Thursday, November 1, 2012

Blessings for Body and Breath/Soul

I want to share two texts that I find very inspiring.

This article by Dr. Kenneth M. Prager, that was originally published in the journal of the American Medical Association:
When I was an elementary school student in yeshiva - a Jewish parochial school with both religious and secular studies - my classmates and I used to find amusing a sign that was posted just outside the bathroom. It was an ancient Jewish blessing that was supposed to be recited after one relieved oneself…  It was not until my second year of medical school that I first began to understand the appropriateness of this short prayer...  Then the impossible happened. I was there the day Josh no longer required a urinary catheter. I thought of the asher yatzar prayer. Pointing out that I could not imagine a more meaningful scenario for its recitation, I suggested to Josh, who was also a yeshiva graduate, that he say the prayer.

Read the whole article for full impact and be sure to read the comments, too.

In the late 1980s, I read Preparing for Sabbath by Nessa Rapoport. It is a coming-of-age novel about a young woman from an Orthodox Jewish family in Toronto. I don’t remember much but one passage has been engraved on my memory ever since.  I don’t own the book but thanks to SharĂ³n Benheim, who does, and Naavah Levin, who works at the National Library, I was able to recover the exact quote (which is a bit different from my memory).

The protagonist has undergone a traumatic experience, then:

When she woke the next day she was reaching for her siddur.

Elohai, neshamah shenatata bi tehorah hi.” She read the words out loud and slowly. It had been years. The soul you have given me is pure, my God, you created it, formed it and breathed it into me.
Judith took a deep breath. She was alive. The pain was still in her body but it hadn't killed her. As long as she was alive she could offer praise. “Who raises those who are bent over,” in sorrow, she thought, but he does raise them. “Who gives strength to the weary.” She straightened her shoulders and read on. “May it be your will, that we are able to cleave to your ways. Don’t let the voices for damage within us have power, and keep us from bad friends.” Keep us from bad friends, that was a real prayer. She stared at the page. Why had she never seen it before?

She said the entire service. She wasn't bored, she wasn't impatient. When she reached aleinu, the great prayer of honoring, she felt the thankfulness stream through her. She didn't have nothing, she had this. While the words were before her she wasn't afraid.

If anyone ever suggests that the siddur is irrelevant to real life, this passage is a good refutation.