I always say that my favorite prayer is modah ani, the blessing for gratitude. And it is. But the asher yatzar, the blessing for the body, is a close second:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר יָצַר אֶת הָאָדָם בְּחָכְמָה, וּבָרָא בוֹ נְקָבִים נְקָבִים, חֲלוּלִים חֲלוּלִים, גָלוּי וְיָדוּעַ לִפְנֵי כִסֵּא כְבוֹדֶךָ שֶאִם יִפָּתֵחַ אֶחָד מֵהֶם, אוֹ יִסָּתֵם אֶחָד מֵהֶם, אִי אֶפְשַׁר לְהִתְקַיֵים וְלַעֲמוֹד לְפָנֶיךָ: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, רוֹפֵא כָל בָּשָׂר, וּמַפְלִיא לַעֲשׂוֹת:
Blessed are You, Adonai our God
Who forms the human body with wisdom
And creates within it a miraculous combination
Of organs and arteries, tissues and sinews.
It is known before Your throne of glory
That if one of these were to be open where it should be closed
Or closed where it should be open
We would not be able to stand before you and offer praises.
Blessed are You, Adonai, creator of embodied miracles!
"Organs and arteries, tissues and sinews" is a creative translation which I think I first encountered in Reb Jeff's homegrown siddur; the Hebrew literally says "ducts and tubes," hinting at flutes, meaning something like "openings and closings" -- e.g. the organs and veins and ducts in our bodies.
Some people call this "the bathroom blessing," because these are the words traditionally recited after (washing the hands after the act of) elimination. I love the fact that we have a blessing which reminds us not to take the regular functioning of our bodies for granted. (It also appears in daily liturgy.)
When I had my strokes back in 2006, my relationship with this blessing shifted radically. It's one thing to say, in the abstract, that in order for me to be present before God and pray I need a body which will keep me alive in order to do so. But the strokes brought that reality home in a new way.
"It is known...that if one of these were to be...closed where it should be open" -- if, for instance, a blood clot found its way again to my brain -- I might not be able to be here in relationship with God. I might not "be here" anymore at all. I try to remember that my body is a miracle, every single day.
Rabba Emily Aviva Kapor has written a beautiful variation on Asher Yatzar which takes into account how the classical prayer can be problematic, in its unconscious ableism and in how it can erase the experience of trans* folks who struggle with the assertion that God made their bodies "with wisdom."
Whether I daven the traditional text or Rabba Emily Aviva's variation, this prayer feels incredibly important to me. Maybe because it's easy for me as a woman to knock my body, and this prayer reminds me instead to thank God for the miracle of this body which allows me to exist in the world.
And my mashpi'ah reminds me that this prayer teaches also that we need to be aware of openings and closings on other levels. In emotional life there can be blocks which need clearing. In intellectual life. In spiritual life. Channels need to be open in all four worlds of body, heart, mind, and spirit.
What in your life is closed which you yearn to open, or opened which you wish you could safely close? Does this blessing speak to you and to your sense of your lived experience in your body? What are the sine quibus non, the things or conditions without which you could not be present and offer praise?
Sanctifying the body, 2005
Gratitude for my body, 2015
Image: the cover of this children's book.