HaShachar are recited consecutively.

One may wonder why the custom changed, for it is obviously more appropriate to thank Hashem immediately when the pleasure is received. In that way the process of arising from one’s sleep attains profound significance, as the blessings of thanks to Hashem accompany each and every stage of waking. Indeed, the Rambam rules that all Birkot HaShachar must be recited exactly as mentioned in the Talmud, each berachah in its appropriate time. There are some Yemenites who are accustomed to following his ruling even today.

However, the widespread custom is to recite all Birkot HaShachar at once, either in synagogue, or at home after relieving oneself and getting dressed. There are a few reasons for this. First, the Chachamim established that the chazan recites Birkot HaShachar out loud in synagogue so that the uneducated who do not know them by heart may fulfill their obligation as well. Also, even those who do know the blessings by heart may forget a blessing in the disorientation of waking, while if they recite them from a siddur in synagogue, they will remember to say them all. Further, we want to enhance the mitzvah and recite Birkot HaShachar in the most respectful way, with clean hands and while properly dressed, and therefore we delay the recital of the berachot until after all the preparations for prayer are finished (Shulchan Aruch 46:2). Moreover, there are people who find it very difficult to concentrate immediately upon waking up, and only after they dress and wash their faces are they able to recite Birkot HaShachar with kavanah (Seder HaYom).

03 – Birkot HaShachar for One Who Does Not Derive Pleasure

There is a dispute among prominent Rishonim regarding the question of whether a person may recite one of the Birkot HaShachar from which he does not derive direct personal pleasure. For instance, may a blind person recite the berachah, Poke’ach ivrim?

According to the Rambam (Tefillah 7:9), only a person who derives pleasure from something may recite a blessing on it. Therefore, a person who slept at night wearing clothing, since he does not get dressed in the morning, does not recite Malbish arumim. A handicapped person who cannot walk does not recite Hamechin mitzadei gaver. A paralyzed person, who cannot move his limbs, does not recite Matir assurim and Zokef kefufim. Some people of Yemenite descent follow the Rambam’s opinion today. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 46:8) takes this opinion into consideration and rules that one does not mention Hashem’s Name when reciting blessings from which he does not derive pleasure.

By contrast, the Kolbo (section 1) writes in the names of Rav Natrunai Gaon, Rav Amram Gaon, and the remaining Geonim, that the minhag is to recite all Birkot HaShachar in order, whether or not one derives pleasure from them, 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. Therefore, even a paralyzed person who cannot straighten himself, blesses Hashem for all the other people who can straighten themselves and help him. A blind person also recites Poke’ach ivrim for the fact that others are able to see and can therefore show him the way and tend to all his needs. This is how the Rama rules.

Likewise, the opinion of the Ari HaKadosh is that every Jew must recite all of the Birkot HaShachar in their order to thank Hashem for all the general good that He showers on the world. In many minhagim regarding prayer, the Sephardim have the custom to follow the Ari, and therefore they recite all Birkot HaShachar in order.[1]

[1]. There is a dispute among the poskim regarding whether the berachah She’asah li kol tzorki, normally said on footwear, is recited on Yom Kippur and Tishah B’Av, days on which it is prohibited to wear shoes. According to the Rosh, Ran, and the Tur, it is recited. That is also what the Mishnah Berurah writes in 554:31, based on the Levush, Eliyah Rabbah, and Pri Megadim. That is how the Ashkenazim and a few Sephardim practice; see Yalkut Yosef, part 1, p. 51. However, according to the Ari, even though a mourner does recite She’asah li kol tzorki, it is not recited on those days, as is written by the Chida, Ben Ish Chai, and Kaf HaChaim 46:17. Rav Pe’alim 2:8 writes that according to this minhag, even at the end of the fast it is not recited. (However, in Ma’asei Rav 9 it is written that the Gra was accustomed to reciting it at the conclusion of the fast).

04 – Until When May One Recite Birkot HaShachar?

Whoever forgot to recite Birkot HaShachar before the prayer service may recite them afterwards, with the exception of the blessing Al netilat yadayim, which may not be recited after praying because it was instituted as a preparation for prayer. Similarly, he may not recite Birkot HaTorah since he already fulfilled his obligation by saying Ahavat Olam. Also, he may not recite Elokai Neshamah, since there are those who say that he already fulfilled his obligation to recite Elokai Neshamah when he recited Birkat Mechayei hameitim in the Amidah.

Therefore, one who must skip Birkot HaShachar in order to pray in a minyan on time should at least recite Al netilat yadayim, Elokai Neshamah, and Birkot HaTorah first, because if he does not recite them first, he will not be able to make them up after the prayer service (Mishnah Berurah 52:2).[2]

Until when may he recite them? Since there are those who equate the time to recite the berachot to the time of the Amidah, l’chatchilah he should try to recite them before the first four hours of the day have passed, and b’dieved until chatzot (halachic noon). However, if he did not succeed in saying them before chatzot, b’dieved he may recite them the whole day. The reason for this is that according to the majority of poskim, the time to say the berachot differs from the time to recite Shacharit, because Birkot HaShachar are blessings of thanks for the good things from which people derive pleasure throughout the day.[3]

[2]. For a more extensive outline of the laws of Birkot HaTorah, see further in this book, 10:2 and note 2. Concerning Elokai Neshamah, the Mishnah Berurah 52:9 and Bei’ur Halachah write that the Pri Chadash maintains that one fulfills his obligation by reciting Birkat Mechayei hameitim. The Chayei Adam and Derech HaChaim quote him. However, Ma’amar Mordechai disagrees with him. That is also what the Pri Megadim understands from the Rama’s words, and what we can infer from the Gra’s writings. In any case, in order to avoid uncertainty, one who skips Birkot HaShachar in order to pray in a minyan should first recite Elokai Neshamah. If he did not recite it, he may not recite it after the prayer service, for safek berachot l’hakel, (when there is doubt regarding the recital of berachot we are lenient). However, the Bei’ur Halachah writes that one may rely on all of the poskim who maintain that one may recite Elokai Neshamah after the prayer service. Further, the Mishnah Berurah writes that if he explicitly has kavanah in Birkat Mechayei hameitim not to fulfill his obligation for saying Elokai Neshamah, he does not fulfill it and he may recite it after the prayer service. However, the Yechaveh Da’at 4:5, in the footnote, writes that this kavanah does not help. According to this, if, in the middle of saying Birkot Keriat Shema, he remembers that he did not recite Birkot HaShachar, he should recite Elokai Neshamah even between the berachot, so as not to miss out on saying it altogether (Yalkut Yosef 46:23-24).
[3]. The Derech HaChaim, based on the Magen Avraham, writes that the laws of Birkot HaShachar are equal to the laws of the Amidah, and just as the time of the Amidah lasts four proportional hours, which is a third of the day, so does the time to recite Birkot HaShachar. There are those who maintain that just as b’dieved one may recite Shacharit until chatzot (halachic noon), the same is true for Birkot HaShachar (Rabbi Shlomo Kluger). Kaf HaChaim 71:4 writes that if one already prayed Shacharit he may recite Birkot HaShachar within the first four hours of the day, and if he did not yet pray Shacharit, he may recite them until chatzot. However, according to the majority of poskim, Birkot HaShachar are not directly linked to prayer, and one who forgets to recite them in the morning may recite them the entire day, and that is what is written in Mishnah Berurah 52:10 and Rav Pe’alim 2, Orach Chaim 8. (According to the Gra, if one forgot to recite them during the day, he may say them even at night until he goes to sleep. The Yalkut Yosef 46:25 writes that one who practices this way has on whom to rely.)

05 – The Time to Recite Birkot HaShachar for One Who Wakes Up in the Middle of the Night

L’chatchilah, all the blessings should be recited as close as possible to the time one wakes from his sleep and it is not necessary to say them specifically after alot hashachar. Therefore, one who gets up before alot hashachar in order to learn Torah, to work, or for any other purpose, must recite Birkot HaShachar immediately upon waking up. However, Birkot HaShachar may not be recited before chatzot (halachic midnight). Therefore, a person who wakes up before chatzot must wait until after chatzot to recite Birkot HaShachar. If he recites them before that time, he does not fulfill his obligation (Mishnah Berurah 47:31; Kaf HaChaim 29).[4]

One who wakes up after chatzot for a few hours and plans on returning to sleep until the time to recite Shacharit, such as a soldier who gets up after chatzot for guard duty and goes back to sleep, must say Birkot HaShachar after his main waking. If, in his opinion, his initial waking is his main one, and he considers any sleep after that similar to a nap in the middle of the day, he must recite them after the first sleep. If his second rising is his main one, he must recite them after the second rising. However, the kabbalistic custom is that as long as the first rising is after chatzot, he must say Birkot HaShachar after the first rising. If he did not say them after the first rising, then he must say them after the second.[5]

It is the opinion of most poskim that the law regarding Birkot HaTorah is similar to the ruling for blessings recited upon the performance of mitzvot. Therefore one must recite them every time he wakes up from a regular sleep at night. Still, there are those who have the custom to recite them only after the first rising (see the laws of Birkot HaTorah further in this book 10:6).

[4]. Regarding the berachah, Hanoten lasechvi vinah, the Shulchan Aruch 47:13 writes, based on the Rosh and the Tur, that he must wait until the light of day begins to appear in order to recite it. The Mishnah Berurah 47:31 and Bei’ur Halachah write that the Acharonim (Magen Avraham in the name of the Zohar, Pri Chadash, and the Gra) agree that even this berachah may be recited before daylight arrives. However, the Chayei Adam writes that l’chatchilah if one recites it before daylight, he should be careful not to recite it before he actually hears a rooster crow. The Mishnah Berurah concludes that b’dieved one fulfills his obligation even if he recites it before hearing a rooster crow, as long as he recited it after chatzot. Kaf HaChaim 30 writes in the name of the Pri Chadash and the Chida that according to the halachah and the Zohar, l’chatchilah, one may recite it after chatzot. That is what I wrote above, since b’dieved everyone agrees that he fulfills his obligation. There is also concern that if one divides the recital of Birkot HaShachar, he will forget to recite a certain berachah afterwards.

[5]. The Mishnah Berurah 47:30 writes that if the first time he wakes up is after chatzot, he may recite Birkot HaShachar. He did not specify whether it is preferable to recite them particularly after the first rising. However, the Kaf HaChaim 46:49 writes based on the Kabbalah, that it is best to recite them following the first waking after chatzot. One who cannot determine which rising is considered his main one should practice according to the Kaf HaChaim and recite them after the first rising.Further, it is important to note that according to the Mishnah Berurah 47:30, the berachot, Elokai Neshamah and Hama’avir sheinah me’einai are to be recited after the first rising without Shem u’Malchut (Hashem’s name), and the second time he recites them with Shem u’Malchut. However, if he recited them with Shem u’Malchut the first time, he may not go back and repeat them a second time. The Bei’ur Halachah expands on this, saying that according to the Pri Chadash they must be recited only after he finishes sleeping that night. If he recites them the first time he wakes up, he does not fulfill his obligation, and he must go back and recite them after the second time he wakes up. The Chayei Adam agrees with him concerning Hama’avir sheinah. However, Sha’arei Teshuvah and Derech HaChaim write not to repeat it after waking up the second time. Therefore, the Mishnah Berurah rules that if a person already recited them, he may not go back and say them again. Kaf HaChaim 46:49 writes in the name of a number of poskim and kabbalists that even these two berachot need to be recited the first time with Shem u’Malchut and any sleep after that is considered similar to a nap taken during the day. That is how Sephardim practice. The Ashkenazim follow the Mishnah Berurah, yet, even according to him, if they recited the blessing the first time, they fulfilled their obligation. In my humble opinion, it seems that it is better to teach both Ashkenazim and Sepharadim to recite all the berachot after the main waking, because when one recites most of the berachot with the first rising and leaves two berachot for the second rising, there is concern that he will make a mistake, either by forgetting to say the last two berachot, or by accidentally reciting all the berachot again the second time he wakes up. Therefore, I concluded above to recite all of Birkot HaShachar after the main waking and even when the first waking is the main one, a person who recites Elokai Neshamah and Hama’avir sheinah at that point has on whom to rely.According to the kabbalists, the best time to recite Birkot HaShachar for one who was awake all night is after chatzot, and Birkot HaTorah after alot hashachar. However, the Ben Ish Chai, Toldot 14, writes concerning someone who goes to sleep after chatzot, that although according to the Rashash he may recite Birkot HaShachar after chatzot before he goes to sleep, the custom is to recite them after one wakes up, as Rav Eliyahu writes in his siddur, p. 3.

06 – One Who Was Awake All Night

As a general rule, even a person who did not sleep all night recites Birkot HaShachar. As we learned (in halachah 3), these berachot were instituted on the basis of general benefit, and therefore, even if one does not personally derive pleasure from something, he still recites a berachah on it. However, there is a difference in minhag regarding a number of berachot.

Concerning washing one’s hands, it is agreed that a person needs to wash his hands before praying. However, the poskim differ regarding whether or not to recite a berachah on this washing. According to the Mishnah Berurah (4:30), before praying, it is best relieve oneself and touch a part of the body which is normally covered, thereby necessitating the washing of one’s hands with a berachah. However, in any case, the Sephardic minhag is not to say a berachah on this washing (Kaf HaChaim 4:49, and see above 8:2).

Similarly, regarding Birkot HaTorah, there is a dispute as to whether or not one is obligated to repeat these berachot with the dawn of a new day. Therefore it is best to hear the berachot recited by someone who slept, with the intention to fulfill the obligation by hearing them. If one cannot find another person around him who can recite the berachot for him to hear, some poskim rule that one may recite them by himself. Such is the custom of Sephardim and some Ashkenazim. There are others who rule that one should have in mind to fulfill his obligation in Ahavah Rabbah, and that is how most Ashkenazim practice (see the laws of Birkot HaTorah further in this book 10:7).

There is also doubt concerning Elokai Neshamah and Hama’avir sheinah, since some say that only one who has slept may recite them. In order to avoid uncertainty, it is best to hear these berachot being recited by someone who slept, and in doing so fulfill his obligation. If there is no one around to recite them, according to the Sephardic minhag and some Ashkenazic poskim, one may recite them himself, although the Mishnah Berurah maintains that he should not.

In summary: according to the Sephardic minhag and some Ashkenazim, one recites all the berachot, with the exception of Al netilat yadayim, and it is best to hear another person recite Birkot HaTorah, Elokai Neshamah, and Hama’avir sheinah. According to the majority of the Ashkenazim, based on the Mishnah Berurah, one first goes to the bathroom and then recites Al netilat yadayim. Concerning Birkot HaTorah, Elokai Neshamah, and Hama’avir sheinah, one should hear another person recite them. If there is no one else there who needs to say these berachot, a person may not recite them on his own; rather he should have in mind to fulfill his obligation of Birkot HaTorah in Ahavah Rabbah.[6]

[6]. The Sephardic minhag, based on the Ari, is explained in Kaf HaChaim 46:49. The Kaf HaChaim also writes that according to the Kabbalah, Birkot HaShachar should be recited immediately after chatzot; however, one must be careful to recite Birkot HaTorah only after alot hashachar. See further in this book, chapter 10, note 8.
The Mishnah Berurah 46:24 writes that according to the Eliyah Rabbah, one who did not sleep should not recite Elokai Neshamah and Hama’avir sheinah. The Pri Megadim and the Sha’arei Teshuvah indicate that this matter requires further study. The Sha’arei Teshuvah concludes that one should fulfill his obligation by hearing them recited from another person. This implies that if there is no one he can listen to recite the berachot he may not recite them due to doubt. Still, the Aruch HaShulchan 46:13 writes that according to the Rama one may recite the berachot. An Ashkenazi who follows that custom has on whom to rely (and perhaps in order to limit disagreement, the ruling should be according to them). Regarding Birkot HaTorah, see the laws of Birkot HaTorah further in this book 10:7, where the opinions and customs are clarified.

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