Birchos HaShachar: Who Gives Sight to the Blind
פוקח עורים …Who gives sight to the blind.
“Most of us have two eyes that work quite miraculously! We thank Hashem daily for the blessing of sight, by means of a pair of the most perfect cameras in existence.
“Not long ago there lived a man in France whose entire body was paralyzed. Only one small part of his body was able to move: his left eyelid. With the help of an assistant, he was able to communicate. The assistant would point to letters on an alphabet board and the man would wink his left eyelid when the assistant pointed to the right letter. The assistant would then jot down that letter. Through this laborious process, the man managed to assemble words and sentences. Eventually, through this tedious method, he wrote an entire book by means of his left eyelid alone. As you might well imagine, it took him a long time; however, he persevered. It was published and within a few days, 25,000 copies were sold! The book was that good. In his book, he communicated his deep appreciation for life and his sense of gratitude for being able to move his left eyelid.
“He noted that since it took him so long to write each line of the book, he had that much more time to contemplate the message he wished to communicate. He was able to edit everything as he went along so that the finished product was superb. This is an astonishing lesson of how a positive perspective can change even impossible predicaments.”
[The above is quoted from One Hundred Brachos, by Rabbi Moshe Goldberger, Judaica Press.]
Perhaps because most of us are born with a normally functioning body and, baruch Hashem, are granted the gift of good health for many years, we often take our fully functioning bodies for granted. Hearing a story like the “one-eyelid man” awakens us to the priceless gift and chesed of every detailed aspect of our functioning bodies. Even if biology was not our favorite subject, books are available in our local s’farim stores that enlighten us to a glimpse of our miraculous human body. Just read the medical information about one eye, and this brachah will never be the same. Some g’dolim suggest closing our eyes before starting this brachah, contemplating for a few seconds what it would be like not to see, and then opening them up after we complete our brachah, feeling more deeply our recognition and appreciation for Hashem’s continuous, awesome chasadim. This is why the brachah is in present tense. Hashem’s miraculous chasadim are constant and continuous.
The brachah of Asher Yatzar can serve to remind us daily of Hashem’s kindness with respect to our health. We quote from a new Asher Yatzar poster, created by Dr. Daniel Steinberg. In this unique poster, the beauty of its artistic design meshes with the inner beauty of this brachah presented in such clarity and detail. He translates a line from HaRav Shimon Schwab at the top of the poster: “This blessing is an oft-repeated praise of G-d; for every time we finish attending to our bodily needs, we contemplate the continuous miracle the Holy One performs for us in maintaining us in good health.”
For most of us, Hashem provides us with eyes that see in splendid color. If our eyes were purely to learn Torah, see the words in our siddurim, and perform other mitzvos, we could have made do with black and white, or at least far fewer capabilities than we have. We also would not need to have such beautiful scenery in the world. Flowers, foliage, oceans, mountains, and the multitude of Hashem’s awesome creation would seem to be unnecessary. Why do we need all of that? Why do we derive nourishment from delicious foods and not simply through pills or tasteless food? HaRav Avigdor Miller and HaRav Shimshon Pincus explain that Hashem created a world for us to enjoy. Chazal tell us this. This does not mean that we are meant to pursue physical pleasures. What it means is that Hashem provides us with so many pleasures just by eating normally, walking outside, and many other pleasures we enjoy on a regular basis.
We should enjoy those pleasures permitted to us that come to us naturally. That’s why Hashem created them! By appreciating and enjoying those pleasures (and even more so the gift and pleasure of using our eyes to learn Torah and the enlightenment that comes from Torah), we come to recognize Hashem’s loving kindness to a greater extent. That recognition should cause us to praise and thank Hashem, which in turn should bring us closer to Hashem, as we constantly become more and more aware of His awesomeness, His love for us, and His loving kindness. This greater clarity and awareness, this love and awe, should cause us to want to emulate His kindness. Awareness of G-d, praise and thanks, love, awe, and perfecting ourselves through emulating Hashem is nothing less than our purpose in life.
Sometimes, we need to use the gift of our eyelids to shut out things we are not permitted to see. This, too, is a tremendous gift. It is so (physically) easy to just close our eyes. This, too, brings us closer to Hashem and is deemed a great act, with great rewards and impact on the world.
Let us appreciate the gift of our eyes in this brachah and use our gift to bring brachah to the world and to ourselves, as we enjoy the plethora of permitted pleasures that Hashem has gifted to us in order to praise and thank Him and come closer to Him, while shutting out those images that will harm us, thereby creating more brachah for the world and for ourselves.