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There is something both absurd and profound about the existence of a Jewish bathroom prayer. Bathrooms have the distinction of being one place where prayer and Torah are to be avoided. The underlying assumption being that what takes place in a bathroom is fundamentally at odds with the holy name. And yet Jewish tradition mandates a blessing be said upon completing our business and exiting.
As a child, this blessing was the bane of my existence. The words, which seems endless and cumbersome to my 6 year old self, were a chore. Not simply irrelevant, in my no so humble opinion, they stood between me and recess, returning to class, or hanging out with friends. And in all honesty, even when I grew to understand the words, I could not fathom the need for such a prayer.
Whether or not we see ourselves as particularly religious, few among us do not feel awe when confronted with a rainbow, a beautiful seascape or mountain view. These moments are so obviously praiseworthy. And if in those moments our own words may fail us, our tradition provides us with words that can give voice to that awe.
By contrast, the goings-on of the bathroom, by contrast, seem base, necessary but by no means extraordinary. Not in need of praise.
That is until they don’t work exactly as we need them to.
If you have ever toilet trained a puppy or a child, eaten the wrong foods or maybe too much matza at Passover, you know that the finely tuned internal plumbing systems cannot be taken for granted.
And this speaks to the profound truth of the bathroom blessing.
Grand vistas may appear, extraordinary moments will happen but we do not need to wait for these to appreciate the holiness of the miracles of everyday life. Within the realm of healthy, everyday living, we can easily take for granted the small stuff. The ability to wake, to get out of bed are usually chores. Our tradition, by encouraging us to bless these moments provides us with the opportunity to reframe our understanding of what a miracle is.
The bathroom may not be a place for uttering the holy name, but that does not mean that what happens inside is not holy and miraculous. On the contrary, the very contradiction of Asher Yatzar points to a vision of everyday holiness that if taken seriously, as our tradition encourages us to do, has the power to imbue every moment in life with significant and profound meaning.
“Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the universe who with wisdom fashion the human body, creating openings, arteries, glands and organs marvelous in structure, intricate in design. Should but one of them, by being blocked or opened, fail to function, it would be impossible to exist. Praised are You Lord, healer or all flesh who sustains our bodies in wondrous ways.” (Translation from Siddur Sim Shalom).
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Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.