Introduction to Birchos HaShachar – Part I

B’ezras Hashem, the next series of segments will cover some of the Birchos HaShachar that we recite each morning.  As an introduction, we will review Shemoneh Esrei segments 47 and 48, which were an introduction to the brachah of Modim, and serve, as well, as an introduction to these Birchos HaShachar.

Shemoneh Esrei 47

Appreciation: An Exercise in Growth 

מודים אנחנו לך
We gratefully thank You

The word “הודאה” has two distinct meanings.  One meaning is to thank.  The other meaning is to admit.  Rav Hutner zt”l states that in reality these two meanings are very closely connected.  The path to thanking and praising Hashem for of all the goodness and miracles that He performs for us is only through recognizing and admitting that all is given to us by Hashem.  Nothing just “happens” and nothing is the direct result of our efforts.  Yes, we need to put forth our best efforts!  However, it is important for us to admit that it was not our superior intellect or abilities that actually produced the result.  If we cannot fully admit this, we cannot properly thank and praise Hashem.

Rav Dovid Cohen shlita, Rosh HaYeshiva of the Chevron Yeshiva, quotes Rav Hutner and expands on his thought.  Rav Cohen cites the Midrash Rabah on the pasuk “הפעם אודה את ה’Ha’paam odeh es Hashem (This time let me gratefully praise Hashem),” when Leah named her son Yehudah.  This midrash teaches us that because Leah was involved in thanking Hashem, she merited to have offspring who were “baalei hodaah”: Yehudah, who admitted that it was he who had been with Tamar, and David HaMelech who was known for thanking and singing praises to Hashem.  Rav Cohen points out that these two exhibited two seemingly totally different meanings of hodaah.  How is Yehudah’s admission connected to the merit of Leah’s gratitude?  Using Rav Hutner’s connection of admission and thanks, we now understand the midrash.  It is only through the trait of being able to admit that one can truly thank and praise Hashem that these two aspects are ingrained in Leah’s descendants.  (There is much more inspiration in this beautiful essay from Rav Cohen; see pages 220-223 in the sefer Mizmor L’Sodah by Rav Daniel Yaakov Travis).

Rav Cohen then proceeds to discuss the Ramban at the end of Parshas Bo, who states that the purpose of creation is “שידע האדם ויודה לאלקיו שבראוshe’yeida ha’adam v’yodeh leilokav she’bar’o.”  Rav Cohen explains this to mean that the purpose of creation is for man to “know” Hashem and to admit that Hashem created him and is directly involved and responsible (i.e., hashgachah) for all that occurs in his life, thereby resulting in him thanking Hashem for all.

We now provide an excerpt from Shemoneh Esrei 4 to answer the glaring question: Since Hashem does not need anything, let alone my thank-you, why is it the “purpose of the world” to recognize that all is in His power, that all comes from Him, and to thank Him?

The Chovos HaL’vavos similarly explains that the humility of recognizing that we are totally dependent on Hashem leads to closeness with Him and elevates our nefesh to our Creator.  This closeness results from the shevach (the first three brachos) and hodaah (the last three brachos) sections of our Shemoneh Esrei.  The Chovos HaL’vavos is teaching us that we are the ones who benefit from these two sections of Shemoneh Esrei.  Praising Hashem and thanking Him leads us to humility, which leads to dveikus (closeness to Hashem), which results in the elevation of our nefesh.  This is the very essence of tefilah.  Based on the Chovos HaL’vavos, we can see that the first three brachos are not simply an introduction to our requests, but are in reality an integral part of the essence of tefilah.

The same is true for the last three brachos.  We thank Hashem not for fulfilling our needs, but for granting us once again this recognition that we are completely dependent on Him, thereby getting closer to Him, which is the purpose of tefilah.

Perhaps we are starting to gain a deeper appreciation of why we should aim to enthusiastically look forward to our next tefilah, instead of viewing it as a mandatory action we must perform.