Blessings: The Energy of Existence

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			The development of blessings is a fascinating subject that leaves traditional Jews a little bit ‎unsettled. Traditionalists prefer it if things go back to Biblical times, to make them more ‎venerable and meaningful.  If the blessings were nothing more than the creative work of ‎rabbis studying in a rabbinic academy of Bavel or the Galilee, they lose some of their power. ‎Hence, the unease at the growth and evolution of blessings. But such is the case, and ‎sometimes the truth must be accepted. ‎
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A case in point is what is probably the most commonly recited blessing. It is the blessing ‎recited after eating most types of foods. Because this blessing covers most foods, it will get a ‎lot of air time. One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that a very common ‎blessing runs a major risk of rote recitation. ‎
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This blessing is now called Borei Nefashot, or ‘Creator of life-souls’. For those who are ‎familiar with the Hebrew, it is easy to spot the word nefesh in that phrase. In this case, it ‎refers to the life force of living things. This blessing, despite its common usage, or perhaps ‎because of it, went through considerable changes over the centuries. The earliest source we ‎have of it is in the Mishna but it is expanded upon in the Talmud. The Jerusalem Talmud ‎quotes a Rabbi Yitzchak reciting: ‘When one eats meat or eggs he says: Creator of many life-‎souls to revive in them a soul of all life, blessed are You, Hashem, Life of the Worlds’.  The ‎Talmud Bavli has a slightly different text than this in stating the blessing after eating rice or ‎millet: ‘Creator of many life-souls and their needs on all that He created’. ‎
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The texts of the two Talmuds seem to have been combined in medieval times into one unified ‎and slightly lengthier blessing. By the time it got to the Shulhan Aruch in the mid-16th century ‎and the widespread use of printing, the blessing read: ‘Creator of many life-souls and their ‎needs on all that You (He) created to revive in them a soul of all life, blessed is the Life of the ‎worlds’. Depending on one’s eating habits, this blessing could potentially be recited several ‎times a day, every day, except for fast days. That’s a lot of times for saying the exact same ‎thing. It pays to know what it means. ‎
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Analysis ‎
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The questions about interpretation of this blessing concern the meaning of the phrase ‘and ‎their needs on all that You created to revive in them a soul of all life’. Some ‎interpretations insert a comma in between ‘needs’ and ‘on’, to make them two distinct ideas. ‎The first part of the blessing is ‘Creator of many life-souls and their needs’. The second part is ‎‎‘on all that You created…’ According to this reading, the meaning of the second part is ‎unclear. Specifically, that last phrase, ‘to revive in them a life-soul of all life’ needs ‎elaboration. ‎
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Why does the blessing start with praising God for creating many life-souls. What are these ‎‎‘life-souls’? Additionally, why are we blessing God for creating us with deficiencies? Finally, ‎this conclusion ‘Blessed is the Life of the worlds’ – what does that mean? Which worlds are ‎we talking about? How is God the ‘Life’ of those worlds? ‎
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It appears that the Jerusalem Talmud read ‘life-souls’ as referring to the animals. God created ‎animals and the food that they provide us with, like meat and eggs, to revive in us a soul of ‎life. The final blessing, ‘Blessed are You, Hashem, Life of the worlds’ - celebrates this life-‎providing attribute of God. In the Bavli the ‘life-souls’ are of human beings. God created ‎human beings with nutritional deficiencies. ‎
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It seems that the final version favors the slant of the Bavli on the life-souls being human ‎beings. However, it includes the line ‘to revive in them a soul of all life’ and the incomplete ‎final blessing. The deficiencies of the life-souls are revived by providing them with ‘a soul of ‎life’. What is ‘a soul of life’? One of the popular modern translations (Artscroll) has this entire ‎phrase rendered: ‘with which to maintain the life of every being’. Thus the deficiencies are ‎made up in a way that maintains each living being’s life. While this is unquestionably the most ‎common interpretation, it does force the additional words, ‘with which’ into the ‎phrase. Those words are not present in any Hebrew version of this blessing. Is there an ‎alternative? ‎
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It turns out that there is. What is that final blessing? How does God being the ‘Life of the ‎worlds’ fit in with reviving each life-soul with what it is lacking? We have to understand ‎what the phrase ‘Life of the worlds’ means. What are the ‘worlds’? There is our world, but ‎what other world is there? Well, this doesn’t seem all that difficult to answer. There is the ‎World to Come. God is not only the ‘Life’ of this world, but also the ‘Life’ of the next ‎world. This can no longer mean that God gives them mere food. Rabbinic Judaism rejected ‎the notion that souls in the next world need to eat. ‎
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If God is the ‘Life’ of that world it must mean ‘life’ in a non-nutritional sense. It could mean ‎that God is the spiritual ‘life’ of the spiritual dimension. In some way God provides the ‎spiritual energy to sustain that dimension and the spiritual beings that exist within it. God is ‎the ‘Life’ of the physical and spiritual worlds. The ‘Life’ of both worlds is covered in a single ‎word. How could sustaining physical life be comparable to sustaining spiritual life? Aren’t ‎they two completely different things? ‎
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Maybe they aren’t. Maybe food is more spiritual than we thought. Maybe spiritual sustenance ‎is a little more nutritional than we thought. Don’t they both boil down to providing the ‎wherewithal to enable the continuance of their existence? God provides that wherewithal in ‎both dimensions. Food is not just food. It’s much more than that. It’s continued existence. ‎It’s taking the energy that God supplies the world with and imbibing it into the life-soul to ‎revive it with more existence. When we eat, we taste and ingest God’s energy. ‎
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This is a truly amazing insight into the nature of eating. It has a highly spiritual component to ‎it that almost invariably gets lost in all the fat, sauce, and artificial colors. It is life. It is God’s ‎energy entering us and reviving us. With what are we revived? We are revived with the ‘Soul ‎of all life’. When we eat, we ingest a little bit of the Life-energy of all existence. It’s not just ‎French Fries and ketchup anymore. It’s God’s energy getting into us and granting us ‎continuity. In the next world we may not need fries to keep us existing (it’s not all that clear ‎that we need them in this world either), but we sure will need something. God is the ‘Energy ‎of existence’. ‎
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Rereading this blessing, it now says: ‘Blessed are You, Hashem, King of the universe, Creator ‎of many life-souls and the needs of what You created, to revive in them the Soul of all life, ‎Blessed is the Life of all existence’. This is quite a statement. It’s quite a thing to utter after ‎drinking a coke or munching on potato chips. Imagine that we have ingested a few helpings ‎of the ‘Soul of all existence’ when we thought we were just drinking a beer. This blessing ‎focuses us in on what food really is and what it means to exist. To thank God for existence - ‎to bless God for giving us the life-energy of existence is to truly be alive. ‎
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Perhaps we can now understand why we bless God for creating us with deficiencies. Without ‎those deficiencies we would not appreciate the great blessing of being able to continue ‎existing. By constantly having to face the possibility of non-existence, by sensing the ‎emptiness of hunger and thirst, we have to look the beast in the eye. Those deficiencies are ‎the royal road to appreciation. We take a lot for granted in life. We take our health for ‎granted, we take our air for granted, we take our food for granted – we take almost ‎everything for granted. But we take nothing for granted more than existence. There is nothing ‎like a little deficiency to give a little jolt into that smug attitude. Existence is a gift, it is the ‎greatest gift there is. ‎
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The image that comes out of all this is nothing less than exhilarating. God is the Energy of ‎existence.  God is that constant infusion of energy everywhere, usually barely detectable but ‎sometimes obvious. In the case of conscious beings, like us, it is as obvious as feeling satisfied ‎after a meal. The food enters the mouth, it sprinkles the taste buds, and it goes down the ‎throat and into the stomach. We are conscious of all this. But the real magic happens when ‎those preliminary actions are out of the way. The digestion is when the Life of existence ‎becomes a part of us. It is very hard to feel if one isn’t paying much attention and impossible ‎to miss if one is. It is this image of God merging with the human body and becoming one. ‎
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Perceiving the Image ‎
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There is nothing more enjoyable than the sheer wonder of existing. If there is anything ‎to not take for granted, it is existence. Existence is the most basic state of reality. It is the ‎simple awareness of being, unadulterated by the glitz and the glitter. It cuts through the petty ‎superficialities of the ego and all of its daughter emotions. It subtly overwhelms the powerful ‎pull of physical desires. It puts all of our all-too-human problems into a more proper ‎perspective. They are important, but they pale in comparison to the glory of existence. ‎
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Perceiving this image is not limited to the experience of eating. It really can be done with just ‎about anything. The Life-energy exists all around us in all kinds of disguises. It’s in the air we ‎breathe. It’s in the heat we absorb. It’s in the light that enters the eyes and the sounds that ‎ring in the ears. It’s even in such subtle places as the dimensions of space and time. Every ‎second that passes is another moment of existence. Every millimeter of space is another ‎bundle of sheer energy. These are all out there constantly being imbibed, but we are ‎steadfastly unaware of this miracle happening right under our noses. ‎
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Here’s an idea. Just once a day try to think about the simple fact that you exist. This needn’t ‎be anything particularly intellectual. Just drop all the important stuff you’re involved in for ‎about one minute and get your mind focused on your own existence. You can do this in any ‎religious or non-religious framework. You don’t need to connect it with eating. It’s all about ‎getting in touch with this miracle that we experience 24/7 that completely escapes our notice. ‎It’s not really a meditation session, though it certainly doesn’t hurt to use meditative ‎techniques to get the mind focused. The main thing is to spend some time thinking about ‎something hardly anybody ever thinks about. It’s about as basic as it gets but also about as ‎wonderful as it gets. It’s a feeling that is available to everyone at any time for no cost ‎whatsoever. It doesn’t require any great training or religious inclination. The only requirement ‎is to do it. It is so easy and so exhilarating that you will wonder why you have never done ‎this before. ‎
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Reflections ‎
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If this is so easy why isn’t everyone doing it? Why is it that even in Judaism, which has a ‎blessing specifically dedicated to this feeling, God is almost never perceived as the Energy of ‎existence? ‎



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