The Laws and Nature of Asher Yatzar

  • Rav Moshe Taragin


In the previous shiur, we examined the exact function of the blessing of "Asher Yatzar."  We asked: is this berakha recited primarily upon the digestive experience which concludes with the elimination of waste, or should the berakha be perceived as a general show of gratitude for creation and health?  The shiur demonstrated differing textual nuances which may indicate distinct messages. 


In his gloss to OC 4:1, the Rema claims that Asher Yatzar should be recited every morning independent of whether a person attends to these needs.  Both the Mishna Berura and Arukh Ha-shulchan assert that the Rema views this berakha as a blessing on general health and the restoration of physical vitality.  It is therefore recited after each act of health maintenance (waste elimination) AS WELL AS EACH MORNING after the "renewal" of awakening.  The Peri Megadim adds that even the Rema would agree that one who has not slept should not recite the berakha without having eliminated waste.  Without sleep or using the washroom, one has NEITHER incentive for the berakha.  This position of the Rema is perhaps the clearest signal, on the halakhic level, of the berakha's sweeping function. 


An interesting corollary to the Rema's ruling may also stem from a broader view of the berakha.  Several Acharonim are of the opinion that Asher Yatzar need not be recited at night after relieving oneself: the morning Asher Yatzar can 'cover' nocturnal eliminations of waste.  The Mishna Berura himself disagrees with this position and mandates a berakha during the night – despite some of the technical difficulties posed by the proximity of the washroom or the lack of proper attire for berakha recital.  Once again, viewing Asher Yatzar as tethered exclusively to waste disposal would render this opinion almost unacceptable; if a person relieves waste at 2:00 AM, it seems difficult to allow the berakha to be delayed until morning.  If, however, the berakha addresses health in general, it MAY be appropriate to delay the berakha until the morning, when a conscious person attains a better sense of physical wellbeing. 


A second question may surround the type of experience which requires Asher Yatzar.  Most Rishonim demand a berakha for both urination and defecation, though Rabbeinu Tam cites Rabbi Mei'ir, who rules that one should not recite Asher Yatzar upon the former.  This position MAY view the berakha as a specific comment on waste elimination, and urination may not be "noteworthy" enough to warrant a berakha. 


However, most Rishonim DO require a berakha for urination, but do not specify the quantity of waste which requires one to recite it.  Should there in fact be a minimum quantity, or should even trivial amounts require a berakha?  The Rosh, in his Responsa (4:1), does specify that even minor quantities of liquid waste (and of course, by extension, solid as well) require this berakha.  In theory, one may question whether a berakha designed specifically to discuss waste elimination should be recited even for minimal amounts.  If waste elimination is not the SUBJECT of the berakha, but merely a TRIGGER for a berakha about general health, we may better understand the Rosh's position. 


This explanation seems plausible from a logical standpoint, and the Rosh's actual language may confirm this view.  He claims that even minimal amounts obligate one to recite Asher Yatzar, since the physiological system has performed its function properly.  The Orechot Chayim agrees to the Rosh's position, but provides a somewhat different formulation.  In defending his view, he claims that even minimal amounts of waste can be DANGEROUS; therefore, their elimination mandates a berakha.  His language certainly suggests that he views the berakha in a more narrow way, yet still defends his position to recite a berakha even on minute amounts of waste. 


A fascinating issue arises from the comments of the Bet Yosef about a seemingly unrelated issue.  The Tur (OC 7) rules that after defecating, if one intends to immediately study Torah, a berakha of "Al Netilat Yadayim" should be recited after one washes hands.  Since cleaning hands is necessary to allow him to study Torah, a separate berakha of Al Netilat Yadayim should be recited.  The Bet Yosef claims that although Al Netilat Yadayim must precede Torah study, it does not necessarily have to be recited before Asher Yatzar.  Since Asher Yatzar addresses waste elimination, it should be recited IMMEDIATELY after waste disposal and should not be delayed until after the berakha of Al Netilat Yadayim.  These comments about the proximity between Asher Yatzar and the elimination of waste (even at the cost of delaying Al Netilat Yadayim) may also stem from a very narrow definition of the berakha.  In many ways, this would be consistent with the Bet Yosef's position addressed in the previous shiur (regarding a strict limitation of the berakha's language to events surrounding excretion). 


If a person relieves himself on multiple occasions, could one berakha cover all instances?  Ideally, the berakha is recited on each 'visit,' but if a person forgets the berakha and subsequently relieves wastes a second time and then recalls the omission, should Asher Yatzar be recited once or twice?  The Orechot Chayim claims that two distinct berakhot should be recited, "just as someone who forgets a tefilla must compensate by reimbursing a make-up (tashlumin) tefilla."  It would seem that this position sees the berakha as a response to actual waste elimination; neglecting the berakha upon a first visit must be repaired by reciting the berakha twice.  Had the berakha been a more general meditation on human health, recited upon the INCIDENT of relieving oneself, we might have allowed a single berakha to suffice for multiple events.  As the berakha does not address each event, but rather a more general reality which the event emphasizes, we may designate a single berakha for multiple events.


A final question concerns the timing of the berakha.  In his Responsa (Ch. 4), the Rosh asserts that Asher Yatzar should be recited immediately prior to Elokai Neshama, the blessing that speaks of the miracle of awakening after a night's sleep, so that Elokai Neshama should be proximate to a berakha.  Since Elokai Neshama does not begin with the word "Barukh," it is absolutely necessary to append it to a different berakha – which does begin with the word "Barukh."  This placement assures that Elokai Neshama will be a "berakha ha-smukha le-chaverta," a subsequent blessing in a series, and will be covered by the word "Barukh" which opens the initial berakha.  The Rosh does not explain why specifically the berakha of Asher Yatzar is preferred as a prefix to Elokai Neshama.  Many other berakhot could have preceded Elokai Neshama and given it the status of berakha ha-smukha le-chaverta!


If, however, we view Asher Yatzar as a berakha upon general physical health, we may appreciate its desired proximity to Elokai Neshama.  The latter berakha comments on Hashem's provision of soul and spirit, while Asher Yatzar addresses the provision of general physical health and wellbeing.  Conjugating these two berakhot to solve a halakhic predicament would therefore be thematically sound.