Rav Daniel Kohn (left) and Eli Schwebel

Eli: Boker tov, Rebbe.

Rav Daniel: Boker tov. Actually, let’s talk about that word as a segue into our actual birkot ha’shachar. We already saw this beautiful thing about the beginning of the day, that it’s called shachar, which means dawn, but also means quest. That’s how we see beginnings—since Avraham, we’ve been on the quest of lech-lecha, and every day reopens the journey. But more typically we call the beginning of the day “boker.” As a verb, this means two main things: to discern (Chulin 2:3) and to visit. I think there’s a very cool connection here.

Eli: Actually, it sounds like the opposite. When we go to visit, we mean to get together, no?

Rav Daniel: For sure, but the basis of a visit is that we’re different: I’m a guest in your home. So, we’re emphasizing difference, but only as being in the service of being together. Here’s the thing: “Boker” calls us into the day by saying “different!” Different than yesterday, different from the night—you’ve awakened from the amorphous darkness—now discern, judge, and choose! But get this: in modern Hebrew, like in English, critical used to mean “able to discern,” but now it’s become “finding fault” and “criticizing.” We’re losing the idea that visiting another is meant to discover blessings and have become a culture of looking for what’s wrong. But visiting another’s world is about finding out what’s unique, what’s different, what is right, and making connections. Distinctions which lead to new learning. And, you know, when the visit’s over, the halachah says you should walk a few feet outside with him … as if it’s not enough that he visited your world, now you visit a bit of his.

Eli: Wow, the give-and-take which comes from difference. Vive la difference! Now I get it. A music critic “visits” the musician.

Rav Daniel: Yes … and I hope your critics are reading this!

Anyhow, the important thing here is that we start the boker with berachah. Blessing, like we’ve seen, celebrates difference and ties us and the thing we’re making the blessing on back to the Source. Last time we saw how the opening of each berachah ends by saying that our world has a Guide/King Who loves distinction—empowering us to walk our path—and binds Life and its parts together.

The first of the main birkot ha’shachar is ‘”Who gives the rooster the intelligence to delineate between night and day.” The idea here is that it’s sudden, instinctual, a jolt! Get up! It’s different today … stop your thoughts for a sec and WAKE UP!

Eli: Cock-a-doodle-doo! Rooster power!

Rav Daniel: It’s a break and a bikur and boker. Even when “ba’erev yalin bechi … la’boker rinah”—in the evening you go to sleep crying, in the morning bursts of joy. “Yalin” means both that you go to sleep and, incredibly, to complain! (Sh’mot 16:2) That’s because complaining is basically going to sleep! The usual verb form is reflexive—hitlonein (Rashi ibid 15:24); it seems like you’re being “yalin” about something else, but you’re really doing it to yourself. Complaining numbs you to the new possibilities opening up for you. You need that “boker” to make the break and get you to “rinah!”

And, finally, you need to know that you’re only a visitor! You don’t own this place; it’s G-d’s world. It’s not all on your shoulders. You’re about to visit the most beautiful guest house in the universe! And so David says, “I ask one thing from G-d … to enjoy the vision of Hashem and to visit His hall.” If I can know I’m a visitor in His palace, His presence will be pleasant.

Eli: Wow, so, “Boker tov!” 

Please look out in the coming weeks for more transcribed installments of Siddur Alive, and continue to follow @ HYPERLINK “https://www.instagram.com/elischwebel/” EliSchwebel on Instagram to see them in engaging video format.


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