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Asher Yatzar: Gratitude for the Rhythm of Life

I first encountered the Asher Yatzar blessing, the Jewish “bathroom prayer,” in kindergarten as my day school classmates and I droned the morning prayers. The blessing, traditionally recited after one uses the restroom, reads as follows:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר יָצַר אֶת הָאָדָם בְּחָכְמָה, וּבָרָא בוֹ נְקָבִים נְקָבִים חֲלוּלִים חֲלוּלִים .גָּלוּי וְיָדוּעַ לִפְנֵי כִסֵּא כְבוֹדֶךָ, שֶׁאִם יִפָּתֵחַ אֶחָד מֵהֶם, אוֹ יִסָּתֵם אֶחָד מֵהֶם, אִי אֶפְשַׁר לְהִתְקַיֵּם וְלַעֲמוֹד לְפָנֶיךָ אַפִלּוּ שָׁעָה אֶחָת. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי, רוֹפֵא כָל בָּשָׂר וּמַפְלִיא לַעֲשׂוֹת:”

Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, King of the universe, who formed man with wisdom and created within him many openings and many hollow spaces. It is obvious and known before Your Seat of Honor that if even one of them would be opened, or if even one of them would be sealed, it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You even for one hour. Blessed are You, Adonai, who heals all flesh and acts wondrously.

Even as a kindergartner, I was fascinated and puzzled by its image of “God’s seat of honor.” As an older child, the words of Asher Yatzar witnessed me. By describing the body in a state of constant threat from even a tiny impairment, the prayer captured a truth about my own home life. My mother contracted polio when she was 11, and her precarious balance (she dragged her left leg) would lead occasionally to her breaking an arm or leg. When my mother went down with an injury, our life — my life — was thrown a painful curve ball, making it “impossible to stand before You.”

In addition, my father was a Holocaust survivor. So while I had my own age-appropriate sense of immortality, I knew that my father’s entire family had been starved, tortured and murdered by gas. Having a body was a clear disadvantage to my martyred relatives. I spent a lot of my childhood playing sports as if my life depended on winning, speeding, throwing, catching, and beating every and all competitor. Perhaps if my body did not win, it would die. Asher Yatzar’s reminder of death’s closeness has always been a scary comfort to me.

Nowadays, in my work as a drum circle facilitator, feminist liturgist, and sacred music singer-songwriter, the words of this blessing extolling the Creator for fashioning bodies that are intricate, tube-filled, rhythmic, vulnerable and miraculous call out to me again. The author of Asher Yatzar describes the human body as sustained by divine rhythm: “If one tube closes when it should be open, or if one cavity opens when it ought to be closed we could not exist.”

I similarly see group drumming as a bio-energetic entrainment game in which participants become one large interconnected body and mind. When newcomers to my drum circle introduce themselves as non-drummers, I usually tell them, “You have been drumming all of your life with every part of your body. Let’s see if your hands and fingers can do some of what the rest of you is doing!”

I recently wrote an expanded version of the Asher Yatzar inspired by my work with the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Training Institute, which prepares Jewish women for ritual leadership, from an earth-based, feminist perspective. Its opening lines are here:

I bless Shechinah for creating my body

I bless Shechinah for my beautiful form

With passageways and organs working together

Chambers of wonder that open and close

But if one of them should fail, I cannot stand before You

Shechinah You’re my healer, the Life Force that I know

In my heart beating, lungs breathing, muscles reaching,

excreting, pleasure seeking, deep feeling

body in rhythm singing Your song

Openings, chalulim, boundaries, nnnnn’kavim

Openings, chalulim, boundaries, mmmmmysteries

I bless Shechinah for the wisdom inside me

I bless Shechinah for my skin, flesh and bone

I’m an animal creature of hunger and kindness

A puzzle of pieces, fragile and strong

 

Shoshana Jedwab is a concert performer, singer/songwriter, prayer and ritual leader, hand drummer, drum circle facilitator, and sacred text teacher. She can be reached through her website.

The post Asher Yatzar: Gratitude for the Rhythm of Life appeared first on My Jewish Learning.


Source: Jewish Living

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