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.
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.
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.