Tag Archives: modeh ani

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.

Recovered Priorities

Once there was a shopkeeper who was very successful and made a fortune off of the people of his city and the surrounding environs. Virtually every waking minute was taken up with work. Not only did he lack time to learn one word of Torah, this gentleman didn’t even have enough time to daven. Since he worked until late at night it was hard for him to get up on time in the morning. He invariably arrived at shul around the time of borchu. Of course, since he always needed to rush to his business, he would leave early and never remained until aleinu.

When this businessman grew older he started to notice that his hair was turning grey. The shock of his own encroaching mortality inspired him to make a rigorous cheshbon hanefesh. He decided that from that day on he would have a daily seder of several hours of Torah study after davening no matter what.

But his partner wondered why this man, always so regular in the past, did not come to help the moment the store opened at 7:00 AM. When he finally arrived somewhat after ten, his partner was a little annoyed with him. “Where were you?” blurted the partner.

“I couldn’t make it on time today,” he replied vaguely.

The next day the partner in the store anxiously awaited the reformed businessman, but to no avail. When this man finally arrived at the store, his partner virtually pounced on him. “Are you crazy? We cannot run a business this way!”

But the partner who had done teshuvah also did not mince words. “Listen carefully. What would you have done if the malach hamaves had come for me? Would you also insist that I simply may not die because our store is filled with customers? So I want you to imagine that, during those first three hours of business in the morning, I have left the world. Why should it bother you if after a couple of hours I am revived from the dead and come to lend a hand at the business?”

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“Early Departure”
Siman 132 Seir 2

The story of the shopkeeper is interesting because it’s not about a person who goes from being an atheist to finding God. It’s the story of a religious person who was just too busy for God. That is, until he got his “wake up call.” I’m glad his revelation was as minor as simply noticing he was turning grey and getting older. For some people, it’s more dramatic, like a heart attack, or the death of a loved one due to cancer. It’s a shame we need such “reminders” at all, but that’s human nature. Even as people of faith, we tend to take God and His gifts (wealth, health) for granted until He gives us a reason not to. Of course we should go to God because He is God, but usually we need a “better” reason than that.

OK, there is no better reason to go to God than because He is King, but as we see from the shopkeeper’s example, we can become hopelessly tied up in our day-to-day lives and all of the immediate priorities we feel cannot wait for a few minutes, let alone a few hours. We may even have someone around us like the shopkeeper’s partner who continued to harass this man about the time he diverted away from business in order to meet his obligations to his Creator.

I found this part of the narrative particularly interesting:

So I want you to imagine that, during those first three hours of business in the morning, I have left the world. Why should it bother you if after a couple of hours I am revived from the dead and come to lend a hand at the business?”

The shopkeeper, in meeting with God for the first three hours of his day, effectively exited the world as we know it and was considered “dead” to the pressures and demands of life. He was “revived” upon leaving the presence of God and as he re-entered the world of the living in order to satisfy the requirements of his present existence. This is a concept not unknown in Judaism or Christianity.

I gratefully thank you living and existing King, for returning my soul to me with compassion. Abundant is Your faithfulness. –Modeh Ani

This is the first blessing an observant Jew recites upon awakening in the morning, usually even before getting out of bed. In religious Judaism, some consider sleep to be “made up” of a significant portion of “death”. It’s as if in sleep, we are closer to the realm of death and thus more at risk of entering its “influence” than when we’re awake.

Christianity expresses a similar sentiment, but the blessing is said before going to bed. If you were raised in a Christian family, you may have said this prayer at bedtime when you were a child.

Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake.
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

I suppose I should mention that in Judaism the Bedtime Shema also contains imagery of entering into a state approaching death and asking God for protection.

The shopkeeper thought he didn’t have time to insert his service to God in his busy life. But when he realized that his life could end at any moment, he knew he didn’t have the same amount of time to devote to business as he did before because he needed to enter into God’s world first.

Why am I writing this? Because I think that “Early Departure” is a moving and meaningful tale, I think that it tells us something we need to be reminded of, and I know that I have put God on the “back burner” more than once because I’ve been too busy.

I also am aware that there are more days behind me than there are ahead and I’ve been arrogant about how I spend my time, ignoring the reality of my existence, which only continues by God’s grace. I suppose this can be considered the latest in a long list of “stop and smell the roses” messages, and as trite as that may sound, it also has the benefit of being true.

Stop for a moment in the middle of your busy day. Take time out today and every day to gratefully thank the King of your life and to let Him know you haven’t forgotten that He is the King.

nightsky1

For God So Loved

HumbleWhen this question reached the Alter of Kelm, zt”l, he explained quite decisively. “Two nations were forever distanced from Hashem due to their lack of hakoras hatov for the kindness of Avraham towards Lot, as the Ramban explains. Consider this, my brothers. Is there anyone in this generation who acts kindly to the grandchildren of a person who helped them? Surely so many years have passed, and most will surely have forgotten such an old obligation? We would be surprised to find even one such person in a city!”

Rav Yechezkel Levenstein, zt”l, recounted that the Alter’s rebuke did indeed bear fruit. “Boruch Hashem, I knew people in Kelm who truly knew how to express their appreciation towards those who had shown them—or their parents—kindness. I even knew people who bestowed kindness on the grandchildren of those who helped them. They did their utmost to do whatever good possible to those who had been kind to them and even their descendants. This is the level of truly pious and upright people who know their obligation in the world.”

The obligation for hakoras hatov itself is clearly explained in the Mishnas Rabbi Eliezer, “There is nothing more serious in God’s eyes than one who lacks proper appreciation. Adam HaRishon was banished from Gan Eden only because he lacked proper appreciation. God got angry at our forefathers in the desert only because they lacked hakoras hatov.”

Yomi Daf Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Need for Gratitude”
Chullin 62

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

Modeh Ani

Gratitude is a quality that isn’t always well demonstrated in the modern world of the west. In many other cultures, including the middle east, hospitality and the expression of gratitude is still highly prized (at least among the older generation). What about those of us who are attached to the God of Israel and who are disciples of Jesus?

Every morning, before getting out of bed, I silently bless God with the Modeh Ani for preserving my life for another day. I’m not telling you this because I think it makes me a better person or anything, but to illustrate the point that we depend on God for literally everything in our lives, regardless of what it is or how we think we’ve acquired it. If God is so gracious to us that he “opens His hand and satisfies the desires of every living thing” (Psalm 145:16), how can we fail to acknowledge that before Him or not proceed to pass that graciousness on to others.

Despite the terrible shortages, the Imrei Emes always put the needs of the poor first. A certain chassid once brought him a little challah for Shabbos. This challah was made of the finest flour—a danger for the baker since this flour was set aside for soldiers—so the rebbe could avoid using coarse bread for hamotzi on Shabbos. This challah was considered very valuable since it was of much better quality.

To the surprise of all, the rebbe gave out this precious bread to his chassidim who came for shiyarim. The rebbe explained his generosity with a statement on today’s daf. “In Chullin 63 we find that the chasidah bird is called this since it does kindness exclusively with its own kind—they only share food with each other. Interestingly, we find in the Yerushalmi that mice are called wicked because when they see a lot of fruit they call their friends to join them. We may well wonder the exact difference between the two. After all, aren’t both kind to their own species exclusively?”

“The answer is that mice only call their friends when there is a lot. A chasidah shares even when there is not so much to be shared…”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Rebbe’s Chessed”
Chullin 63

It’s not that we don’t do this, but we all need a reminder that we have a duty to share what God has provided with others, not just when we have plenty, but when we are in want. That’s why I recite Modeh Ani in the morning…as a reminder that I am grateful to God for my life and what I have and that what I have should be shared. But what we share shouldn’t be just what we have, but who we are. Ultimately, they should all be the same thing.

The Rebbe wept profoundly as he spoke these words:

The entire being of Moses was the Torah he brought to his people. The Torah was more than something he taught. It was what he was. It was his G-d within him.

Yet when it came to a choice between the Torah or his people, he chose his people. He said, “And if you do not forgive them, then wipe me out from Your book that You have written!”

His whole being was the Torah,
but deep into his essence, at the very core,
was his oneness with his people.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Bringing Heaven Down to Earth
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
“The Ultimate Sacrifice”
Chabad.org

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. –John 3:16

Mission Drift

AdriftI wake up in the morning with the knowledge that my unique opportunities will be used to convey my individual personality in the places I find myself, thus inspiring the people around me.

-from the Jewish Learning Institute course
“Toward a Meaningful Life”

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

Before continuing to read, if you haven’t done so, go to yesterday’s morning mediation Struggling in the Dark. The conversation about meaning and significance really starts there.

Do you have a purpose in life? Does your life matter to others or even to one single other human being? Would it make any difference if you had not been born? Why are you here?

I suppose everyone has asked those questions about themselves at one point or another. We can look around us and see a gifted teacher, a compassionate doctor, a brilliant scholar and know immediately why God created them and why they are here. For a lot of people though, it may not be immediately apparent. We live ordinary lives. We work ordinary jobs. We don’t seem to be special in any way whatsoever. Would the world turn any differently if we weren’t here on the planet?

That’s hard to say. It comes down to the fundamental question of whether or not each individual person matters in God’s plan, as opposed to only certain key individuals being part of God’s plan, and existing within the mass of the rest of humanity.

Simon Jacobson, author of the book Toward a Meaningful Life asks that question and answers it by saying, “Birth is G-d saying that you matter.”

“Birth is G-d saying that you matter.”

By Rabbi Jacobson’s definition (and hopefully God’s), if you were born, you matter. More than that, you matter specifically to God because He created you to have a special mission to accomplish with your life.

Surprised?

I’m sure a lot of people would be. For most of us, we can’t imagine what we can do that would be special to God. What’s more important is to realize that we have that importance in the eyes of God no matter what anyone else thinks or feels about us.

That part can be difficult. It’s easier to imagine we are important to God when we’re important to other people. It can be more difficult to imagine we are important if we feel as if we don’t really matter to other people, beyond their obligation to say that we matter. Do we feel valued for who we are intrinsically as a person, or only for the role we play (employee, parent, child, family wage earner, taxpayer, and so on)? If we stopped doing what others expected of us, would they still care about whether or not we even existed?

Remember, I’m not talking about people who expect you to show up at work every day or to pay the bills on time. While those activities are certainly important, do you think God created you just to pay bills? Isn’t there something more to your life in the plan of the Creator of the Universe? I’m not particularly talking about something “flashy” or “fantastic”, but I am talking about something meaningful beyond the mechanics of everyday existence and particularly in terms of what God considers valuable, rather than the values of the world around us.

Through all that and more, as human beings, we struggle to find significance in the eyes of God, whether we really believe in that significance or not.

When Jesus (famously) said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) was “so loved the world” a generic reference to people in general, or did he mean “so loved each and every individual in the world across all human history”? If birth is the criteria, then the latter must be true.

That means when you get up in the morning, you have a particular mission to accomplish. This first chapter in the JLI lesson I’m reading (no, I’m not taking the course, my wife “gifted” me with the lesson book from the class she previously attended) guides the student into creating a mission statement: a one to two sentence statement of goals and purpose, usually for an organization. According to the class material, people need mission statements as well. Without one, a person will be about as successful in discovering their purpose in life as a company without a well-stated and defined reason for existence.

Here are a few examples of the original mission statements from now successful companies:

“To produce high-quality, low-cost, easy to use products that incorporate high technology for the individual. We are proving that high technology does not have to be intimidating for noncomputer experts.” –Apple

“We create happiness by providing the finest in entertainment for people of all ages, everywhere.” –Disney

“To make the world’s information universally accessible and useful” –Google

Modeh AniI think you get the idea.

But what is your mission? For that matter, what is mine?

Maybe you know exactly what yours is or perhaps, staring at a blank piece of paper and expecting to write it down, you have come to the abrupt realization that it will take you a lifetime to figure out.

One of the main reasons I created this blog is to provide a platform for me and others to start the day exploring something about ourselves and the world around us that gives meaning and purpose to our lives. There are days when, looking at the web traffic to my blog, I feel as if I’m talking only to myself. If just one other person reads my blog and benefits from it, is that a sufficient fulfilling of my existence in the eyes of God? Am I fulfilling my purpose, or have I lost my way? Do I have a path or am I wandering aimlessly.

I found something said by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that addresses this query and that has provided the main theme for today’s morning mediation:

One of my favorite contemporary phrases is “mission drift”. First used by the military, it’s what happens when in pursuit of an objective people forget what objective they were pursuing. You get sidetracked. The territory turns out to be not like the map. The going is harder than you thought it would be. You lose your way. The car breaks down. On the brink of departure, it looked so simple. But then, as someone (no one’s quite sure who) once said, “In theory there’s no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is.”

In a single chapter in one lesson book, there’s probably material for half a dozen blog posts or more, maybe because the lesson is that good or, more likely, because the questions of  purpose and “mission drift” are just that fundamental to humanity.

If we are only human and God is a God who needs nothing, what can we do on Earth that He needs from us?

There’s more to discover in subsequent morning meditations. Like the topic of depression brought up in yesterday’s missive, exploring your meaning and purpose may not be a comfortable journey, but I invite you to join me on the trail. Let’s see what we can find together, starting in tomorrow’s morning meditation, “The Prophet and the Shade Plant”.

As you keep reading through this series we will continue to ask one challenging and terrifying question: “Who am I and why am I here?”