Everyday Miracles – נסים בכל יום

First, some links for your Shabat amusement:

Shabat: Eisav Style

This is God.

Everyone else is posting links to this. Peer pressure is powerful.

———-

And now, the meat. All of the below ruminations are due in large part to Ben Zeidman, a student at HUC in Cincinnati. Ben first got me thinking about the content of Nisim B’chol Yom seriously this summer at Kutz. Information from his paper on the topic forms the factual backbone of this post. Anything that sounds like historical fact in this post is ripped off from the work Ben did on the subject.

During the beginning portion of every morning service is a section of 15 daily blessings. “Gates of Prayer and Mishkan Tefillah call [them] Nisim B’chol Yom—Everyday Miracles. There does not seem to be any evidence of this title for these prayers in any traditional siddurim, however given their text it is as good a name as any,” says Ben. In fact, Rabbi Chaim Stern, editor of GOP is known to have coined the term. In his later work, namely in Siddur Netivot Emunah, he redubbed them as “Birchot Yom Yom,” which he maneuvers into English as “Our Daily Blessings.” I prefer Stern’s first rendering of the title, which has passed into regular use in a number of other sidurim since then.

In an orthodox prayer book, one will find them rendered as they were said daily for centuries:

1. Blessed is God, King of the Universe, who gives the heart the wisdom to distinguish between day and night.
2. …who did not make me another nationality.
3. …did not make me a slave.
4. …did not make me a woman.
Instead of 4., women say:
…made me according to his will.

5. …opens the eyes of the blind.
6. …clothes the naked.
7. …frees the captives.
8. …straightens the bent.
9. …spreads the land over the waters.
10. …made for me all of my needs.
11. …strengthens the footsteps of males.
12. …girds Israel with strength.
13. …crowns Israel with glory.
14. …gives strength to the tired.
15. …removes sleep from the eyes and slumber from the eyelids.

Again, Ben: “Eleven of [the Nisim B’chol Yom] are found in Berakhot 60b, and three of them are found discussed in Menahot as well as in Tosefta Berakhot chapter six. The only blessing that is not of Talmudic origin is the fourteenth: gives strength to the tired.” Citing Nulman’s “Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer,” Ben says, “It is not found in the Talmudic text, but some say that ‘this blessing must have been, without a doubt, in the early Talmudic version of tractate Berakhot.’” The eleven found in Brachot 60b are those written above with the exception of 2., 3., 4., and 14.

In Brachot, each one is said to be connected to a specific morning action during which the blessing is to be said. One is for awakening to the sound of the rooster, one is for putting on clothes, one is for standing up, etc. If the purpose of the section is to be grateful for the small things that allow each day to begin properly for each of us, then where did the three that interrupt the list towards the beginning come from” Namely, “…who did not make me another nationality,” “…did not make me a slave,” “…did not make me a woman” and the woman’s equivalent of the third of those, “…made me according to his will.” These three are the ones discussed in Menachot. They appear similarly to their present form with some differences between their Talmudic version and their current orthodox one, but that is irrelevant for my purposes here. These three were then inserted into the list of blessings from Brachot as a sort of daily identity statement, stating that “I am a Jew, I am free, and thank God I’m a man”—or, if you’re a woman—“and thank God for making me according to his will.”

From the beginning of Reform liturgy, many of these blessings have proved troublesome for Reform liturgists. I will here examine what troubles me and what my ideal version of Nisim B’chol Yom contains.

The first thing about Nisim B’chol Yom that often troubles Reform liturgists is the order that the blessing appear in and the number of blessings that appear. By the number, I don’t mean the quantity, but some liturgists have been tempted to excise particular blessings entirely without offering alternatives and without attempting to do small rewrites to make the blessing acceptable. For instance, GOP randomly reorders and excises; Haavodah Shebalev includes only eight of the 15 blessings; Siddur Netivot Emunah, Stern’s more recent sidur, includes a varying number in different places, seven at the most; Mishkan Tefillah includes 14 of the 15, reordering them drastically. Siddur Eit Ratzon is certainly the only sidur in my collection of progressive liturgies which leaves the list of 15 intact, with no shuffling of the order.

I prefer the approach taken by SER for a couple of reasons. I maintain the full list of 15 because I rather than simply tossing out that which troubles me, I want to reword it so that I am saying something similar, but which I feel comfortable saying. I maintain the order because I don’t see a need to mess with that. Some have reordered them seeing them as being divided into two or three categories. MT takes this approach. MT places all the morning activity blessings first, followed by the three identity blessings, followed by the two blessings which refer to God’s bolstering of Am Yisrael. Though I appreciate their attempt to chunk things perhaps more logically, I would rather seek meaning in the hard-to-understand order. The authors of MT were perhaps perplexed by the interruption of the morning routine blessings by the identity blessings. I would argue that this is no interruption. The first blessing is for simply waking up. The next thing one does after waking up is ascertain one’s surroundings. Ever woken up in a hotel room and been briefly surprised by your surroundings? There may also be a brief recognition of identity upon waking. Imagine how frightening it would be to wake up one day unable to identify a part of one’s identity. We are thankful that we can awaken with such recognition, hence the placement in the list right after waking up.

Now that I’ve established my preference for a complete Nisim B’chol Yom in its traditional order, we’ll move on to changes I would make in the content of particular blessings in the list. Although I’ve justified the placement of the identity blessings, I would change two of them, but most progressive liturgies are bothered by all three. In an attempt to reframe the first two in positive terms, Reform liturgy has regularly changed “…who did not make me another nationality” to “…who made me of Israel” and “…who did not make me a slave” to “…who made me free.” The changes are almost universal to progressive liturgy. I would approach them differently. Rather than trying to phrase them in positive terms, I would aim for accuracy. To that end, I am glad that I am “of Israel,” though it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to be of another nationality. Hence, I maintain the progressive minhag of “…who made me of Israel.” As for the second of the identity blessings, I leave it as it is. Though I am glad to be free, I wish to address the fact that I am not a slave. There are many degrees of freedom and variables involved in freedom. Most of these degrees of freedom would be tolerable. Being a slave, however, would be intolerable.

The third of the identity blessings troubles me and my progressive liturgical forbears the most. The reasoning behind the differentiation between male and female versions of this blessing is that men are thanking God for giving them, as men, a larger set of ritual obligations. Women then invoke the language of Genesis, thanking God for making them according to His will. Mistakenly believing that this blessing is about our nature as created beings, Reform liturgies have universally used some form of the idea that we are created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. The two versions used in Reform liturgies are “…who created me in His image” and “…who created me in the image of God.” I believe that this based on a faulty assumption and that this about gender. If these are identity statements, what is the sense in saying that I am created in the image of God? All people are created in the image of God; that is not unique to my identity. Gender, however, is far from universal and thus a statement about gender makes more sense as an identity statement. The version of this blessing that I have created, with the help of Noa Nessim, offers three statements for differently gendered people. These options acknowledge that we are different from each other through gender without placing one gender in a more elevated place than another. In my version one says either “…who made me a man,” “…who made me a woman,” or “…who made me what I am.” The last option is for those whose sexual identity falls somewhere between male and female.

The next problematic blessing for me is, surprisingly, not addressed at all by most Reform liturgies. Often translated in Reform liturgies as “…who strengthens each person’s steps” or something like that, blessing 11. would be better translated as “…who strengthens the steps of males.” Says Joseph G. Rosenstein, “The Hebrew is mitzadei gaver, and gaver is specifically ‘a male’ not even ‘a person.’ In modern Hebrew, it means ‘mister.’” The only sidurim I know if that address this issue are Rosenstein’s Siddur Eit Ratzon and Shavat Vayinafash, the sidur of Beit Mishpachah, the queer community congregation in Washington, D.C. SER addresses this by reframing the blessing in the first person as “…who strengthens my steps.” I like this to some extent, but I dislike that SER changes the perspective to first person. SV suggests the Hebrew “mitzadei Adam.” Literally, this would mean “… who strengthens the steps of Adam.” This does not make sense to me. Adam’s steps are not at issue here, everyone’s steps are! More acceptable would be “mitzadim B’nei Adam,” the steps of the Children of Adam, Children of Adam meaning simply human beings. I put forth “mitzadim anashim,” which would mean, “…who strengthens people’s steps.”

In the end, all of this renders my preferred version of Nisim B’chol Yom:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אדוני אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לַשֶּֽׂכְוִי בִינָה לְהַבְחִין בֵּין יוֹם וּבֵין לָֽיְלָה.
באמ”ה, שֶׁעָשַֽׂנִי יִשְׂרָאֵל.
באמ”ה, שֶׁלֹּא עָשַֽׂנִי עָֽבֶד.
באמ”ה, שֶׁעָשַֽׂנִי אִשׁ/אִשָּׁה/מַה שְׁאָנִי.
באמ”ה, פּוֹקֵֽחַ עִוְרִים.
באמ”ה, מַלְבִּישׁ עֲרֻמִּים.
באמ”ה, מַתִּיר אֲסוּרִים.
באמ”ה, זוֹקֵף כְּפוּפִים.
באמ”ה, רוֹקַע הָאָֽרֶץ עַל הַמָּֽיִם.
באמ”ה, שֶׁעָֽשָׂה לִי כָּל צָרְכִּי.
באמ”ה, הַמֵּכִין מִצְעֲדִים אַנָשִׁים.
באמ”ה, אוֹזֵר יִשְׂרָאֵל בִּגְבוּרָה.
באמ”ה, עוֹטֵר יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּתִפְאָרָה.
באמ”ה, הַנּוֹתֵן לַיָּעֵף כֹּֽחַ.
באמ”ה, הַמַּעֲבִיר שֵׁנָה מֵעֵינָי וּתְנוּמָה מֵעַפְעַפָּי

1. Blessed is God, King of the Universe, who gives the heart the wisdom to distinguish between day and night.
2. …who made me of Israel.
3. …did not make me a slave.
4. …made me [a man]/[a woman]/[what I am].
5. …opens the eyes of the blind.
6. …clothes the naked.
7. …frees the captives.
8. …straightens the bent.
9. …spreads the land over the waters.
10. …made for me all of my needs.
11. …strengthens people’s footsteps.
12. …girds Israel with strength.
13. …crowns Israel with glory.
14. …gives strength to the tired.
15. …removes sleep from the eyes and slumber from the eyelids.

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