“Living in Our Element”: Connecting Body and Soul
Rabbi Danielle Upbin
In college, a favorite past time among my group of friends was drumming and singing Native American chants. I recall one in particular – “The Element Chant”: Earth my body, water my blood, air by breath and fire my spirit/ We are a circle with no beginning and never ending.
While the lyrics aren’t exactly plucked out of the Jewish tradition, they absolutely resonate with
a Jewish ideology that celebrates the blessing of both a healthy body and spirit. Our tradition does not ask us to choose one over the other. It recognizes the value of a working body in tandem with an attuned soul. Actually, drumming and chanting together create a beautiful expression of this balance because they require an integrated engagement of body and spirit. But even without a drum, one can readily make the connection. In our morning prayers, the Siddur scripts an offering of gratitude.
The prayer, Asher Yatzar, found at the beginning of most prayer books, recognizes and celebrates the creaturely part of our existence – our “earth and water”. Some people lovingly refer to this prayer as “The Bathroom Prayer” because it references the glory of “unclogged pipes”. Some readers get a chuckle out of the mention of the “Throne of Glory” as well…. The prayer reminds us not to take our health for granted. Every orifice and organ is there for a reason, so the prayer goes. Our tradition encourages us to pause during our morning personal rituals to reflect on the miracle of the body. Here is the prayer:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר יָצַר אֶת הָאָדָם בְּחָכְמָה, וּבָרָא בוֹ נְקָבִים נְקָבִים, חֲלוּלִים חֲלוּלִים. גָּלוּי וְיָדֽוּעַ לִפְנֵי כִסֵּא כְבוֹדֶֽךָ, שֶׁאִם יִפָּתֵֽחַ אֶחָד מֵהֶם, אוֹ יִסָּתֵם אֶחָד מֵהֶם, אִי אֶפְשַׁר לְהִתְקַיֵּם וְלַעֲמוֹד לְפָנֶֽיךָ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, רוֹפֵא כָל בָּשָׂר וּמַפְלִיא לַעֲשׂוֹת.
Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Me’lech Ha’olam, asher ya’tzar et a’adam b’chochma u’vara vo nekavim, nekavim, chalulim, chalulim, galu’i v’yadu’a lifnei kisei k’vodecha, she’im ye’fa’te’ach echad me’hem o ye’sa’tem echad me’hem, ee-efshar l’hitkayem la’amod le’fa’necha. Baruch Ata Adonai, Rof’ai kol basar u’maf’lee la’asot.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who fashioned humans with wisdom, and created within them many openings and many cavities. It is obvious and known before Your Throne of Glory, that if even one of them were to be opened (that is supposed to be closed) or if even one of them were to be blocked (that is supposed to be open), it would be impossible to be sustained and stand before You. Blessed are You, God, Who heals all bodies and acts wondrously.
The tandem prayer, “Elohai Neshama” – gives thanks for our pure soul – the “air and fire” animating our being. “My God, the soul You have given me is pure.” Our breath is our soul-connection traced back to the Divine breath shared with Adam Ha’Rishon, the first human (Genesis 2:7) into whose being God first breathed life.
A word play in the Hebrew language makes this connection evident: In Hebrew, Neshama means Soul/Neshima means Breath. Each morning, we affirm our appreciation of the gift of this SoulBreath and for ability to tap into the Divine spark within us. The prayer makes it clear that the soul is our essential, but only on loan for our limited run. We are reminded that as long as we have this life sustaining energy within us, it is our duty to praise and thank the Spirit’s Creator. Here are the words of the prayer:
אֱלֹהַי, נְשָׁמָה שֶׁנָּתַֽתָּ בִּי טְהוֹרָה הִיא. אַתָּה בְרָאתָהּ, אַתָּה יְצַרְתָּהּ, אַתָּה נְפַחְתָּהּ בִּי, וְאַתָּה מְשַׁמְּרָהּ בְּקִרְבִּי, וְאַתָּה עָתִיד לִטְּלָהּ מִמֶּֽנִּי, וּלְהַחֲזִירָהּ בִּי לֶעָתִיד לָבוֹא. כָּל זְמַן שֶׁהַנְּשָׁמָה בְקִרְבִּי, מוֹדֶה אֲנִי לְפָנֶֽיךָ, יְיָ אֱלֹהַי וֵאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתַי, רִבּוֹן כָּל הַמַּעֲשִׂים, אֲדוֹן כָּל הַנְּשָׁמוֹת. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, הַמַּחֲזִיר נְשָׁמוֹת לִפְגָרִים מֵתִים.
Elohai Neshama she’natata bee, tehora hee.
Ata b’rata, Ata yetzarta, Ata nefachta bee,
v’Ata m’shamra b’kirbee,
v’Ata atid l’tila mi’meni,
u’l’hachzira bee l’atid la’vo.
Kol z’man she’han’shama b’kirbi,
modeh ani l’fane’cha,
Adonai Elohai avo’tai, Ri’bon kol ha’ma’asim,
Adon kol haneshamot.
Baruch ata Adonai, h’amechazir neshamot lifgarim me’tim.
My God, the soul you have given me is pure. You made it, You created it, You placed it within me, and in the future, You will take it from me in order to return in to me in the time to come. All the time that my soul resides in me, I offer praise to You, my God and God of my ancestors, Ruler of all creation, Master of the souls. Blessed are You, Adonai, Who returns souls to lifeless bodies.
The power of this prayer hit me one morning when I happened upon a group of Jewish day school children in morning prayers, chanting first line over and over with fervent gusto – clapping, dancing, and full of joy. It reminded me of those drum circles from my past. Proudly, I joined in, clearly in my “element” singing with all my kishkes – body, soul, breath and spirit.
As we welcome each new day, may we be blessed with a healthy cognizance of our Whole Body/SoulBody connection. Let us commit to honoring the value of our health and the limitless of our spirit.