The After-Bathroom Blessing

If you’ve ever been “irregular,” you know what a blessing it can be when you finally “go.” What a relief it is. You may even thank God that if finally happened!

In Jewish tradition, there is actually a blessing that one is supposed to say every time one uses the toilet. The blessing, know by its short form Asher Yatzar in Hebrew, is recited by more observant Jews as another way of elevating and sanctifying even the most base and animal-like functions of daily life.

Here is the text of the blessing in Hebrew and English:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר יָצַר אֶת הָאָדָם בְּחָכְמָה, וּבָרָא בוֹ נְקָבִים נְקָבִים חֲלוּלִים חֲלוּלִים .גָּלוּי וְיָדוּעַ לִפְנֵי כִסֵּא כְבוֹדֶךָ, שֶׁאִם יִפָּתֵחַ אֶחָד מֵהֶם, אוֹ יִסָּתֵם אֶחָד מֵהֶם, אִי אֶפְשַׁר לְהִתְקַיֵּם וְלַעֲמוֹד לְפָנֶיךָ אַפִלּוּ שָׁעָה אֶחָת. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי, רוֹפֵא כָל בָּשָׂר וּמַפְלִיא לַעֲשׂוֹת:”

Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, King of the universe, who formed man with wisdom and created within him many openings and many hollow spaces. It is obvious and known before Your Seat of Honor that if even one of them would be opened, or if even one of them would be sealed, it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You even for one hour. Blessed are You, Adonai, who heals all flesh and acts wondrously.

This past Shabbat afternoon, I taught a lunch and learn at my congregation, Beth El – The Heights Synagogue, about the mind-body-spirit connection. I referred to this blessing because it is key to understanding the Jewish view of the human body. The blessing is quite biological in its content; there are openings in our bodies that need to stay open, and things that are closed that need to stay closed. Any of us who has ever had something that wouldn’t close (or heal properly) or had something that should be open that isn’t (constipation, for example), knows just how difficult and painful it can be. If it is not eventually resolved, the results can be quite serious.

What is central to the blessing is the idea that if things are not working properly it would be impossible to survive and stand before God. In other words, if we are not healthy we cannot do what it is that God expects of us: clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, supporting the cause of the disadvantaged, pursuing justice, seeking peace, etc. We need our bodies to help make this world a better and more whole place. Our spirits and good thoughts alone won’t cut it; we need to get our hands dirty and put some elbow grease into it.

So it is that every time our body works successfully, an observant Jew thanks God that it is all working…because when it does, we can fulfill our mission in God’s creation.

It seems odd at first to say a blessing after using the bathroom, but upon further reflection, there is something meaningful about reminding ourselves on a (hopefully) “regular” basis to be thankful to God and to get busy with the work of creating a better world. Not only that, it compels us to take care of ourselves (eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, don’t smoke, etc.), so that we can best ensure that we will be able to stand before God and our fellow human beings.

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