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prayer pings #8

In the famous "speech from the whirlwind" , God addresses Job's confusion over why the world works the way it does by reminding Job of the breathtaking scope and complexity of the universe. "Only I who actually created it", God appears be saying, "can possibly understand why it functions as it does." One of the many rhetorical questions that God poses to Job in this famous speech is,

"?מִי-שָׁת, בַּטֻּחוֹת חָכְמָה; אוֹ מִי-נָתַן לַשֶּׂכְוִי בִינָה.", often translated as, "Who hath put wisdom in the Ibis ?! Or who hath given understanding to the rooster?!" (Job 38:36)


The second half of this verse should sound familiar to us from the first of the "morning blessings" (ברכות השחר), in which we bless God who "gave the rooster the understanding to distinguish between day and night". In this bracha, we express appreciation for the rooster's God-given understanding that it ought crow at morning's first light. Without this, how would the farmer know to rise?


Interestingly though, there have been many who have understood the words טֻּחוֹת and שֶּׂכְוִי- both fairly obscure Hebrew words - as not referring to birds at all. And who have rather translated the verse from Job as, "Who hath put wisdom within your being? Or who hath given understanding to the heart?". This translation, favored by many medieval Jewish scholars, produces an altogether different morning bracha. It is not for the rooster that we are expressing thanks as we wipe the sleep from our eyes and set them upon another day. It is rather for the fact that God has given us a heart that is able to discern between day and night.


Read this way of course, the bracha only makes sense if we read "day" and "night" figuratively. Perhaps as "hope" and despair". In which case, what we are really saying is that like the rooster in the hours before the dawn breaks, we too have times when we see only darkness. When all we see are problems that have no solutions and forces that cannot be overcome. When all that we is heartbreak that cannot be healed.


And we are also saying that, like the rooster, we have been given the capacity to recognize the glimmers of light within the darkness. To discern the earliest signs that our situation might be turning. To recognize the nascent emergence of a source of help that had heretofore been hidden in the thick folds of the night, or the faint possibility that we are not in fact as powerless as we thought we were. It may not always be easy to recognize this first light, much less to embrace it. Especially at times when our internal darkness is reinforcing the darkness without. But we begin each morning by asserting, as a matter of faith, that God gives us a heart that is ultimately up to the task, one that can discern the first shimmer of hope. And can know that the darkness will lift.


It's the first of the morning blessings. Blessed are You who enables our hearts to recognize the difference between despair and hope.


--Rav Yosef

Mon, January 25 2021 12 Shevat 5781