Birkat HaShaḥar

The Birkat HaShaḥar (morning blessings) is our springboard into each day. It is recited upon waking, but over time it has also become part of the daily Shaḥrit service. The blessings connect us to Israel, to HaShem, and to the nations, spanning the immediate to the infinite and revealing how insignificant – and irreplaceable – we are in G-d’s amazing creation plan. Each blessing begins with the same phrase, anchoring our thoughts and focusing our attention as we enter into the familiar cadence,
“Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe . . .

“Who gives the heart understanding to distinguish between day and night.”
As with so many of our communal prayers, our challenge is to rise above tedious sight-reading to being captivated by their fullness. We notice sunrise; we recognize good; we perceive eternal truths; we detect the spark of divinity in one another.

“Who has not made me a heathen.
“Who has not made me a slave.
“Who has not made me a woman. / Who has made me according to His will.”
We are grateful for what we aren’t; we are also grateful for what we are. “ . . . We are the clay, and You are our potter: and we are all the work of Your hand” (Yesha’yahu 64:7(8)). No matter our role, we should always defer to others; extending both honor and compassion to everyone we meet.

“Who gives sight to the blind.”
This literally means “who opens our eyes.” This describes physical sight, but we can also see this as the capacity to view everything from Hashem’s greater perspective.

“Who clothes the naked.”
Clothing provides us basic protection from the elements, but clothing is much more than that. When we select our wardrobe for the day we are essentially putting on our daily “uniform” which communicates our identity to those we meet throughout the day. The care with which we dress, whether provocative or modest, is a direct reflection of our call to be a separate people, a light to the nations.

“Who sets captives free.”
At its simplest, this describes regaining control over our physical bodies as we awaken each day (we spend our sleeping hours in a form of paralysis which prevents us from acting out dreams). Deeper meanings include freedom from any form of restricted movement, from any inability to express ourselves.

“Who raises those bowed down.”
Yes, we arise and stand up as we ready for each day – this also beautifully depicts how HaShem redeems lives.

“Who spreads out the earth above the waters.”
Bam! Paradigm shift! Pulled abruptly away from our line of thought, we are called to “know before whom we stand” – HaShem, G-d of all creation, beyond time and space, the indescribable Ein Sof.

“Who has provided me with all I need.”
After the previous reality check, and keenly aware that HaShem is the source of all creation, we resist dwelling on our perceived unmet needs. Instead, we are deliberate in appreciating all that HaShem has already provided to us, no matter how abundant or meager, taking nothing for granted.

“Who makes firm the steps of man.”
HaShem plants within each of us the desire to follow Him, and firms our steps based on the choices we actually make. This is a poignant reminder to live intelligently disciplined lives, measuring every decision with the knowledge that HaShem will firm our trajectory based on what we pursue.

“Who girds Israel with strength.
“Who crowns Israel with glory.”
As we make our choices throughout the day, we rest in HaShem’s powerful love for Israel. This reassures us that as we choose to follow Torah with Israel our steps will be aligned with HaShem’s greater purpose, and we will bring merit to the Nation.

“Who gives strength to the weary.”
We are all creatures of limited strength, no matter how mighty or frail. Our limitations require that we prioritize our activities, which in turn show those around us our true relationship with HaShem.

“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who removes sleep from my eyes and slumber from my eyelids. And may it be Your will, Lord our G-d, and the G-d of our forefathers, that You accustom us to [study] Your Torah and make us attached to Your commandments. Lead us not into error, transgression, iniquity, temptation or disgrace. Do not let the evil instinct dominate us. Keep us far from a bad man and a bad companion. Help us attach ourselves to the good instinct and to good deeds and bend our instincts to be subservient to You. Grant us, this day and every day grace, loving-kindness, and compassion in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us, and bestow loving-kindness upon us. Blessed are You, Lord, who bestows loving-kindness on His people Israel.”

The finale is a montage of parting thoughts and supplications toward being better people by each day’s end than when we awoke. When we read “lead us not into error . . . ” we cannot help but hear those same words echoed in Yeshua’s “Lord’s Prayer,” reminding us that G-d is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We are now ready to face the day in pursuit our raison d’être – choosing of our own free will to love HaShem through our thoughts, words, and actions.

Adon Olam

Adon Olam
L-rd of the Universe,
who reigned before the birth of any thing –
When by His will all things were made
then was His name proclaimed King.
And when all things shall cease to be
He alone will reign in awe.
He was, He is, and He shall be
glorious for evermore.
He is One, there is none else,
alone, unique, beyond compare;
Without beginning, without end,
His might, His rule are everywhere.
He is unfathomable, incomparable,
unchanging and unexchangeable;
He cannot be aggregated nor dispersed;
He is great of power and strength.

He is my G-d; my Redeemer lives.
He is the Rock on whom I rely –
My banner and my safe retreat,
my cup, my portion when I cry.
He is a healer and a cure;
He is all-seeing and a support.

Into His hand my soul I place,
when I awake and when I sleep.
The L-rd is with me, I shall not fear;
body and soul from harm will He keep.
In His Sanctuary will my soul rejoice;
may he send our Messiah speedily.
Then shall we sing in the Holy Temple,
Amein, Amein to the awesome Name.

Note: Additional verses from the Sephardic version are noted in blue.

The Adon Olam prayer officially begins the synagogue service. Although it is a popular practice in many synagogues to sing this piyyut at the end of services, traditional Siddurim also include it as the first congregational prayer each morning.

We’ve learned that the focus of the Mah Tovu prayer, which we sing individually as we enter the synagogue, is to exhort us to leave all our personal joys and sorrows behind so we may worship without distraction. We then sing the Adon Olam together to begin our Shaḥrit service.

The words of the Adon Olam pull us into a greater awareness of Hashem. He is the ineffable G-d; the Ein Sof. The Adon Olam brings specific attributes to mind so that we can relate to Hashem the infinite – as best we can.

Hashem is King. His kingship is not dependent upon having a nation to rule; He was King before creation and He will remain King after creation has passed away. Unlike earthly kings, Hashem’s sovereignty is derived from no one but Him. Creation does not make Him King; creation proclaims Him King.

Hashem is Creator. The purpose of creation is for man, of his own free will, to choose Hashem. From the smallest particle to the greatest galaxy, all creation points to Hashem as Creator; all creation beckons us to seek Him.

Hashem is Eternal. We shift away from the overwhelming design of His creation to contemplate the mind-blowing vastness of Him. Hashem can be contained in neither time nor space; His existence is even beyond eternity. We are confronted with the challenge to envision the indescribable and to understand the unfathomable.

Hashem is Personal. After barely tasting the infinite we are suddenly launched into an accounting of all the ways in which Hashem personally relates to each of us. He is my G-d, my redeemer, my rock, my banner, my protector, my deliverer, my healer, my provider.

Each description is worthy of a paragraph yet this list is far from exhaustive. My G-d, who is beyond infinity, is intimately involved in my every day. Every part of my existence is fully infused with Hashem’s presence.

In the Sephardic closing lines we join in eager anticipation of the rebuilt Holy Temple and the days of Machiaḥ, capturing beautifully the vision penned by Malaḥi, “There we will serve You with reverence as in the days of old and as in former years.”