Vayishlakh (Genesis 32:4-36:43)

14 Nov
November 14, 2014

Every morning when I wake up, the first thing that I do is offer a silent prayer of thanks for being alive. The traditional morning blessing (which I recite silently to myself in Hebrew while still lying in bed), says modeh ani lefanekha, melekh khai vekayam, she-he-khezarta bee nishmati bekhemla, rabba emunatekha – “I give thanks before You, Power-that-is-Eternal, who has returned my soul with compassion, great is Your faithfulness.”

I think this is a startling and remarkable prayer. First it is remarkable in that it suggest that I am a body which has a soul within it and that while I sleep the soul leaves and returns to God (for spiritual renewal and rejuvenation? For a divine Torah lesson?) and then God consciously returns my soul back to my body so that I can awaken to meet a new day.

Second it is startling for the rabbis of old to suggest by this prayer that what I need to thank God for is God’s faith in me. It is as if God has faith both in me and in what I might accomplish during the day ahead as a witness of God’s presence in the world. Therefore as an act of divine faith God gives me back my soul for another day.

What is amazing to me is the idea that every day that I wake up is a sign that God trusts me, that God has faith in me, that I am the recipient of God’s faithfulness to the degree that I have another opportunity to fulfill the sacred Jewish mission letaken olam bemalkhut shaddai – “To repair the world as an expression of God’s kingdom.”

For me this simple prayer each morning gives me direction, inspiration, and an internal spiritual challenge all at the same time. It makes waking up so much more than merely waking up. It turns every day into a gift from God to me personally, into an act of faith from God and therefore a challenge of my faith as well. I can’t sufficiently describe just how powerful an experience the recitation of this simple prayer has become for me every single day.

It is my morning spiritual wake-up call. A challenge to be the best that lies within me, a challenge to act in such a way as to be worthy of the gift of life which comes free to me every single day. I can’t help but experience my life as filled with just a little more awe, filled with just a little more meaning, filled with just a little more holiness every time I begin my day by meditating on the words of this modeh ani prayer.

So it is no surprise that I thought of the power of my morning spiritual ritual as I read in this week’s Torah portion that as Jacob was about to meet up with his potentially murderous brother after twenty years of estrangement, he turns to God and prays, “I’m not worthy of all the kindness and all the faithfulness that you have done to your servant…”

It’s no wonder that Jacob, too is moved to thank God for the remarkable faith that God has shown in him as evidenced by the wealth and abundance which has come his way. He sees his success as a sign of God’s faith in who he is, and I believe it was because of his certainly that God trusted him to grow into a better person day by day that he had the courage ultimately to face his brother Esau once again.

I can’t help but wonder what the world would be like if every adult and every child awoke each day with that same sense of wonder and awe and gratitude, experiencing their very lives as precious and rare gifts from God. I truly believe that the attitude of gratitude and profound sense of humility it would inevitably nurture just might transform the very world itself, one soul at a time.

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