Ki Teitzei: Fulfilling Gratitude

waiting-for-mannaThere is an old joke illustrating the difference between a believer and an atheist:

The believer wakes up, looks up to heaven, and with heartfelt devotion and true gratitude exclaims, “Good morning, G‑d!”

The atheist, by contrast, rolls over one last time, yawns and stretches, strolls over to the window, looks outside and declares, “My G‑d, what a morning!”

-Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum
“Keep the Faith”
Commentary on Torah Portion Ki Teitzei

The very first blog I posted here is called Abundant is Your Faithfulness. When I originally created my “meditations” blog, I based it on something written by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman:

When you get up in the morning, let the world wait. Defy it a little. First learn something to inspire you. Take a few moments to meditate upon it. And then you may plunge ahead into the darkness, full of light with which to illuminate it.

I wanted my writing to be something people could read in the morning shortly after waking up and then ponder on throughout the day. I’ll admit to a little “mission drift” in the over two-and-a-half years this blog has been in existence, but this has always been my intent.

But you don’t have to wait until you get out of bed and make it to your computer to find something inspiring. As Rabbi Greenbaum says in his commentary, observant Jews start meditating on God even before they get up by reciting the Modeh Ani:

“I gratefully thank You, living and existing King for restoring my soul to me with compassion. Abundant is your faithfulness.”

I mentioned to a friend just recently that the wedding vow is the only vow Christians take before God anymore. Most people, including most Christians, probably don’t realize it, but when you say “for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, til death do us part,” we are actually taking a solemn vow in the presence of God that these words we will keep with our actions.

And yet the divorce rate in the church is virtually the same as in the secular world. As human beings, we do a lousy job of keeping our vows to God…we can’t even keep the one left that we’re supposed to take seriously. I guess that’s why Jesus said this:

“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.”

Matthew 5:33-37 (NASB)

But apart from vows, just how seriously do we take what we say to God? Are we too casual in our “conversations” with Him? Does it matter that we’re addressing not only a King, but literally the Creator of everything?

Referring to the Modeh Ani, Rabbi Greenbaum says:

We acknowledge our Creator and thank Him for the gift of a new day. By starting off the day full of humility and gratitude, we pledge to live up to G‑d’s vision for the world.

But, I ask you: once you’ve rolled off the bed and rubbed the sleep from your eyes, how much of the Modeh Ani do you take with you? So you spent eight seconds admitting that you owe your life to G‑d. Does that really affect the rest of the day?

Modeh-AniI recite the Modeh Ani when I wake up each morning, but I must admit, Rabbi Greenbaum gave me something new to think about. Just how much of my “thankfulness” do I carry forward into each day? How many Monday’s have I complained about when my alarm goes off, rousing me out of that last moment of “the weekend?” I can hardly add to what Rabbi Greenbaum reveals to his audience, including me, so I’ll let him finish his commentary:

The Torah advises us to “fulfill the utterances of our lips.” (Deuteronomy 23:24) Ostensibly an injunction to pay up our pledges to charity and to live up to our vows, the verse can be homiletically rendered as a directive to listen and learn from the words said while praying. It is too easy to just go through the motions, letting the familiar words roll off the tongue and into oblivion; however, G‑d wants prayer to be more than mere lip service.

The words we say must mean something. Prayer is not just dead time spent mindlessly repeating a monotonous mantra, but a unique opportunity to communicate with the divine. When we train our children to say the Modeh Ani first thing after rising, it is in the hope that the feelings and emotions encapsulated in the prayer will permeate the days of their life.

G‑d demands that we fulfill our pledges and live up to our promises. Each morning we acknowledge our Creator as King, and thank Him for gifting us with our soul again. We approach the rest of the day with the enthusiasm and knowledge that we are following the route suggested in G‑d’s guidebook. We will fulfill the oaths we made to Him, and live by our promises, for now and forever.

As Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski might say in one of his Growing Each Day commentaries…

Today I shall…

…seek to fill full all of the words I speak to God with sincerity and to carry them forward with me in each day, from morning until evening, with thanksgiving and gratitude.

Good Shabbos.

40 days.

2 thoughts on “Ki Teitzei: Fulfilling Gratitude”

  1. Shalom James,
    It is 6:30 AM. The fog has rolled in and with hot cup of coffee in hand I bring up the Morning Meditation! Although I do not always enter in to the ‘argument’ of the day, I non-the-less appreciate beginning my day reading what you have written. I open my eyes each and every day with a whispered, ‘thank you Lord for restoring my soul to me! There is much to appreciate in life even if ‘it’ is not perfect as we define perfection. I imagine many people receive encouragement and inspiration from the material you post daily… do keep up the writing. While I am not an atheist I often proclaim, ““My G‑d, what a morning!” (cute joke)

  2. Fog. I miss it, Pat. Here in Idaho, it’s another in an endless series of days where the temps will near 100 degrees F and the air is heavily laced with smoke from nearby forest fires that are burning our state to ashes.

    But like you said, it’s not about living in a perfect world, but finding what is perfect where it’s hidden among the mundane.

    This is the day which the LORD has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

    Psalm 118:24

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