I want to look at the first pasuk of this week’s parasha:
Specifically, the word היום. What does that mean? Moshe is certainly speaking to them “today” (i.e. the day he is speaking), but the ברכה and קללה have been with them for the past 40 years, and and the ברכה וקללה ceremony won’t happen until they enter the land.
היום in תנ״ך is an idiom that is the equivalent of the English “clear as day”:
And perhaps that is what it means here: the choice is clear. There is a black-and-white decision to be made. ה׳ is giving us a multiple-choice test, and is telling us the answer:
But there is another implication of the word היום:
So perhaps here, too, היום means that we should look at this choice, between ברכה and קללה, as something that happens every day. This is how the Sfas Emes reads it:
What is this ברכה that we say every day?
What is a שֶּׂכְוִי? The gemara that discusses the ברכות השחר doesn’t tell us:
But the gemara in Rosh Hashana, when it discusses various words in תנ״ך that have cognates in other languages, does:
So the expression comes from תנ״ך (like many ברכות):
But the word שֶּׂכְוִי is a hapax legomenon. There are no other clues as to what it means, so חז״ל looked at other languages. But the מפרשים looked at the context:
And the term מַשְׂכִּיּת is found, meaning “images, imagination”:
So together, the pasuk in איוב means “Who put wisdom in the kidneys and gave discernment to the heart?” In the language of תנ״ך, the heart and kidneys are the seats of intelligence:
Throughout תנ״ך, כליות ולב are metaphors for what I would call ethical and moral judgment, respectively (“moral” here means what we feel is right, “ethical” means what we know, intellectually, is right). טוח is modern Hebrew means “to aim”; שוכה in the sense of תהילים means “to see in the imagination”.
ספר איוב is taking the figurative expression כליות ולב and turning it into the literal טחות ושכוי. G-d is asking Job, “Who gave human beings the ability to make judgments?”. And that is what we say every morning. It really doesn’t have anything to do with roosters.
So what is the connection between אנכי נתן לפניכם היום ברכה וקללה and נותן לשכוי בינה? The Sfas Emes explains:
היום means every day is a new start. לְהַבְחִין בֵּין יום וּבֵין לָיְלָה is figurative; the metaphor may be about a rooster detecting the dawn, but the ברכה is really referring to our pasuk of ברכה וקללה. We thank ה׳ for giving us the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. And the “rooster” metaphor is more than a linguistic coincidence from another language:
And this tells us how we are supposed to say the ברכות השחר.
They are ברכות הנהנין, thanking ה׳ for His gifts. They are the ways we check our privilege every morning.
We exist to serve ה׳. Some people are born with advantages that make their עבודת ה׳ easier. That’s not a reason to feel superior; it is a reason to do more.
הנותן לשכוי בינה reminds us that אנכי נתן לפניכם היום ברכה וקללה. It is our way of thanking ה׳ for making us human, for giving us free will. Every day we get a new chance to make good choices. And that is the ultimate privilege.