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The Secret to a Good Relationship

The Secret to a Good Relationship

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© Ahuva Klein
© Ahuva Klein

Naomi is married to a very busy, goal-oriented individual. She often laments how due to his overloaded schedule, they rarely spend quality time with each other.

One day, Naomi phoned her husband to tell him that a very important client, who had been trying to meet with him for a long time, had called. She had taken the initiative and scheduled a meeting for 8:00 that evening at an elegant restaurant in a downtown hotel.

Naomi’s husband thanked her for her efforts and assured her that he’d rearrange his schedule to make the meeting.

At 7:45 PM, Naomi's husband drives up to the hotel; Bikkurim teaches us to establish priorities in our lifeby 7:55 he’s seated in a quiet corner of the restaurant, at a discreet table conducive for discussion. By 7:57 PM, he has smoothed his tie and ordered drinks for himself and his client. At a minute to 8:00, he clicks off his cell phone and clears his mind from all the day’s issues, so nothing would distract him.

A few moments later, to his utter astonishment, Naomi enters the restaurant dressed in an exquisite outfit. He watches as she purposefully makes her way to his table and gracefully sits down opposite him.

His perplexed expression briefly turns to annoyance, then to anger, but finally settles on admiration as it dawns on him that his wife is the “important client who had been trying to meet him for a long time.” She has gone through this elaborate scheme just to make him appreciate that she was no less worthy of his time and attention than any lucrative client.

Their hour together in the quiet corner of that elegant hotel, with his cell phone turned off and all other appointments canceled, was productive and enjoyable for both of them. So much so, that hopefully Naomi won’t have to rely on such ruses to make it happen again—more regularly . . .


This week’s Torah reading begins with the mitzvah of bikkurim, the “first fruit” offering:

It will be, when you come into the land which G‑d gives you for an inheritance . . . that you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the earth, and you shall put [them] into a basket and go to the place which your G‑d will choose to have His Name dwell there. You shall come to the kohen who will be serving in those days, and say to him, “I declare this day to G‑d that I have come to the land which the L‑rd swore to our forefathers to give us.” (Deuteronomy 26:1–3)

The bikkurim had to be the very best quality, produced in the Holy Land, from the very first fruits to ripen. Before partaking in any fruit for oneself, these fruits were brought to the Holy Temple to express gratitude to G‑d for the opportunity of settling in the Land of Israel and for the blessing of this produce. 1

Maimonides explains that “everything that is for the sake of G‑d should be of the best and most beautiful. When one builds a house of prayer, it should be more beautiful than his own dwelling. When one feeds the hungry, he should feed him of the best and sweetest of his table. Whenever one designates something for a holy purpose, he should sanctify the finest of his possessions, as it is written (Leviticus 3:16), ‘The choicest to G‑d.’”2

In devoting the “first-ripened fruits” of his life to G‑d, a person in effect is saying: The Modeh Ani prayer represents the unassailable unity between G‑d and the Jewish people, our inner and unbreakable connection Here lies the focus of my existence. Quantitatively, this may represent but a small part of what I am and have; but the purpose of everything else I do and possess is to enable this percentile of spirit to rise above my matter-clogged life.

Bikkurim teaches us to establish priorities in our life. In the myriad responsibilities of the “daily grind,” it reminds us to give precedence—and devote our strongest, freshest resources—to those people and to those values that we most cherish.

How often do we neglect to schedule quality time with our spouses, to reignite the spark that originally attracted us to each other? Instead, how much of our time together is wasted on listing all the mundane chores that need to be completed?

How often do we allocate time for our children at the end of our day, after we’ve been depleted of energy or initiative to really relate to the issues of their lives?

How often are we so occupied with our pursuit of material success that we leave but a few crumbs of energy to satiate our spiritual growth? Do we connect with our Creator in only a few rushed moments of distracted prayers, just to assuage our guilt before tackling the “real” tasks of our day?

Bikkurim teaches us to take a step back and prioritize—that the first and best of our fruit, of our time, energy and resources, must be devoted to G‑d.

To realize what’s important in our life and schedule that first. To recognize who we cherish most in our life, and connect regularly with those individuals.

The other, marginal details of life will somehow find their rightful place.


In this way, the bikkurim is similar to the Modeh Ani prayer recited the moment we open our sleepy eyes, thanking G‑d for restoring our soul and enabling us to serve Him yet another day.3 From the youngest child to the oldest senior, the wisest sage to the unlettered layman, we all begin our day with these first words.

In our eagerness to declare our gratitude to our Creator, we dare to address G‑d with ritually unclean hands. Only after having uttered our short prayer of thanks do we ritually wash our hands and recite other prayers, which basically reiterate the Modeh Ani.

At first glance, our sequence of prayers seems superfluous. The Modeh Ani contains no mention of any of G‑d’s holy names, because we are forbidden to pronounce any of these names in a state of ritual impurity. This being the case, shouldn’t we rather wait before reciting the Modeh Ani so that we can address our Creator properly?4

The Rebbe explains5 that the Modeh Ani prayer represents the unassailable unity between G‑d and the Jewish people, our inner and unbreakable connection.

That is why it is so important to recite this prayer the moment we wake up. Our gestures, even if imperfect or defective, are an indication of what truly matters to us By pronouncing this upon our first moments of consciousness, even with impure hands, we are stating that all the impurities or negativities of the world cannot break our inner connection with G‑d. We are declaring unequivocally that this bond is indispensable, remembered upon our first waking moments, despite any state of impurity or defect.

This is the deeper reason why the Modeh Ani prayer does not mention any of the names of G‑d. Rather than with a “name”—in a removed, third-person context—we addresses G‑d directly and intimately in second person, as “You.”

Since the Modeh Ani originates from the essence of the soul, it is likewise directed intimately to the essence of G‑d, which cannot be alluded to by any particular name. This is precisely the uniqueness of the Modeh Ani. While other prayers address G‑d through divine names reflecting particular attributes, the Modeh Ani addresses our inner, quintessential and indestructible bond with Him.


Like the bikkurim, the Modeh Ani teaches us the importance of establishing our priorities in the order of our day and of our life.

But the Modeh Ani also teaches us that when we show what’s truly valuable to us—when we establish what takes precedence in our first waking moments—it’s all right if we don’t do so perfectly or most eloquently. G‑d ignores our ritual impurity because we are demonstrating the strength of our absolute commitment to Him.

Similarly, a husband who takes out a few moments from his tight schedule to phone his wife and ask her how her day is progressing doesn’t need to worry about expressing himself with the most poetic or endearing words. He doesn’t have to have a long or deep discussion with her; his thoughtful short call alone is evidence enough of his love.

A mother who empathizes with her hurt child doesn’t need to consult a psychology book to find the right words or method. Just her sitting attentively with her child makes him realize her devotion.

A person who undergoes a long trip to comfort his friend after the loss of a beloved one doesn’t need to worry about what words of wisdom he will offer. He need not say anything at all; his very presence indicates his care.

Similarly, the Modeh Ani prayer, said upon our arising in the morning, can be said with ritually impure hands. The very fact that this is the first thing that we utter is enough of an indication of where our priorities lie.


By saying the Modeh Ani prayer in our first conscious moments, or by offering the bikkurim from the first of our produce, we are demonstrating our priorities. Our gestures, even if imperfect or defective, are an indication of what truly matters to us.

But most importantly, the bikkurim reminds us not to allow our lives to become so entangled with trivialities that we forget the main purpose of why we’re actually here.

Footnotes
1.
Mishneh Torah, Laws of Bikkurim 2:1 and 2:3.
2.
Ibid., Laws of Things Forbidden to Be Brought on the Altar 7:11.
3.
The Modeh Ani prayer reads as follows: “I give thanks to You, living and eternal King, for having restored within me my soul with mercy. Great is Your trust.”
4.
The halachic reason for this is because we must acknowledge the soul’s restoration immediately upon awakening, since it is forbidden for a person to enjoy anything in creation without the appropriate blessing. See Talmud, Berachot 35a.
5.
Kuntres Inyanah Shel Torat HaChassidut, chs. 9–11 (available in English translation: On the Essence of Chassidut, Kehot Publication Society, New York, 1978).
Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.
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Anonymous September 2, 2015

I love this article. So inspiring and uplifting. Helps reduce us why we're here altogether. Reply

Rolando VA September 2, 2015

Identity either obligated or negates connectedness to G-d. So does Modeh Ani. Reply

Ryan M Gelb Woodmere August 31, 2015

The secret of a good relationship Chana Weisberg, this article on good relationships is a good one. I like your example of how a husband is away from home working and he has the decency to call his wife just to hear her voice or see how her day is going. The Modeh Ani is a personal relationship with G-d and being personal with others especially others you love must be just as good as being personal with G-d. Reply

sunil subba India August 30, 2015

To accept a person as she or he is takes a lot of practice and at times judgemental thoughts do arise but through practice it becomes easy.To receive uncondiotional love from a person really helps a person to change. Reply

Anonymous September 6, 2006

I was just thinking to myself last night, about the people most important in my life, like your article says, the ones we give the most to. I was thinking that what matters in my relationship with them is intent and effort. This I thought of in order to remind myself to not be judgmental. Then I told myself, "outcomes are up to Hashem." Thanks again... Reply

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