Morning Blessings

The Order of the Traditional Morning Service.

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Jewish law mandates that one pray three times a day, in the morning, afternoon, and at night. The morning service, Shaharit, formally begins with the Pesukei D'zimrah (verses of praise) section, but before that there are several preliminary prayers and blessings to thank God for provMah Tovuiding us with our daily needs and for performing everyday miracles.

Modeh Ani

Traditionally, Jews begin each day with Modeh Ani, a short, two-line prayer which opens by referring to God as the eternal and living king. The prayer speaks of sleeping as a minor type of death in which the soul leaves the body to spend the night with God. The prayer thanks God for returning the soul to the body, enabling the individual to live another day.

This prayer is generally said when one first awakes, while still in bed. For this reason, God's proper name ("Adonai") is not used, since the rabbis deemed it improper to speak God's name before ritually washing the hands.

Indeed, because people are unaware of their actions during sleep, it is possible that they touched something during the night that would make their hands ritually unclean. For these reasons and others, many Jews wash their hands promptly after getting out of bed, pouring water from a cup over their hands either two or three times in succession.

Out of Bed--Straight to Prayer

After washing, a blessing is traditionally made, followed by a recitation of verses praising God's name. Although modern denominations have adapted different sets of prayers, most versions start with a line from Psalms 111, "Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom" (111:10), reminding the newly-awakened Jew of the importance of God.

Following these verses in the siddur (prayerbook) is Asher Yatzar, a prayer normally recited after going to the restroom. The prayer thanks God for creating us completely, with all of our body parts in working order. It declares that if any part of our body were to work in the wrong way, life would be much harder. The blessing ends with a testimony that God "heals all flesh and does wonders."

While all of the prayers mentioned so far are traditionally said as part of the normal waking cycle, they--and the prayers that follow--are also often recited by individuals at synagogue as the beginning of the Shaharit service.

Thanks for the Torah

The blessings over Torah study constitute the next major section of the morning prayers. These blessings thank God for giving the Torah to the Jewish people. An additional blessing asks that God help all of Israel to study Torah for its own sake.

Fittingly, these prayers are followed by passages from the Torah and the Talmud in order to fulfill the previous blessing of studying. Included in this is the priestly prayer for peace, taken from Numbers 6:24-26 ("May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord shine His countenance for you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up His favor upon and you grant you peace.").

Next up is a mishnah (Peah 1:1) that recounts a group of commandments that are perennial and limitless, namely charity, acts of kindness, and Torah study. This section of prayer ends with a quote from the Talmud (Shabbat 127a) that lists commandments for which one is rewarded both in this world and the world to come. These include honoring parents, acts of kindness, spending time in Jewish institutions, and again, studying Torah.

Following that is a short prayer called Elohai Neshama, which praises God for creating humanity and for helping each person maintain his or her spirit and spirituality. It is the spiritual equivalent to the physically-oriented Asher Yatzar blessing. The prayer ends by testifying to God's control over the human soul.

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Ben Keil is a student of journalism and religion at Boston University. He works as a freelance writer and poet.