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Waking Blessings with our Senses

Birchot Hashachar[1]:

Waking Blessings with the Powers of the Senses[2]

(in Haiku[3])

Heart beats, knee[4] bends[5]

Body wakes to life within[6]

Now, I FEEL ברוך-baruch.

Lifting lids, Your face

Shines[7] beyond the bounds of words[8]

Here, I SEE אתה-atah.

Essential self, soul


Image of י''ה-hashem.

Listen. We can tune

Each string to sing together[9]

HEAR אלקינו-eloheynu

Savor sweet and sour

Balanced flavors reign supreme

I TASTE מלך-melech

Your scent, still unseen[10]

All the possibilities

I SMELL העולם-ha’olam

[1] Birchot hashachar is The Hebrew name for the practice of reciting a litany of blessings each morning, (adding wonder and gratitude to our daily rituals of waking, hearing, rising, seeing, walking, washing, dressings, etc.) as we aspire to offer 100 blessings every day. Though blessings take many forms, the traditional formulation articulated in the Talmud begins with these words: baruch atah Adonai, eloheynu melech ha’olam. These six incredible words are commonly, if inadequately, translated as follows: Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, king of the universe. My hope is that what follows here overcomes some of the limitations and challenges of translating the richness of the Hebrew blessing formula into English, breathing new life into the words, and the speaker.

[2] In Mussar literature, such as Orchot Tzadiqim, The Ways of Righteousness, the senses are referred to as כוחות-cohot, or powers. Tapping the power of these physical senses is considered foundation to the work of tiqqun hanefesh, improving our character, growing our nephesh-soul. I began pairing the senses with the words of the blessings over various foods and drinks as a mindful eating practice at a retreat with the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, reminding me to eat and drink (and savor) with all my senses.

[3] With thanks to the author of “Psalms in Haiku” by Father Richard Gwyn, and R. Joseph Metzler for inspiration.

[4] The word ברוך-Baruch, shares its three letter Hebrew root with the word ברך-berech, knee.

[5] Joints (and hearts) bend, by softening. I learned from R. Michael Strassfeld, that ברך, can also be translated as “with softness,” reading the first letter ב as a prefix, rather than as part of the root.

[6] In Hebrew root for ‘within,’ קרב-qariev, shares two common letters with ברך, and the third is homophonic.

[7] Echoing the ancient priestly benediction, a foundational blessing formula, from Numbers 6:22-27, “May God bless and keep you, and God’s countenance (face) shine upon you…”

[8] The word for You, אתה-Atah, in the blessing, is spelled with the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In speaking to or about you, the divine Other, or any other, we are urged to remember the limits of labels, that all language is a mask for all that is.

[9] The first person plural suffix -nu attached to the word, Elohim-God, brings the speaker of a blessing from me-consciousness to we-consciousness, expanding our sense of self with a sense of community, peoplehood, belonging.

[10] The root of העולם-ha’olam, also means hidden, as in נעלם-neelam, was hidden.

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