Modeh Ani – The Jewish prayer of thanks first thing in the morning

Modeh Ani - Jewish Prayer of Thanks

The first prayer in the Jewish siddur is recited when we wake up in the morning, while we’re still in bed.

Here is my translation of the prayer, from the original Hebrew:

Thank you, oh living and eternal God, for mercifully returning my soul to me, great is your faithfulness.

Let’s break down the prayer and dive a bit deeper into its meaning.

The first words of the prayer, and therefore the first words that are supposed to come out of our mouth to start our new day, are “thank you.” What a beautiful and meaningful way to start our day! We don’t start off by asking God for something — and there is so much for us to ask for. We don’t cry out to him, or complain, or kvetch. Instead, we say acknowledge the awesome gift of life that He has given us and say Thank You.

What a powerful life lesson: to see the gifts that we have been blessed with and express our gratitude to the giver of those gifts.

Our first thanks are directed to God, the giver of life. But think of all the other people we owe thanks to — our parents, spouse, children, friends, and even random people we interact with who show us kindness. If we direct our awareness to the kindness that others are showing us, then we will be motivated to express our thanks to them. The Modeh Ani prayer is training us to do just that. To be aware of the gifts we receive and then to thank the giver for those gifts.

In the prayer we thank God “for mercifully returning my soul to me.” This refers to the Jewish teaching that our soul leaves our body when we sleep at night, and is returned to us in the morning. In fact, the Talmud refers to sleep as 1/60 of death. We can leave the science of it aside and just focus on the idea that when we wake up for a nights sleep, it’s as if we are being reborn. We are given the opportunity to look at the world with fresh eyes and a fresh outlook. A person who can achieve this state of being, where everyday is a brand new opportunity, is truly blessed, and the God who provides him or her with that blessing is truly merciful.

Another powerful lesson: to wake up in the morning and view each day as a new opportunity to achieve our goals.

The final part of the Modeh Ani prayer is a bit enigmatic — “great is your faithfulness.” At first glance the words seem to say that God is faithful or, in simple words, dependable. We can rely on God to be there for us. While this is true, it doesn’t quite fit into the original Hebrew text that reads, “Rabah Enumatecha” or “Great is your faith”.  Hmm…are we saying that God has great faith? In Himself? No, that can’t be right.

So whom does God have faith in? He has faith in us.[1]I heard this explanation from Rabbi J.J. Schachter who said it in the name of his father.

God has faith in us, that we will live another day in a positive manner, by doing good deeds and following His commandments. Like a parent who lets a young child carry a tray of glasses across the room for the first time. The parent knows that the child might fail and that the glasses might all come crashing down, but he also knows that in order for the child to learn he must give the child the opportunity to succeed and show the child that he believes in his ability to succeed. The parent will continue to closely monitor the child to make sure he doesn’t get hurt, but he will give the child the opportunity to succeed or fail, because he believes in the child’s potential to succeed.

God believes in our potential to succeed.

He has faith in us, and for that we our forever grateful — and we thank Him for believing in our potential every day we open our eyes.

The Lessons we learn from Modeh Ani:

  1. Be aware of the gifts you get and say Thank You to the one giving them.
  2. View each new day as a brand new opportunity to accomplish your goals and to make it meaningful.
  3. God believes in our potential to to succeed in leading a good, kind and meaningful life. Let’s not let Him down.

References

References
1 I heard this explanation from Rabbi J.J. Schachter who said it in the name of his father.

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