Birchos HaShachar: Who Crowns Israel With Splendor

עוטר ישראל בתפארה …Who crowns Israel with splendor. *****

This brachah was originally recited when one donned his head covering.  Whereas all the other Birchos HaShachar (except the one immediately preceding this one) do not mention the word “Yisrael” and speak in general terms about all people, the Eitz Yosef points out that this brachah speaks specifically of klal Yisrael.  All people benefit from Hashem’s various acts of loving-kindness as expressed in the previous brachos, such as our eyesight, clothing, and mobility; however, we seem to be stating that this brachah refers only to us.

At first glance, this is difficult to understand.  All people benefit from the warmth of a head covering when the weather is cold.  How does this brachah relate to a benefit gifted to us exclusively?  The Eitz Yosef explains that, while the rest of the world wears head coverings only to protect themselves against inclement weather, we wear our head coverings for a higher purpose.  The kipah/yarmulke, sheitel, hat, snood, tichel, and other head coverings we wear are all designed to be our crown of splendor.  As noted in our translation, Hashem is “crowning” us with “splendor.”  Our head coverings are there to remind us constantly to be aware of Hashem, our Creator and Sustainer, Who is always with us.  Awareness of Hashem is our crowning glory and is, in fact, one of our primary achievements in life.

Chazal tell us that it is better to go to the house of a mourner than to a wedding hall.  When we visit a mourner and perform the mitzvah of comforting, it is a significant opportunity for us to think about the precious gift of every moment of life.  Chazal are motivating us to utilize our visit here on earth to make each of our days into a day that we will be able to present, as a day where we tried our best to fulfill our purpose in life, a day that we appreciated the great gift and opportunity of life, a day that we did not squander this awesome gift that Hashem has bestowed upon us to become more and more aware of His presence and to come closer to Him by emulating His Ways and performing His mitzvos.

Aren’t we all aware that death is the one event in life we cannot escape?  What do Chazal know that we can gain from going to visit a mourner whom we don’t already know?  What does it mean to be “aware” of Hashem?

If a parent warns a child very sternly not to touch a hot stove, the child may still touch it.  But if a child has touched a hot stove and experienced the pain, he will no longer need a warning.  The pain he personally felt is all he needs, and that experience will be more effective than any lecture from his parents.

We all believe in Hashem.  We all believe He created the world and created us.  We all believe in the eternal world to come.  We all believe the Torah is our instruction manual for life (and so much more).  Yet, we all lapse to varying degrees in our devotion and intensity.  Why?  How could it be that we firmly believe and yet at times our actions contradict our beliefs?

Indeed, we all need some relaxation time to maintain our mental and emotional health.  The following example relates to time beyond the amount we truly need for our health and other positive, productive purposes.  Since we all believe our time here is limited, and we all understand what thoughts, words, and activities are bringing us closer to Hashem and which are not, how can we waste so much of our precious time on utter nonsense?  How can we think about, speak about, read, listen, and watch away our precious moments of life?

To understand the answer, let us examine what our reaction is to hearing or reading about a concept such as awareness of Hashem, which we already “know” about.  Do we think, “What’s the chidush?  I know this already”?  Or do we appreciate the opportunity to drive these all-important principles deeper into our hearts and minds.

Ultimately, awareness of Hashem means that our awareness is so deep that we are driven and committed to constantly think about what Hashem wants us to do in the present moment.  We live with Hashem in our subconscious mind 24/7, which results in our thinking, speaking, listening, and doing only what He wants.  We emulate His Ways at every opportunity.  Until we reach that point, we all need to do things like go to the house of the mourner, learn the right type of musar that is motivational for us, have a rav or rebbe to guide us, and spend more time consciously thinking about Hashem and not just running from one activity to the next.

Deeper and more penetrating awareness of Hashem is our crowning splendor.  When we recite this brachah each morning, let us think about how fortunate we are to be crowned with the splendor of opportunity to be more aware of Hashem’s presence and to think about how we will enhance our awareness of Hashem today.