Lech Lecha 5783 – Elohai Neshama
אֱלֹהַי נְשָׁמָה שֶׁנָּתַתָּ בִּי טְהוֹרָה הִיא. אַתָּה בְּרָאתָהּ אַתָּה יְצַרְתָּהּ אַתָּה נְפַחְתָּהּ בִּי
Elohai neshama shenatata bi tehorah hi. Ata b’ratah, ata yatzartah, ata nafachtah bi.
My God, the soul that You have given me is pure.
You created it, you formed it, you breathed it into me.
Habits are hard to change. And when you are so used to something that you do it by rote and then something changes, the feeling can be jarring. But it also can help us experience something with new eyes. Recently I was praying with the Rabbinical Assembly’s new(ish) Lev Shalem siddur and I discovered that the order of two opening prayers had been flipped. In the Sim Shalom siddur, the blessing for the gift of our body, asher yatzar, precedes the blessing for the gift of our soul, elohai neshama, and in the Lev Shalem siddur the prayer for the soul comes first.
I asked myself why? There must be a reason! Perhaps the editors of this siddur were hoping to help me understand that without a soul, I am just a body, just flesh and blood. It is only through recognizing that I have a soul – a soul that has been restored and re-energized and returned to me each and every day – that I can then acknowledge the body and container in which this soul resides. A body on its own cannot recognize such a gift.
And that’s what it is – a gift. It is a gift to be alive. A gift to experience the world anew every single day. Abraham was someone who epitomized this. He looked out at the world and said, “this world of beauty, of nature, of creation, can’t just exist here on its own.” He looked to the stars, to the sun and moon, to the angels and gods of every little thing, until he realized that the answer lay within all along. For a holy spark is present in each and every thing. And within each one of us is a piece of the Divine – our soul – given to us as a gift. This was the true beginning of his journey. So when God says to Abraham “Lech Lecha”, the Chasidic Ukranian Rabbi Avraham Khein teaches that God is really saying “לֵךְ לְעַצְמוֹתֶיךָ” “go to your essence”.
Each morning we have the opportunity to go to our essence – to search within and to acknowledge the miraculousness of our existence. As our bodies and souls wake up we sing these words. The floating, searching melody lifts up and roots down, tethering us to earth and heaven as our soul awakens to a new day.
What would it be like if we could remember to start each day like this?
If we took this prayer seriously, how would it change the way we live our lives?