The ‘birchos hashachar’ consist of four preliminary brachos – ‘al netilas yadayim’ (over the morning hand-washing), ‘asher yatzar’ (over our bodily functions), ‘birchos haTorah’ (over Torah study) and ‘Elokai, neshama’ (restoration of the soul) – and the series of fifteen short brachos which typically begin the communal shacharis. (Ed: Please see siman 4 for a lengthy treatment of hand-washing and ‘al netilas yadayim’, and see the previous lesson for an explanation of ‘asher yatzar’. Birchos haTorah is coming up in siman 47 - after 7, we skip to 46!) Before moving on to ‘Elokai, neshama’, let us point out that every person should make all of these brachos personally every day, regardless of whether or not he davens with a minyan. The role of the chazzan in saying these brachos out loud is not to be ‘motzi’ (i.e. say it for them) people who are capable of making them themselves, even though he says them out loud and they answer ‘Amen’. Furthermore, the chazzan should not repeat any brachos publicly that he has already made for himself that day. (Note: If it turns out that the designated chazzan has already made them on his own before davening started, he should appoint someone else, who hasn’t, to make them out loud for the congregation.)
The Mishnah Berura (note 7) cites the custom of reciting at least the first pasuk (verse) of the Shema right after the ‘birchos hashachar’. (Ed: See footnote, pp. 28-9 in the Artscroll Siddur,for a fascinating history behind this practice!)
Regarding ‘Elokai, neshama’, one immediately notices a departure from the standard format of a bracha: it has no opening (Heb: ‘p’sicha’) of ‘Baruch Atah…’! Why not? Hold that question for a moment while we address another: Why does the siddur place this bracha on page 18, after ‘Birchos HaTorah’, but writes a footnote on page 14 that some people recite it immediately following ‘asher yatzar’? What difference does it make where it is recited?
If you guessed that these two questions are inter-related, you’re exactly right! Basically, there are two reasons that a bracha would not start with an opening of ‘Baruch…’:
1) It was instituted as a ‘bracha has’mucha l’chaverta’ – i.e. to follow on the heels of a preceding bracha (such as brachos #2-19 of the Shemoneh Esrei and brachos #2-3 of ‘Birkas Hamazon’); OR
2) It is a bracha of thanksgiving (‘hoda’ah’) – (Ed: I was not real familiar with this reason.) So here’s the thing about the placement of ‘Elokai, neshama’: if you subscribe to reason #2, then ‘Elokai, neshama’, which is indeed a bracha of ‘hoda’ah’ (i.e. as distinct from a bracha of ‘shevach’, praise, of which there are many more than the former) can really be placed anywhere – even after the paragraphs of Torah study which follow the ‘Birchos HaTorah’ (see p.16). However, in case you want to “play it safe” and satisfy reason #1, then you place it directly after a preceding bracha, namely ‘asher yatzar’! That is why some say it on page 18 and some say it on page 14! Got it?