Modeh Ani: “Renewed Every Morning”

12 11 2008

The words “שֶהֶחֱזַרְתָּ בִי נִשְׁמָתִי בְחֶמְלָה” “for you have restored my soul with mercy,” are not easy for one who has difficulty believing that her soul is taken away at night and is returned in the morning.

Fortunately, the end of the Vilna Gaon‘s commentary on Modeh Ani (in סידור מאורי הגר”א) points out another possibility. First, he explains the traditional belief that every morning, we get a new נְשָׁמָה, or soul. However, when he quotes, as his proof, a verse from Lamentations (3:23), he goes in a different direction. That verse is not about our souls being new every morning, but, rather, about God’s mercies being renewed every morning.

I’ve included both that verse and some surrounding verses, since I find them to be particularly beautiful.

כא זֹאת אָשִׁיב אֶל-לִבִּי, עַל-כֵּן אוֹחִיל. 21 But this do I call to mind, therefore have I hope. {S}
כב חַסְדֵי יְהוָה כִּי לֹא-תָמְנוּ, כִּי לֹא-כָלוּ רַחֲמָיו 22 The kindness of the Lord has not ended, His mercies are not spent.
כג חֲדָשִׁים, לַבְּקָרִים, רַבָּה, אֱמוּנָתֶךָ 23 They are renewed every morning–ample is Your faithfulness!
כד חֶלְקִי יְהוָה אָמְרָה נַפְשִׁי, עַל-כֵּן אוֹחִיל לוֹ. 24 ‘The Lord is my portion,’ I say with full heart; ‘Therefore will I hope in Him.’ {S}

(Lamentations 3:23 also seems to be the source for the phrase “רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ,” the last two words of the Modeh Ani that I wrote about here.)

According to the Vilna Gaon, just as God’s mercies and compassions are new every morning, so are our souls. I wonder if I can try to think about that when I wake up every morning, and burn that as fuel, as it were, to propel myself out of bed in the morning.

The phrase “כִּי לֹא-כָלוּ רַחֲמָיו,” “His mercies are not spent” reminds me of a line from MaimonidesMishneh Torah:

וּמְצֻוִּין אָנוּ לָלֶכֶת בִּדְרָכִים אֵלּוּ הַבֵּינוֹנִיִּים, וְהֶם הַדְּרָכִים הַטּוֹבִים וְהַיְּשָׁרִים, שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר “וְהָלַכְתָּ, בִּדְרָכָיו” (דברים כח,ט).  [ו] כָּךְ לִמְּדוּ בְּפֵרוּשׁ מִצְוָה זוֹ:  מַה הוּא נִקְרָא חַנּוּן, אַף אַתָּה הֱיֵה חַנּוּן; מַה הוּא נִקְרָא רַחוּם, אַף אַתָּה הֱיֵה רַחוּם…
רמב”ם, משנה תורה, הלכות דעות, פרק א, הלכה ו

We are commanded to walk in these middle ways, and these are the good and straight ways, as it says, “And you shall go in his ways” (Deuteronomy 28:9). Thus we learned to interpret this commandment: Just as [God] is called compassionate, so should you be compassionate. Just as God is called merciful; so should you be merciful…
Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Deot 1:6

I feel that just as it is  important to emulate not only God’s kindness to others in our interactions with others, it is also important to emulate God’s mercy and compassion on us when we relate to ourselves. When I wake up in the morning, and finish Modeh Ani with the words “שֶהֶחֱזַרְתָּ בִי נִשְׁמָתִי בְחֶמְלָה, רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ” I will try to remember both that we get a new chance each morning, just as God’s mercies are renewed each morning, and that we are allowed to be compassionate and kind to ourselves, just as we praise God’s ever enduring mercy.




4 responses

25 11 2008
Aryeh Bernstein

Maybe “חסד” and “נשמה” are really reflections of each other. The instantiation par excellence of God’s חסד is creation. (The Rabbinic understanding of “עולם חסד ייבנה” as “The world was established via/on the basis of חסד”.) The meaning of חסד is giving something to another not out of debt but purely out of love and generosity. In that light, creation is the ultimate חסד, since there is no הבה אמינא that the created could have “deserved” it, since s/he didn’t exist. Our נשמה is the direct form of our God-given life — the חסד of God filling our limp bodies with life. This, of course, happens truly only once in our lives — when we are born. But we can approach appreciating it every morning when we awake from our inert, sleeping state and return to activity. Thanking God for restoring our neshamah is an affirmation of the immense generosity which is the gift of life, at that time of the day when we can set the tone for deciding what to do with it.

30 12 2008
Joshua Ladon

I just wanted to pass along another take about reflecting on the world and mindfulness. Here is the link to Reb Shmuel Lewis’s weekly sicha, he has 15 minutes on modeh ani.

I will add, I don’t think I saw the last phrase in “Modeh ani” as a conditional, rather as an explanation of God’s greatness. So, i am not (just) thankful for my soul being returned rather God’s restoration of my soul is the relational experience. I am awed by experience, appreciative for existence (listen to R. Shmuel) and I am also a part of this process, for God includes me by restoring my soul.

1 04 2015

G-d impressed upon me the same thing. His mercies are new every morning. So ought mine to be . . . thank you for this good article.

1 04 2015

Reblogged this on kingjjblog and commented:
G-d’s mercies are new every morning. And so ought mine to be.

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