On Prayer: I Thank You - Modeh Ani - Part 1

On Prayer: I Thank You - Modeh Ani - Part 1

Dedicated in honor of Phillip Marcus. May Hashem grant him many years of nachas and bracha!

This Shabbos marks our first installment of Reflections on Prayer. It is our prayer that these will be informative, meaningful and uplifting pieces on basic prayers that will help enhance the prayeful words we say. We will endeavor to send us a short mini vort on the Parsha as well. 

"I Greatfully Thank You, living and eternal King, for You have returned my soul within me with compassion - abundant is your faithfulness!”

Prayer: Modeh Ani

How often and when: Once a day, first thing in the morning

Composed: Earliest appearance in Seder Avodas Hayom, 16th century [Rav Moshe ben Makhir of Tzfat] late contemporary of Rav Yosef Karo

Source : based on Eicha, 3:23 and Bereish Rabah,   78:1

And he said: let me go, for the day breaks (xxxii, 27). It is written, They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness (Eicha, 3:23).

R. Simeon b. Abba interpreted this: Because You renew us every morning, we know that great is Your  faithfulness to redeem us.

R. Alexandri interpreted it: From the fact that You renew us every morning, we know that great is Your  faithfulness to resurrect the dead.

Basic theme: The Jew’s gratitude for waking up alive with a renewed soul 

  1. Something Interesting: Modeh Ani is most famous for what it lacks, i.e. the name of God. Purposefully omitted, the intention was to negotiate the balance between the halachic requirements of not praying with unclean hands, with the desire to praise Hashem immediately upon awakening. The compromise was to create a text that alludes to Hashem without explicating it. R. Yaakov Emden, among others still objected to reciting Modeh Ani before netilas yadayim – for even if God is not mentioned, the intent of holiness still requires clean hands. After washing one's hands, the more complete praise/thanks to for the soul-returning appears in Elokai Neshama where we say:

v'ata atid litlah mimeni u'lehachizira bi l’atid lavokol z'man shehanesham v'kirbi modeh ani lefanecha. …The soul you have given me .. and will take from me and return it back in the future  So long as the soul is within me, I admit/thank  you

A follow-up halachic question to consider: How much of a non-prayer is it considered – for instance, may one say it in the bathroom?

  1. History: Modeh Ani does not appear in the Shulchan Aruch. It started out as a Kabbalistic/Sefaradi thing and made its way into the Ashkenazi world, appearing as early in the Ashkenazi world in a Siddur known Derech Yeshara in 1687.  It has now become the de rigueur wake-up text for all of Klal Yisrael.
  2. Grammatical-Halachic Question: Do women say modeh ani or modah (the proper feminine conjugation) ani?

Most women probably say modeh, because that is what appears in the siddur[1]. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rav Chaim Kanievsky feel that one should opt for the more grammatically proper modah, as the prayer does not constitute a verse – and thus may be modified. (See Halichos Shlomo-Perek 2) Others argue.

4.  A thought: We thank God for returning our soul. The rationalist scoffs: We haven’t gone anywhere. Sleep is a physiological process. The mystic retorts: but why did God make sleep in the first place

Clearly, Judaism considers sleep to be far more spiritually significant than a mere physical restorative process. Consider the following Talmudic statement:[Berachos 57b]

Five things are a sixtieth part of something else: namely, fire, honey, Sabbath, sleep and a dream.

Fire is one-sixtieth part of Gehinnom. Honey is one-sixtieth part of manna. Sabbath is one-sixtieth part of the world to come. Sleep is one-sixtieth part of death. A dream is one-sixtieth part of prophecy.

In other words, the minimum significant amount of anything is 1/60th. Less than that is null and void[2]. Thus, sleep is a most minimal microcosm of death.  Several things fall into place. If sleep is like death, then

  1. mitah (bed) as  mishnaic term for coffin seems logical. If sleep is a partial death, then a coffin is the place of lengthy sleep.
  2. … the buried dead may be called the yishenei afar, those that sleep in the earth.
  3. … our evening prayer that I fear lest I sleep until death seems plausible [the process has begun] 

Conscious, intelligent powers recede [listening to a sleep-shmoozer is often not pretty]. The basic physical processes remain, while the soul/intellect seems to have skipped town… to go where? 

And every night, man’s spirit [neshama] strips itself of this garb [the body] and ascends … and then the spirit returns … and adorns its garments … and on this the verse states [Zohar,Bereishis 95]

R. Bisni, R. Aha, and R. Johanan in R. Meir's name said: The neshamah (soul) fills the body, and when man sleeps it ascends and draws life for him from above [Bereishis Rabah, 14:11]

A process of neshama renewal precedes its re-entry. What’s the point? Consider this powerful thought of the Lubavitcher Rebbe [lifted from chabad.org]

If we didn't sleep, there would be no tomorrow. Life would be a single, seamless today. Our every thought and deed would be an outgrowth of all our previous thoughts and deeds. There would be no new beginnings in our lives, for the very concept of a new beginning would be alien to us.

Sleep means that we have the capacity to not only improve but also transcend ourselves. To open a new chapter in life that is neither predicted nor enabled by what we did and were up until now. To free ourselves of yesterday's constraints and build a new, recreated self.

There is much more here as well. Zohar (Chayei Sarah 5) relates of Hashem’s nightly judgment of the soul to determine whether it shall be reinstated. Its return means that the soul won its right to another day.

Thus, Modeh Ani - upon my wake up, affirms that there is something of Divine significance for me to do in this world. It also means that I have the power to not let yesterday defeat me.

One more notion of sleep: The Jew in exile: [Shir Hashirim Rabah, 5:2]

I am asleep in respect of the end, but my heart is awake for the redemption.1 I am asleep in respect of the redemption, but the heart of the Holy One, blessed be He, is awake to redeem me.

From self-redemption to complete redemption! The exiled Jew wakes up ever-mindful and always pining for redemption. Hashem just as you have woken me up[3], wake up Your nation and bring us home.

5. A delicious story [most likely apocryphal]

In a United States convention of neurologists from all over the world, a main topic was the phenomenon of people fainting upon getting up from bed (when they wake up from sleeping).

Professor Linda McMaron of Great Britain gave a lengthy speech regarding her study on this issue. She elaborated that after many years of study and investigation on this subject, she came to the conclusion that the fainting is caused by the sharp transfer between laying down and standing up. Professor McMaron said that it takes 12 second for the blood to flow from the feet to the brain. But when a person quickly stands up upon waking up, the blood gets 'thrown' to the brain too quickly and the result is fainting. She suggested that each person, even one that does not have a tendency to faint, upon waking up should sit on the bed, and count slowly till 12 to avoid dizziness, weakness, and/or fainting. Her speech was rewarded with loud applause and enthusiastic feedbacks.

Another Professor, a Jewish religious man, asked permission to speak.

'By us, the Jews, there is a tradition to say a prayer of thanks to the Creator of the World for meriting us to wake up healthy and whole. The prayer is said immediately upon waking up, while one is still on the bed and sitting down. There are 12 words in this prayer and if one regulates himself to say it slowly with concentration, it takes exactly 12 seconds to says it... 12 words in 12 seconds.

He said the prayer slowly in Hebrew: Mode Ani Lefanecha Melech Chai VeKayam, Shehechezarta Bi Nishmati Bechemla Raba Emunatecha - 'I thank Thee, O living and eternal King, because Thou hast graciously restored my soul to me; great is Thy faithfulness.' The auditorium burst into a standing applause that roared throughout the auditorium.

This time, it was for the Creator of the World.

Next Week, iy”h: Modeh Ani, part 2 Good Shabbos- Asher Brander  - To Sponsor or Dedicate Reflections, please email rabbi@kehilla.org

[1] Cf. the new Koren Sacks Siddur that distinguishes as does the Rinat Yisrael Siddur as opposed to the standard siddurim. The Roedelheim Sfas Emes Siddur, the most widely used Siddur in the Orthodox communities of pre-war Germany, also changed the nusach for Woman to Modah Ani. – as did R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Halikhot Shlomo, Hilkhot Tefilla, sec. 2, For Further research cf. Devar Halakha, no. 5; R. Efraim Greenblatt, Resp. Rivevot Efrayyim, I, sec. 37, no. 2; Siddur Rinat Yisrael, ed. Siddur Hazon Ovadiah ha-Shalem (Jerusalem: Yeshivat Hazon Ovadiah, 5748); R. Isaac Yosef, Dinei Hinukh Katan uBar Mitzva, Kuntres Dinei Hinukh Katan, sec. 1. [w/ thanks to R. Aryeh Frimer for this research] Cf. also Aishe Avraham Orach Chaim 46


[2] It hus follows that the law of bitul b'shishim requires there to be a 60 to 1 ratio [1/61]

[3] In this vein, the Yerushalmi’s version of twice daily Modeh Ani seems quite striking:

בשחר צריך לאדם לומר מודה אני לפניך ה' אלהי ואלהי אבותי שהוצאתני מאפילה לאורה במנחה צריך אדם לומר מודה אני לפניך ה' אלהי ואלהי אבותי כשם שזכיתני לראות החמה במזרח כך זכיתי לראות במערב בערב צריך לומר יהי רצון מלפניך ה' אלהי ואלהי אבותי כשם שהייתי באפילה והוצאתני לאורה כך תוציאני מאפילה לאורה