Each week we discuss one familiar halakhic practice and try to show its beauty and meaning. The columns are based on Rabbi Meir's Meaning in Mitzvot on Kitzur Shulchan Arukh by Rabbi Asher Meir
One of the most frequent blessings is the asher yatzar blessing said after elimination (going to the bathroom). This is also one of the most cryptic blessings, and the Talmud, Rishonim, and Acharonim discussed the wording at length.
Let's begin at the beginning: the opening expression "Who formed man with wisdom". What is the significance of this wording? The Tur discusses the blessing in detail, yet omits mention of the opening. The Beit Yosef explains that the Tur felt this expression needs no explanation, "for it is a clear thing that the creation of man is of wondrous wisdom" (Tur and Beit Yosef Orach Chaim 6).
Rashi doesn't devote a special entry to this part of the blessing, but he includes it together with the explanation of the ending of the blessing, "Who heals all flesh and does wondrously". The Midrash explains that the "wonder" of man's creation is that the body doesn't spill its content of fluid and air despite the many openings and pores; Rashi adds that this is also an aspect of the wisdom of God's formation (Berakhot 60b).
Tosafot, however, cite a different Midrash, on Bereshit, which explains that the order of creation displays Hashem's wisdom. In particular, man was created last so that all of our needs would be available at the time of our formation. The same idea, write Tosafot, is expressed in the Gemara in Sanhedrin which states that man was created last so that he could "enter into the meal right away", that is, our "table" is fully set as we enter the world (Sanhedrin 38a).
The central message of the Midrash and of the Gemara seems to be that the wise and prudent order in any creative act is to first create the proper conditions for its success. By contrast, it is foolish to first create something and then start working on ways to make it function. (In similar fashion, Rambam writes that a wise person acquires a livelihood and afterwards starts a family, and a foolish person does the opposite -- Deot 5:11.)
In the context of the blessing, the message seems to be that man was created with all of the external means of subsistence prepared for him, and like- wise with all of his internal needs: the human body is not "jury rigged" but on the contrary is designed with all of the equipment needed to thrive.
This explanation dovetails well with the comment of the Rema in the Darkhei Moshe on the Tur, who states that the closing of the blessing "Who does wondrously" refers to the wonder of duality: the human soul, which belongs in the world of spirit, is wondrously united with the human body which dwells in the world of matter. Thus the blessing asher yatzar tells the order of creation as follows:
First Hashem created all of the external physical needs of the human body. This is, "Who formed man with wisdom". Afterwards, he created the body itself with the ability to take advantage of this raw material, the orifices and hollows needed to absorb the good and excrete the waste.
And all this is in order to put all these exterior and interior aspects of our material existence at the service of our spirits.
Latest publication developments: The book is completed! Yaakov Feldheim called me on Thursday to tell me that he "is pleased to announced the birth of a new book"... I hope to be able to give TT readers clear directions on how they can obtain a copy - probably I will direct them to the Feldheim website...
Rabbi Meir authors a popular weekly on-line Q&A column, "The Jewish Ethicist", which gives Jewish guidance on everyday ethical dilemmas in the workplace. The column is a joint project of the JCT Center for Business Ethics, Jerusalem College of Technology - Machon Lev; and Aish HaTorah. You can see the Jewish Ethicist, and submit your own Qs — www.jewishethicist.com or www.aish.com.