Birchos HaShachar: Who Removes Sleep From My Eyes (part 2)

המעביר שנה מעיני ותנומה מעפעפי.  ויהי רצון... …Who removes sleep from my eyes and slumber from my eyelids.  And may it be Your will…


At first glance, it seems strange that this brachah, which addresses waking from our sleep, is the last brachah in our Birchos HaShachar.  It should have been the very first, based on a chronological order.

It also seems strange that this brachah contains a long list of requests after our initial thanks to Hashem.  HaRav Shimon Schwab zt”l, based on these questions as well as others, explains that there is a deeper understanding of this brachah.

We offer the following, based on the basic answer of HaRav Shimon Schwab, and inspired by a “Siddur Snippet” shiur from HaRav Efram Goldberg.

Unfortunately, most of the world, including the Jewish world, lives life in a slumber, sleepwalking through their days and lives.  We thank Hashem in this brachah for waking us out of that slumber.  If we are saying this brachah, then we are likely observing Torah and mitzvos.  But how specifically can we become more fully awakened out of our slumber?  How can we become more awake and alert to using our precious time and the abundance of gifts that Hashem bestows upon us every day, to fulfill our purpose for having been created?

Let us start to examine what we are asking for in this brachah.  We make two requests before proceeding to ask for help not to transgress sins and in battling our yeitzer ha’ra, among a number of other requests.  These two requests at the very start seem to be the key to all the rest.

The first request that we ask for is “שתרגילנו בתורתך–she’targileinu b’Sorasecha”: Allow us to become more “accustomed” to Your Torah.  The word “רגיל–ragil” generally means “accustomed, regular, habitual.”  So it seems that we are asking to become more accustomed to learning and living Torah and making it habitual.  Forming positive habits is very important.  Many positive acts and traits depend upon our efforts to make them a habit after deciding on the virtue of the trait or act.  Some examples include healthful eating, exercise, and coming on time to davening.  On the other hand, we know that Chazal teach us that the Torah should be fresh and new in our eyes each day.  Ordinarily, something we do habitually is not fresh.  The upside of a habit is that the act gets done or the trait becomes ingrained within us.  The down side is that it normally gets done without thought or feeling.

How do we bridge this gap when it comes to learning and living Torah?  The Rebbe of Gur was asked this question.  He responded by comparing it to eating.  We don’t need to be reminded or to set alarms to eat.  It’s a habit.  Even if we aren’t really hungry, most of us are looking to eat when we normally do or even before that time.  Yet, we do look forward to eating, we do enjoy our food – perhaps even savor it – and none of the issues of rote and frequency exist.  We are able to look forward to each meal and eat with gusto, desire, and pleasure.  There is no conflict between frequency, habit, and enjoyment.

To better understand making Torah second nature, let’s look at how a child reacts to a temptation.  If a child wants a particular candy in a supermarket and we don’t want to give it to him, he will often cry and sometimes even rant and rave and throw a tantrum.  But if we say, “Sorry, it’s not kosher,” that’s the end of the discussion and he moves on.  He knows it’s not negotiable.  That is second nature to him.  This is part of what we want our Torah life and learning to look like.  On the one hand, we want it to be second nature to make all of our decisions based on what Hashem wants us to do or not to do.  We want not speaking and listening to lashon ha’ra to be non-negotiable.  We want learning Torah and performing mitzvos to be strong habits and second nature.  On the other hand, we also want our service to Hashem to be fresh, new, exciting, and to be enthusiastic about it.

We want to be anxious to get back to our learning Torah and enjoy each learning session with freshness and vigor.  We want to feel great about saying no to lashon ha’ra and to other prohibitions of the Torah.  We want to feel excited about learning Torah, talking to Hashem through tefilah, and performing mitzvos.

We ask Hashem at the start of our day to help us with both “שתרגילנו בתורתך–she’targileinu b’Sorasecha” – to make our Torah life and learning second nature – but, at the same time, also “ודבקנו במצותיך–v’dabkeinu b’mitzvosecha” – to cling to the mitzvos like glue, and through them to become connected more closely to Hashem: to achieve d’veikusD’veikus through Torah and mitzvos is the ultimate pleasure and purpose of life.

Making Torah second nature and at the same time making it exciting and fresh (not to mention trying to transmit both of these aspects of Torah to future generations) is daunting.  In fact, each aspect on its own is quite challenging.  This is why we turn to Hashem at the start of our day and ask Him to help us.