Y a w n n n n n n n
Hey, I'm awake!
מודה אני לפניך מלך חי וקיים שהחזרת בי נשמתי בחמלה. רבה אמונתך
I thank you, living and enduring king, for You have graciously returned my soul within me. Great is your faithfulness.
That was good. Now let’s take it step by step. If you’re a visual/audio person, you can do this with a video—or download the audio and listen in the dark before sleep. Right click here for the chart to go along with this.
Part 1: Focused Intentions
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Part 2: Continuing Our Meditation
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Part 3: Putting It All Together
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Now here’s a similar step-by-step presentation in written form:
||Admit, thank, surrender
||before You, to Your essential being
||King, He who speaks and the world comes into being, the Source of All Being
||alive, Source of Life, Real
||Enduring, sustaining, unchanging
||for You have returned within me, recharged me with…
||my breath of life
||with compassion, graciously
||Great is Your faithfulness
—Admit, Acknowledge, Thank
As you can see from the chart, this is a human emotion that doesn’t have a direct translation into English. That’s unfortunate, because it’s a word that’s very close to our identity: We are called Jews which comes from the Hebrew Yehudim which is directly related to the same root as modeh which is hoda’ah.
||Admit, acknowledge, thank
||First word we say upon waking
||Praise (imp. plural)
||First word of communal tefillah
||First song of “Songs of Praise”
||Son of Jacob from whom most Jews are descended
||Who we are
||First stage of tefillah
||Recited after tefillah
||The root form of all the above
What do admitting, acknowledging and thanking have in common? Well, they’re all about making yourself small. But hold on: Modeh Ani is supposed to be the bedrock upon which we build our entire day. During that day we have to set out and face an intimidating and often hostile world. Is this really a good way to start, by admitting to our smallness?
Well, if you’re a plug-in device, it certainly is. And, in a way, that’s what we are. So we start our day by opening ourselves up to something much greater us—infinitely so—and connecting with that. Hey, what could be more powerful than a dedicated line to an infinite source?
Yet, Modeh also recognizes that there’s really a struggle going on. You have to admit, to surrender your initial position and accept another. The debate goes something like this:
Mind: What do you feel?
Body: I don’t feel anything.
Mind: But there’s a whole world around you! The air you breathe. The sun shining in the window. The body you’re stuck inside.
Body: Oh, them. There’s always there.
Mind: So why are they always there?
Body: They’re always there because I see them, hear them, touch them…they’re there because I’m here. Can I go back to sleep now?
Fortunately for the mind, it’s not alone. If it were, it’s chances against the body would be slim. But within each of us there is a third party, a spark of the Infinite we call “the G‑dly soul.” All the mind has to do is allow a small opening for that spark to enter, and its battle is won.
The Modeh Ani strategy, then, is to give the sensible side a head start. Make the first statement a declaration of the G‑dly soul, and you’ve got its foot in the door from the beginning.
If we were bodies or minds at our core, that would be an impossible task. But we’re not—that spark of the infinite is our essence and being. Which means that we don’t have to wait to first get our minds in gear, study a little and ponder. As the very first rays of consciousness stretch forth, our first, immediate response is, “Okay, I admit. I didn’t make this place.”
—i to You
i to You. The lower case i is deliberate: In Hebrew, we have two words for first person singular: Anochi and ani. Anochi is the capital I, while the more common ani is less assuming— lower case. Yet both refer to the essential self, the i that was before I was given a name, before anyone knew who I was, that which even I myself do not and cannot know. Not that i that I know from my actions, my words and my thoughts, but the i that is knowing, observing and investing itself within all those things—yet remains essentiallly beyond all of that and unaffected by any of it.
i to You. But not just You. Lefanecha means literally “to Your face.” It also means “within You.” Meaning, to Your innermost.
My essence addresses Your essence. Nothing stands between us—no pretenses, no preconceptions, no assumptions, not even the garb of our own thoughts or emotions. We begin our communion at our very core. At the place where we are one.
A king is one who rules by his word. The Creator creates an entire universe and administrates it by simply telling its story. For the best and simplest explanation I have for what we mean by King, see What’s With Praying to a King?.
At this point, what I’m modeh is that He—not me—is the author of this story.
—living and enduring
What’s the big deal about being alive? Hey, I’m also alive! But I am alive because something is keeping me alive—namely that vital energy that drives my cells, molecules and atomic structure, an energy that we call soul (that’s nefesh in Hebrew). All that lives from that energy waxes and wane, is born and eventually must die; but the flux of Life itself neither ceases nor diminishes. For Life in its quintessence is G‑d as He plays within His world.
At this point, I am modeh that G‑d is the reality of what is here now. He is the very essence of the life that I feel within me, and observe outside of me.
She-he-che-zarta Bee Nishmati B’chemla.
—for You have returned my soul within me with compassion.
In its most simple sense, Modeh Ani is a statement of gratitude. At night, I gave my weary soul into G‑d’s hands, and He returns it to me in the morning—not as I left it, but refreshed and renewed. Now, if you left say an old Chet Atkinson hollow body electric guitar at the pawn shop, would you expect to get it back all shiny and well-tuned? Especially, if let’s say you still owed that pawn shop a lot of money?
Well, we have a huge debt of unpaid bills to our Creator, and nevertheless He continues to return our collateral back to us for daily use, all spruced up as well.
The word that we’ve translated here as soul is neshama. A neshama is a breath, as in the story of the creation of Adam, where it says:
And [the ineffable four-letter name here] G‑d formed the Adam out of soil from the ground, and He blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the Adam became a living person.
On this, the classic commentator, Nachmanides (“the Ramban”), writes:
This verse gives a hint of the great quality of the neshama, its foundation and its secret. For in its creation, the entire Divine Name is mentioned.
Then the verse says, “He blew into his nostrils the breath of life” to tell us that the neshama is not created from the four elements of fire, air, water and earth as the other animated creatures were. Neither does it devolve from the distinct intelligences [angels]. Rather, the neshama extends from the spirit of knowing and understanding within the Divine Name.
For when someone blows of his own breath into another, he is putting his own neshama within him.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that somewhere inside you is a little packet of air from G‑d. The neshama is a form of verb—it’s not a thing, it’s an activity happening. What that means is that you have a certain consciousness within which is actually G‑d breathing inside you. As Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz put it in his 16th century classic, Shnei Luchot Habrit:
The neshama is a portion of G_d from above and whatever is found in the whole can be found in the portion.
— Beit Chochmah
If so, there’s a lot more to be grateful about than a vintage guitar.
—How great is your faithfulness
This is actually taken directly from a verse in—of all places—Lamentations:
G‑d’s kindnesses never cease; indeed, His mercies never fail! They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.
On those last words come a Midrash that appears to be the basis for the entire Modeh Ani:
Rav Alexandri said, “The way things generally work in this world, a person stores new goods with his fellow and retrieves them old. But that’s not the way G‑d deals with us. He returns our bodies to us new and rested, as it says, ‘they are new every morning.’”
Rabbi Siman said in the name of Rabbi Shimon, “From the fact that you renew us every morning we know that ‘great is Your faithfulness’ to resurrect the dead in a time to come.”
”Great is Your faithfulness” then is the sum total of the entire Modeh Ani—starting the day with a big thank you note. But when you think about it, it’s also a statement about ourselves and the way He thinks of us. After all, just as we entrust our souls with Him, He entrusts them back to us, morning after morning, day after day, despite whatever we may have done with those souls the day before, still faithful that eventually we’ll get it right. Now that’s a lot of faith.
Coming up next…
Now that you’re up and awake, we can go on with the real hard part: getting out of bed. And then: what do you do after that?