Modeh Ani: “Waking Up on the Right Side of the Bed”
By Rabbi Danielle Upbin
For some, waking up is the first challenge of the day. When you have late-night binge watched on Netflix or stayed up late (again) working on a project, how are you supposed to “rise and shine”? In Jewish terms, “One should strengthen himself like a lion to get up in the morning for the service of his Creator.” (Mishnah Brurah 1:1) Sounds great! But then add the reality of awakening to the cell-phone-fumble, getting screen-blinded, pressing snooze a hundred times, begging our technology for “one more GPS minute” – it isn’t easy.
According to our tradition, however, no matter when, how or where we wake up in the morning, we are soul-directed to re-orient our thoughts to loftier words than the ones we might want to say at day break – Instead, we utter “Modeh Ani”– the quintessence of gratitude.
Modeh Ani L’fanecha
Melech chai v’kayam
She’he’che’zarta bi nishmati
מוֹדֶה אֲנִי לְפָנֶֽיךָ, מֶֽלֶךְ חַי וְקַיָּם, שֶׁהֶחֱזַֽרְתָּ בִּי נִשְׁמָתִי בְּחֶמְלָה, רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶֽךָ
Thankful, I am before You
Living and enduring King,
for returning my soul to me,
how great is Your faith.
Yes, the translation sounds like“Yoda back from the dead”, but that is just the nature of translation. The full force of the prayer comes from the wisdom that “gratitude” – not “ego” – is our raison d’etre. The rabbis who composed this prayer believed that sleep was a mini-death. To awaken from sleep was to be given another shot at life. To die another day, as it were. But the prayer also has a wider application for the modern riser:
The first conscious thought of our day is “Thank You”. Not just for another day, but for all that the day entails, all the wonderful people in it, all of the new opportunities awaiting us. Without these words, our body wants to say – “five more minutes” or “bathroom please”, or “need caffeine now”. But, our soul won’t have it. Those creaturely habits can wait a second while we direct our consciousness toward the amazing fact of the New Day and having the wherewithal to express gratitude.
The second element of this prayer is the clincher. Usually when we think about faith, we tune into our faith in God. However, this prayer stipulates that God has faith in us. Rabba Emunatecha – How Great is Your Faith.
A teacher of mine in Sefad, Rabbi Gedalia Gurfein, once taught about this: It is obvious, he said, that God has faith in you – because you are here to tell the tale. The real question is – do YOU have faith in you? Do you believe in your own ability, your own power, your own purpose? Those are the essential questions accompanying our first conscious breath of the day.
May each of us strive to greet the day again and again with the positive power of faith – in God, in humanity, in ourselves. May this faith energize us to power through our many gifted days.