By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
The Chovos HaLevovos teaches us that “Dvorim sherotzeh l’hasmid bah, al tivtach bah – Things that you want to continue, don’t take them for granted!” Thus, if we want the marvels of our body to operate continuously and smoothly, like our heart and our liver, our pancreas and our brain, our eyes and our ears, it would be wise for us to thank Hashem regarding them on a regular basis. Of course, we have dedicated blessings for some of these functions such as the brocha in the morning of pokei’ach ivrim, He opens our eyes, and Ata chonein l’adam daas – You, Hashem, bequeath us knowledge, in the Shemone Esrei. There is however a sweeping blessing that we make around five times daily which is a great time to thank Hashem for the many wonders of our amazing body and that is the great brocha of asher yatzar. The Tuvcha Yabi’u writes that the saying of asher yatzar with kavana, proper concentration is a great segula for good health.
This blessing was instituted regarding the wonders of the excretory system, and we conclude with “Rofei kol basar umafli la’asos – He cures all flesh and does so wondrously.” We thank Hashem for curing us by removing the poisonous wastes from our bodies, thus curing us from their harmful effects. Furthermore, we conclude with a flourish that He does so wondrously, since we, in our conscious minds, have no clue what part of the food is good for us and what part of it is harmful. Still, despite our not knowing, the body separates and purges it amazingly on its own without our effort or knowledge.
The blessing contains many references to the other gifts of our body and is a reservoir of opportunity to thank Hashem for the many amazing gifts that we might tend to take for granted. For example, we start the brocha with the acknowledgment that Hashem created us with chochma, wisdom. The simple meaning of this is we thank Hashem for investing great wisdom in our incredible bodies. For example, we benefit from the gift of hair in our nostrils that serves as a filtration system. We have eyelids and eyelashes to facilitate comfortable sleep. There are intricacies of sight and hearing, details that can fill thousands of books, and the list goes on.
But the Maharsha in Brochos gives yet another meaning to the reference to chochma: Hashem created us with wisdom. When we were in our mother’s wombs, an angel teaches us all of Torah. And although as we exit the angel strikes us over the lip and we forget It, It is all there in our subconscious and is much easier to recover. This is the great blessing that every Jew is a Shas Yid and can learn all of Daf Yomi – for he already learned it once while he was a fetus.
Then, we thank Hashem for n’kavim n’kavim, chalulim chalulim, orifices and orifices, hollow organs and hollow organs. Why do we repeat these terms? The Vilna Gaon, zt”l, zy”a explains we do so to indicate that there are so many of them. He adds that the gematria of chalulim chalulim is 248, the number of limbs in the human body. The L’vush explains that we are referring to the beginning and end of the food digestion/excretion mechanism. So, n’kavim n’kavim refers to the mouth which starts the process by admitting the food and the rectum which concludes the process. So too, chalulim chalulim refers to the esophagus and the colon and intestines, respectively.
Thus, in this brocha, we have a great place to thank Hashem for the smooth functioning of peristalsis by which food moves down the esophagus and the scores of enzymes that break up the foods. We can meditate gratefully on the durability of the stomach lining which is not punctured by sharp pointed foods nor worn away by the sharp tasting foods we like to consume. We can reflect appreciatively about the reliability of our hearts pumping away nonstop, better than a Duracell battery, with amazing reliability for up to a dozen decades.
Perhaps there’s another reason we say n’kavim n’kavim, chalulim chalulim in repetition. As we know, when a baby is in its mother’s womb, the mouth is closed and the belly button is open. After the baby is born, that which was open closes and that which was closed opens. To indicate that at different phases there are different openings and sealed areas might be why we repeat the openings and hollow organs.
We then vigorously proclaim “She’im yifasei’ach echad meihem o yisaseim echad meihem, i’efshar l’hiskayeim – If one of them would open or close we would not be able to exist.” Here is a marvelous opportunity to thank Hashem that we have no tumors to block the necessary flow and functions of the body. We also can have in mind our appreciation that we have no hemorrhages in the brain or elsewhere that can spell, rachmon litzlon, instant death.
It is interesting to note that we preface this awareness by saying, Galu’i v’yadua lifnei kisei K’vodecha – This is revealed and known before your Heavenly throne. While this is certainly true, it is a bit puzzling since it isn’t only known by Hashem. Everyone knows that we can’t survive with cysts and hemorrhages! The Imrei Noam explains that it is emphasizing that even on His celestial lofty throne, Hashem still knows the details of our lowly needs. It is also possible we are saying that while we are in the bathroom, it is only Hashem that sees what we are doing. Even the angels that escort a person are asked by us [(cf. Masechtas Shabbos) hiskabdu m’chubadim – Honor us Oh honored ones,] to wait outside until we complete the process of relieving ourselves. Thus, our behavior in the lavatory (e.g. personal modesty) is a litmus test of our yiras Shomayim, our awareness of Heaven. Finally, it is possible that since we are also referring to the fetus in the mother’s womb, this state is truly only visible to Hashem and no one else.
May we be zoche to say this blessing with greater fervor and meaning and in that merit may Hashem bless us with good health, happiness, and everything wonderful!
Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’ articles.
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