Morning Rebirth

Envision that the Creator, whose glory fills the earth, He and His presence are continually with you. This is the most subtle of all experiences.

Rejoice constantly. Ponder and believe with complete faith that the Divine Presence is with you and protecting you; that you are bound up with the Creator and the Creator is bound up with you, with your every limb and every faculty; that your focus is fixed on the Creator and the Creator’s focus is fixed upon you.

Tzavaat Harivash 137
as quoted from Chabad.org

He then reached into his pocket and took out his wallet. Under the isinglass window was a card on which were written some words. He shoved the wallet across the table and said, “There, son, read that. That is my formula, and don’t give me the song and dance that it won’t work either. I know better from experience.”

The obstacle man picked up the wallet and with a strange look on his face read the words to himself.

“Read them out loud,” urged the owner of the wallet.

This is what he read in a slow, dubious voice, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13)

-Norman Vincent Peale
“Chapter 8: I Don’t Believe in Defeat”
The Power of Positive Thinking

In continuing to review Rabbi Freeman’s series A Multimedia Guide to Jewish Prayer, I found surprising (to me) similarities between the advice of the Chasidim and that of a Christian Pastor. Despite the rather unpalatable presentation of Peale’s book, if you scrape away the “Christianese” and the rather improbable circumstances he describes, there is a kernel of truth lying underneath. I suppose his style and language appeal to his primary audience (which somehow doesn’t include “Christian” me) but while not being Jewish, I find the same set of instructions easier to read from Jewish sources.

In religious Judaism, sleep is considered “one-sixtieth of death,” which is why a Jew will pray for the protection of the angels when reciting the Bedtime Shema before retiring, and then gratefully thank God for returning his life to him by reciting the Modeh Ani immediately upon awakening. Rabbi Freemen teaches to this point.

If sleep is one-sixtieth of death, then waking up is a miniature rebirth. As your eyes blink open to greet the morning sun, you are a newborn child, a seed of a person ready to sprout forth from under the soil, spread forth branches and grow.

I suppose you’ve heard the saying that goes, “today is the first day of the rest of your life,” which tends to shut the door on whatever goof ups and agony occurred in whatever past you had before today, and opens up a whole new world of fresh possibilities starting right now. However, in real life, it’s difficult to let the past stay in the past or, putting it another way, it’s hard to let “whatever happens in Vegas, stay in Vegas,” especially if we have people in our lives who have been hurt by what we did “in Vegas.”

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust. –Psalm 103:8-14 (ESV)

Even if our trust in God’s boundless forgiveness and mercy is completely solid, the human beings in our life are most likely not going to be as compassionate and forgiving.

And then there’s how or if you forgive yourself.

It’s only a brand new day if you decide it is. For that matter, I only face a brand new, fresh, clean day before me if I can let go of the past and put my sins as far from me as “as the east is from the west.” It may be difficult or even impossible to expect everyone to forgive you for everything you’ve done to hurt them, but it can be equally difficult (or impossible) to receive forgiveness from yourself.

I have a vague memory of playing a game in childhood where you could call “do-overs.” Outside of science fiction, there is no way to go back and change the past in order to recreate yourself and your history. But is there a way in the realm of God?

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” –John 3:3-8 (ESV)

This is where we get the concept of being a “born again Christian,” but in my case, I’m talking about being “reborn” not just once and for all, but each and every morning. As difficult as life is and as many mistakes as we make, just being “reborn” once won’t cut it. I’m convinced our greatest failures don’t occur before we become believers, but after we dedicate our lives to Christ. That’s when we should “know better” and when there is so much more at stake when we make a mistake or commit evil in the world.

Because when a Christian sins, what hope is there for recovery unless we can somehow have that sin washed away as if it had never happened?

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. –John 3:17-18 (ESV)

It would be nice to wake up one morning and not be…or even feel condemned by God and by other people…and by myself.

Rabbi Freeman quotes extensively from Tzavaat Haribash 137 in order to help his audience understand that when you wake up, being aware of God as your first conscious thought can mean “becoming aware of your existence within an existence larger than your own.”

Tell yourself, “He is the Master of all that occurs in the world. He can do anything I desire. And therefore, it makes no sense for me to put my confidence in anything else but Him, may He be blessed.”

Rejoice constantly. Ponder and believe with complete faith that the Divine Presence is with you and protecting you; that you are bound up with the Creator and the Creator is bound up with you, with your every limb and every faculty; that your focus is fixed on the Creator and the Creator’s focus is fixed upon you.

And the Creator could do whatever He wants. If He so desired, He could annihilate all the worlds in a single moment and recreate them all in a single moment. Within Him are rooted all goodness and all stern judgments in the world. For the current of His energy runs through each thing.

And you say, “As for me, I do not rely upon nor do I fear anyone or anything other than Him, may He be blessed.”

Jesus says that a man must be born again of water and spirit. Chasidic teachings instruct us to consider ourselves as reborn “within an existence larger than your own.” Waking up in the morning is not only the start of a brand new “existence,” but a reminder that we are already a “brand new person in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17). To create that awareness, the first words that come to you once you are awake enough to develop a coherent thought are the most important.

“I gratefully thank you, living and existing King, for returning my soul to me with compassion. Abundant is your faithfulness.” -Modeh Ani

Sitting at the bottom of the abyss as I attempt to arise from sleep, the first rung of the ladder of God is sitting in front of me. If I choose to believe so, at that moment, there is no past but only the potential for a future inside of a new day and inside the grandeur of the existence of God.

The Modeh Ani is said before washing your hands, while still lying half-awake in your bed. Unlike other tefillot, you don’t have to ensure that your hands, your body or the place where you are sleeping is clean before saying it. The simple reason is because it does not contain any name of G-d or any verses of Torah. Yet there is a deeper reason: because it comes from a place that no impurity can contaminate, from the spark of G-d within, a place where you and your G-d are one, where not even the worst contamination in the world could come between you.

We call that level of the soul yechidah. Just as a person may have different names that he is called according to the role that he takes (father, husband, son, teacher, student), so the soul has different names according to the relationship it takes with the body.

According to Rabbi Freeman, the Yechidah or “Essence” is the first rung on the ladder of prayer. You can find a more detailed explanation of the five levels of the soul, as Chasidic Judaism sees them, by referring back to today’s lesson in prayer (you may have to scroll down a bit, and I encourage you to read the entire article).

To sum up:

Right now, first thing in the morning, I’m going to latch on to that essence. That way, it will be with me when I climb up the first rung of my ladder. And the second, and the third, and even at the fourth, highest level—everything I attain will be because I started with that essential point.

There’s a point of newness and fresh experience when we first wake up; before anything has happened and before we have even gotten out of bed. We can’t say what will happen today, even if we have made plans, because the day hasn’t happened yet. Such is life for a newborn. He can’t say what will happen later in life because it hasn’t happened yet. When you are born or born again, there is no past, there is only a future. If God really does cast our sins away from Him and from us, as far away as the east is from the west, then it’s as if they do not exist for Him. If we continue to insist that they exist from us, then we have denied ourselves the opportunity to benefit from our state of “newness” and it’s as if we were not reborn at all.

And yet, like Nicodemus, accepting even such a simple truth is enormously difficult, and especially so as we get older, because there is so much more to remember and to regret. I gratefully thank you, living and existing King, for restoring my soul to me. May you help me truly accept that this is a “new” soul, untainted by yesterday and before yesterday, and that it is possible for me to spring forth from sleep as a new sprout from a seed and a new soul from the ashes of the old.

Abundant is your faithfulness.

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3 thoughts on “Morning Rebirth”

  1. “”And yet, like Nicodemus, accepting even such a simple truth is enormously difficult, and especially so as we get older, because there is so much more to remember and to regret. I gratefully thank you, living and existing King, for restoring my soul to me. May you help me truly accept that this is a “new” soul, untainted by yesterday and before yesterday, and that it is possible for me to spring forth from sleep as a new sprout from a seed and a new soul from the ashes of the old.”” This post arrived late to my house due to ‘computer problems’…now, mid-day the light bulb in my brain goes on and I marvel at the faithful of our King of all Kings. To awaken from the depth of slumber to a new beginning in the relationship between this King and one of his many servants ..to know that it is possible…I am amazed! Thank you for a beautiful Post..I will read it many times.

  2. You’re welcome, Pat. 🙂

    Don’t forget, there’ll be another one tomorrow morning (about morning, interestingly enough).

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