David Walk

A New Dawn-Birchot Kriat Shema-5

The first blessing of Kriat Shma, called The Former of Lights, goes through a major change in focus after the first paragraph. Initially, the blessing praises God for the rising sun and expands that to all of Creation. However, there is then an abrupt shift from our daily human acclaim for God to a description of the angels’ adulation for God as witnessed by the prophets Yeshayahu and Yechezkel. Now the authors want to wrap up this blessing with a closing paragraph which will culminate in the CHATIMA or sealing blessing. That paragraph is our topic today.

The paragraph begins LA-KEL BARUCH NE’IMOT YITEINU. In both the ArtScroll and Koren prayer books this is translated: To the blessed God, they offer (sweet, ArtScroll) melodies. I think not. This translation assumes that our final section of the blessing is a continuation of the middle section, where the subject is the angels. I prefer to see this closing paragraph as a wrapup of the entire blessing, and therefore, those offering NE’IMOT to God are both the angels and us. So, I would translate this: We offer.

But what are we offering? Again, the most popular English translations render NE’IMOT as pleasant musical pieces. Again, I think not. The term NE’IMOT apparently comes from the last phrase in Psalm 16: NE’IMOT B’MINCHA NETZACH (usually translated: In Your right hand are eternal pleasures, perhaps ‘bliss’). So, we’re offering ‘pleasant things’ to God, perhaps, ‘pleasantries’. It’s not necessarily the music that’s blissful; it’s the ideas, thoughts and wishes. Then we offer Z’MIROT (songs) and TISHBACHOT (praises).

This threesome (NE’IMOT, Z’MIROT and TISHBACHOT) is the first of three sets of three ideas focused on the greatness of God. The first troika is our good wishes. The next group are praises for God’s power as the Performer of mighty deeds (G’VUROT), Producer of novel things (CHADASHOT), and Master of battle (MILCHAMOT), These three praises are the first examples of the pleasantries that we are offering up to God, as the amazing physical Power in the Cosmos.

The third and final trio consists of spiritual endowments: plants righteousness (TZADAKOT), grows salvation (YESHU’OT), and creates cures or therapies (REFU’OT). Notice the physical powers (mighty deeds, war and novel items) are more the topic of this blessing. As we move into spiritual spheres, we are a prelude to the topics of the next two blessings. This structure based upon the number three should come as no surprise. There are, of course, three blessings surrounding the recitation of the SHMA, each one based upon the triple declaration of God in the opening verse of SHMA: Hear, O Yisrael, the Eternal is our God, the Eternal is one.

Our God, Who is praised, and is the Lord of wonders is being addressed with this awe and reverence because God is ‘the One Who renews in Divine Goodness the Act of Creation every day’. In other words, our daily morning praise for bringing the sun back is being recognized as a reenactment of the primordial Creation. 

As someone who assumes that the sun rising this AM was part of the continual progress of the celestial entities through their routes in the galaxy. So, I see this description of God renewing the actual BRI’AH as a wonderful metaphor describing my elation at the sunlight piercing the gloom of night. 

However, there are many Jews more mystical than I. These observers see the scene of sunrise as a true reprise of the actual acts of the first day of Creation back in Breishit. They see the world as eternally dependent upon the injection of power from God. They believe that if God (God forbid) didn’t continually input Divine energy and guidance the entire structure of the universe would collapse. This is in contradistinction to an amazing Clockwork God setting up a system so marvelous that it runs on its own unless God periodically decides to tinker.

On the topic of tinkering, we close this paragraph with a future vision of God upgrading the celestial arrangement with a new and improved lighting system which will begin in TZIYON (Yerushalayim) and spread from there to the rest of Creation. 

There are, of course, those who believe that this new lighting system reflects a return to the original status or, at least, original plan. We reference that opinion in our monthly blessing over the return of the moon: May it be Your will…to make good the deficiency of the moon, so it is no longer in its diminished state. May the light of the moon be like the light of the sun and be like the light as it was in the seven days of Creation.

Then we quote from the prophet Hoshea: They shall seek the Lord their God, and David their King (3:5). This comparison to the future stable and complete picture of the moon reflects a similar hope for our own people who, similar to the moon, go through phases of waning and waxing all the time. So, we see the eventual coming of the Mashiach as an end to our painful cycles, and see a similar fate for the moon.

Rav Kook connects to this mystical view, and explains:

The ME’OROT or  two luminaries in our blessing refer to the sun and moon. The sun represents the true reality. The moon, which has no light of its own but merely reflects the light of the sun, represents our diminished reality…We are longing for the revelation of a new light…then all of us-even those of us, who, bereft of Divine inspiration apprehend Divinity only indirectly through the worlds-will merit to see the Light (Koren Rav Kook Siddur, p. 150-1).

Then we conclude our long and complex blessing: Blessed are You, O Eternal, Who has created the ME’OROT (lights).

God has created all the lights, past, present, future, visible and invisible for now. All light, all enlightenment comes through the Creation of God. We adulate God for creating them, the Cosmos and us. After this acclaim for God our Creator, we are ready for the next blessing of SHMA; blessing God our Lover.    

About the Author
Born in Malden, MA, 1950. Graduate of YU, taught for Rabbi Riskin in Riverdale, NY, and then for 18 years in Efrat with R. Riskin and R. Brovender at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Spent 16 years as Educational Director, Cong. Agudath Sholom, Stamford, CT. Now teach at OU Center and Yeshivat Orayta.
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