What does it mean to wake up in the morning? This is one of the primary concerns of our daf.
The Gemara lists a number of blessings to be recited at each stage of the awakening process. There are blessings to be said upon hearing the sound of a rooster (a telltale sign of dawn in the ancient world), opening the eyes, sitting up straight, getting dressed, standing up, getting out of bed, taking the first step of the day, putting on shoes, and so on. In constructing these various blessings, the author of this ritual frames for us an important lesson: waking up is a series of actions that deserve attention; an opportunity to praise God for each moment of waking.
But these blessings are more than simple praises; like most blessings, they draw on language from the Bible. If we look at the Biblical source of these words, we can gain a more nuanced understanding of the praise we offer God.
Take the example of the blessing said upon opening the eyes. The Gemara relates:
Upon opening his eyes, one should recite: Blessed [are you God, master of the world] who opens [the eyes of] the blind.
Why not simply say “who opens the eyes” (poteah eynayim)? The phrase “opens [the eyes of] the blind” (pokeah ivrim) has biblical resonances beyond the physical act of opening one’s eyes.
Here are three:
Opening eyes to justice. In Exodus, the Torah tells us that bribery blinds the eyes of the seeing: ye-aver pikhim (Exodus 23:8). These are the same words of our blessing, only in reverse. Opening our eyes is also an expression of moral clarity. What could it mean to wake up committed to doing the right thing?
Opening eyes as a symbol of God’s promised return. In the prophet Isaiah’s vision of a redeemed world, God opens the eyes of the blind: tipakahna eynei ivrim (Isaiah 35:5). This is not a literal bodily experience, but a spiritual awakening to a new existence. Later, Isaiah reports (42:7) that Israel plays a role in this redemption: opening the eyes of the blind (lifkoah eynayim ivrot) and freeing the captives. What could it mean to wake up anticipating redemption, and working for it?
Opening eyes to see what’s right in front of us. In the book of Genesis, when Hagar is banished from her home by Sarah and is about to die of thirst, God opens her eyes (vayifkah et eyneha) to see what she hadn’t noticed: a well of life-giving water (Genesis 21:19). The Midrash teaches that everyone is blind in this way, until God opens our eyes. What life-giving opportunities might we be missing and what would it take for us to see them clearly?
All told, the short blessing thanking God for opening our eyes is a meditation on the possibilities of the new day: one filled with the potential to do the right thing, to envision redemption and work for it, and to notice what blessings are right in front of us. Not a bad way to start the day.