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Thought for the Day: The Soul Opens Your Eyes to Divinity

More from R' Efraim Twerski's insightful t'fila shiurim.

There is a reasonably cut and dried halacha that long brachos -- not the one liners, but the ones that have a beginning, middle, and end -- always end with "baruch atah HaShem..." and must either start with "baruch atah HaShem" or be cuddled up to a preceding bracha; aka "samuch l'chaverta".  "asher yastzar" is an example of a long bracha.  Each bracha in shmone esrei and in birkas ha'mazon are also long brachos.  The first bracha of each starts and ends with "baruch atah HaShem...", while the subsequent brachos only end with said prescription.  (The fourth bracha of birkas ha'mazon is actually a later addition and is d'rabanan, so it starts again with "baruch atah HaShem".  I know it doesn't end that way; that's because it's really a short bracha that kept getting longer.  A story for another time.)

What about "elokai neshama"?  It's long, but it doesn't start with "baruch atah HaShem".  As usual, delving into why that is so leads to an interesting machlokes rishonim.  The Rosh says that "elokai neshama" is meant to be said immediately after "asher yatzar" upon arising in the morning.  Therefore, since it is samuch l'chaverta, it does not begin with "baruch atah HaShem".  Tosofos, however, learns that "elokai neshama" is a "t'fila b'alma" (their words, don't blame me!) and not a bracha at all.  That is the halachic source for putting "elokai neshama" later in the service and not immediately following "asher yatzar".  R' Twerski has a beautiful (albeit "chasidish") vort that captures both ideas and brings out an important idea in living life as a Jew.

There are four categories of brachos: ne'he'nin (on pleasures; such as eating and smelling), shevach (praise; such as yishtabach and baruch sh'amar), mitzvos (like it says; such as lulav and t'fillin), and ho'dayah (thanks/acknowledgement; such as the birkas ha'shachar).  In each case, the formula begins "baruch atah HaShem" -- which is in second person; Blessed are You, HaShem.  Take a moment to contemplate what we are doing.  We just open our mouths and start talking directly to the Creator of the world as if He were right in front of us!

Well... of course, HaShem certainly is right there in front of us at all times.  The problem is that He can seem hidden (ne'elam) by this world (olam).  The nusach (format) of the bracha is to tell us that each benefit we enjoy, praise we render, mitzvah we perform, and acknowledgement we express is an opportunity for us to see the Creator.  We are not just animals going through the motions, we are Jews taking using this world to experience the reality of HaKadosh Baruch Hu.  What gives us that ability?  "Elokai, neshama sh'nasata bi"/My G-d, the soul that You have given me, "t'hora hi"/is purely spiritual, unsullied by physicality.  It is that Jewish neshama, the "pintele yid" that give us the extra sensitivity to see this world as an expression of HaShem's greatness and reality.  Which is why the roshei tavos (initial letters) of the four categories of brachos: Ne'he'nin, SHevach, Mitzvos, Hodaya -- Nun-SHin-Mem-Hei, spells neshama/soul.

Which makes Elokai Neshama both a t'fila -- that we should keep our neshama in place as long as possible, and a bracha -- in fact, the bracha which is the introduction and basis of all brachos.


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