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Why is the Modeh Ani recited before the morning hand washing?

by Rabbi Yosef Resnick

  

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“Modeh Ani”, in which we thank G-d for returning our souls to us in the morning, is recited as soon as we open our eyes, while still lying in bed.


Mo-deh ah-nee li-fa-necha Melech chai vi-kayam she-he-che-zarta bee nish-mah-tee bi-chem-lah ra-bah emu-nah-te-cha.
[I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.]1 


Modeh Ani is said as soon as we awaken so that by remembering G-d’s omnipresence as soon as we open our eyes we will be ready to serve G-d with alacrity. Modeh Ani lays the foundation for a day of doing mitzvahs with joy and enthusiasm. We also are hopeful that this cognizance of G-d’s constant presence will remain with us all day long, as we go through our day-to-day affairs—keeping is on the straight path.


The Halachah is that prayers and blessings containing G-d’s name may not be recited until after we have washed. Since Modeh Ani does not contain G-d’s name, we are permitted (and obligated) to recite it upon awakening.2


The first thing a Jew does upon awakening in the morning - before having a moment to think, feel or begin functioning - is acknowledge that all that he has, indeed his very life and soul, is from G-d
I will close with a Chassidic insight into Modeh Ani. We begin the day by saying Modeh Ani with hands that are not only not clean, but are actually impure!


How is it that we are able to do this – indeed, required to do this? Because all of the impurities in the world cannot contaminate the "Modeh Ani" of a Jew. Certainly a person may be lacking in one respect or another, but his or her "Modeh Ani" always remains perfect.


What exactly is the “Modeh Ani” of a Jew, and why can it not become impure?


Kabbalah explains that there are five levels to the soul – nefesh, ruach, Neshamah, chayah, and the last and highest level, yechidah. The first four levels allow the possibility for imperfection and even impurity. But the yechidah, the highest level, is actually one with G-d’s essence—a veritable “piece” of G-d. Therefore, it cannot become impure.


The word “Modeh” can also be translated as “acknowledgment.” The first thing a Jew does upon awakening in the morning – before having a moment to think, feel or begin functioning – is acknowledge that all that he has, indeed his very life and soul, is from G-d.


Without thinking twice (or even once…) the Jew is ready to acknowledge this truth. This is because of the yechidah which is part of G-d, and innately senses and acknowledges His existence.


This is also the deeper reason that Modeh Ani does not contain any names of G-d. Since Modeh Ani is connected to the level of yechidah, which is connected to the essence of G-d, it transcends any particular divine name.3


Congratulations! You are now on your way to a spiritually elevated day filled with an awareness of G-d in all that you do!4

Footnotes

  • 1. Since we must say Modeh Ani as soon as we awaken, most people memorize it or hang the text next to their beds where they will see it in the morning.
  • 2. It is interesting to note, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe points out, that in Talmudic times Modeh Ani was not said. In its place, the prayer starting with the words “Elokai, neshamah...” was said. We now say this beautiful and poetic prayer as part of the morning blessings that we recite after washing our hands in the special way known as “netilat yadayim.” So, why do we say the simple Modeh Ani, which does not contain G-d's holy name, while our great-great-great-great Bubbies and Zaides in the times of the Talmud got to wake up and say "Elokai" -- which starts right off with one of G-d's names? It is explained that because our ancestors were on a higher spiritual level, they were able to say G-d's name when they first woke up, even before they ritually washed their hands.
  • 3. See “Why does G-d have so many names?” . (http://www.askmoses.com/en/article/286,2068723/Why-is-the-Modeh-Ani-recited-before-the-morning-hand-washing.html)
  • 4. Sources: Shulchan Aruch haKotzer, by Rabbi Doniel S. Wise. Empire Press, 1990. On the Essence of Chassidus, by Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Kehot Publications, 1986.

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Halachah
Jewish Law. All halachah which is applicable today is found in the Code of Jewish Law.
Chassidic
(Pl.: Chassidim; Adj.: Chassidic) A follower of the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the founder of "Chassidut." Chassidut emphasizes serving G-d with sincerity and joy, and the importance of connecting to a Rebbe (saintly mentor).
Kabbalah
Jewish mysticism. The word Kaballah means "reception," for we cannot physically perceive the Divine, we merely study the mystical truths which were transmitted to us by G-d Himself through His righteous servants.
Neshamah
The soul of a Jew. This soul belongs to anyone who was born to a Jewish mother or converted according to the dictates of Jewish Law. The soul is a spark of G-d Himself.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.