Tag Archives: Waking

Parshat Balak (2012)

Parshat Balak
Numbers 22:2 – 25:9

What Is Divination and Soothsaying? What is the problem with working magic?

CharmsAs we come into this parsha we need to once again remember that the majority of this story is going to surround the actions of Balaam, and not Balak from whom this parsha is named. (see Parshat Balak 2011) The Torah expresses that he possessed some sort of prophetic abilities, even though it is quite obvious that he is not an Israelite. His gentile status is revealed in how he is astonished by Israel and considers them “the other” in his utterances. Though we are not sure exactly where he was from, early Torah translations and variations identify his land of Pethor as being in Ammon; this is north of Moab, being north of the Dead Sea and east of the Jordan River. This is supported by us finding verses here and in other places that further identify the area as Amon, and being in Mesopotamia; simply put, the present day Syria. The king of Moab sent for him in order to curse the camps of Israel.

What we have to ask ourselves first is what type of prophet is this? How can we consider this person a prophet at all? We cannot deny that he had an ability to connect to the Divine because he even refers to G-d by His explicit name; Havayah – Hashem, the Ineffable Name of G-d (יהוה). He knew G-d well enough to understand who He was, and how wrong his involvement was all throughout the story and yet still goes along with the scheme. I would suggest that he possessed prophetic abilities, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a prophet. He had spiritual sensitivity, but was not in-tune enough to hear the voice of any moral conscience. He was driven more by greed than mysticism. At best all we can consider him some sort of mercenary prophet.

In reality, he is really more of a magician than a prophet. Even then we must understand that by considering him a prophet we aren’t saying much about the quality of the individual or their abilities. A navi was always understood as more of being a person who speaks for an official purpose, generally regarding things that are of contemporary concern to the people whom they represent. In our scriptures we have other examples of people who were not morally right who experienced the state of navuah – the state of prophetic utterance; the officers of the evil King Saul and even the king himself were said to be overcome and immobilized by a state of prophecy when they were on their campaign of oppression and murder. (see 1 Samuel 19:18-24) Their appointed status seems to merit their spiritual experience, not their character. And so it is with Balaam.

In fact there is nothing all that mystical about the word prophecy in Hebrew anyhow. Navuah is not magic. If we look at the roots for the word navuah we find that the scriptures reveal that its source word Niv means “sayings.” A Navi is just a person of official capacity that is good with words, so G-d utilizes them. (see Isaiah 57:19) They know how to entice people with the G-d-given ability to provide the sweetened fruit of their lips.

For all his spiritual abilities and exceptional nature, we need to remember the bottom line is that he was a man whose morals were for sale. He was an opportunist and corrupt, but he wasn’t exactly dishonest. He fully disclosed that he had no real abilities other than what G-d would allow. (see Numbers 22:18) He had no true power at all, he was just able to read the signs around him. And even then, not even well enough to control the ecstatic state of prophecy that would overtake him. He wasn’t all that impressive in the end. He was just a magician, using good observations and a lot of dramatic tricks. This was the norm. So much so the norm that he would instead point out the exceptionalism of Israel in this matter. In astonishment he would declare the words:

“For there is no sorcery in Jacob,

and there is no soothsaying in Israel.

And in time it will be said of Jacob

and of Israel: ‘What has G-d done?’”

| Ki lo-nachash beYa’akov

| velo kesem beYisra’el

| ka’et ye’amer le-Ya’akov

| ule-Yisra’el mah-pa’al El

Numbers 23:23

In his observations about the spiritual practices of Israel he points out that there is no nachash in the descendants of Jacob, also called Israel. Generally we understand this to mean divination or sorcery. What this mean is to figure out something by use of omens, augury (observance of animal related omens) or spell-casting. A nachash is a spell or enchantment.

Actually enchantment (nachash; noun, masc.) is probably the best way of describing this in biblical terms. You see there is a drawn mental image that might explain the entomology of the word. Nachash (also a noun, masc.) is also understood to mean a snake as well. Charming snakes is one of the oldest tricks in the books. In the book of Exodus we see Moses’ rod turns into a nachash, a snake or viper (see Exodus 4:3). But this was so well achieved as a parlor trick that even Pharaoh’s magicians accomplished a similar feat with water-serpents (see Exodus 7:9), so they felt unimpressed.

To us modern Hebrew speakers, an everyday and more common understanding isn’t so impressive for us either. We are less than impressed with the practice of nachash, as sorcery and enchantment. To nichesh (verb) is generally understood merely to mean to guess, to speculate, hypothesize and make conjecture.

This is the cheesy side of magic. We generally see magic as a bunch of tricks and performance art. Modern people like us don’t see anything special about “magic.” Which we comely associate with the everyday word kesem, this is the more correct word when it comes to magic. To kosem means to captivate a person, to entice them, to allure them; thus when we call a person a kosem, we are calling them a magician but what we really mean is soothsayer because they are just using mysticism and spiritual tones to pacifying people.

In purely secular terms the correct word for kesem would be illusionism. A kosem does things that seem impossible ordinarily, but have logical explanations for the phenomenon in the end. The skill of their “craft” was more dependent on being good at entertainment in the end.

But there was some element of actual physical craft that was part of this of the kosem’s profession. A kosem in the biblical age was a person that someone went to for a physical form of divining, it was not something nearly as passive and suggestive as nachash. Kesem bares similar roots for many words that relate to cutting, specifically with the connotation of wood or fruit cutting. For this reason it is associated with wooden pieces used as lots for divining. So much so that in modern Hebrew keisamim meanstoothpicks.” By reading the way they portioned themselves once cast one would decipher a person’s fate; in Arabic they still utilize a word for this, qismah to this day; from this is derived the Turkish word adopted into the English language for fate, kismet.

The kosem wasn’t okay with just letting things be. Balaam was not willing to do any form of physical sorcery, it seems. But not everyone is so upright. Sure, Balaam was a wicked man by any measure. But he was only willing to go so far. Not everyone is so reserved when it comes to this. Naturally when one involves themselves in tapping into magical arts they often find themselves taking it to another level and try to change their presumed fate though witchcraft. This reality is driven home to us by the fact that the messengers of Balak seem to have expected him to resort to this.

And they came, the elders of Moab

and the elders of Midian,

with charms in their hands

and they came to Balaam and they spoke

to him the message of Balak.”

| Vayelechu ziknei Moav

| vezikney Midian

| uksamim beyadam

| vayavo’u el-Bil’am vayedaberu

| elav divrei Valak.

Numbers 22:7

Again whereas nashash can seem to be more passive, through suggestiveness and seeking intuition; kesem is more active and includes physical acts. To mikasim, engage in magical arts and to spell-cast (mak’sim), is completely related to people using physical items in order to work their magic. Notice the commentary of Rashi:

And divination in their hands:

with all forms of charms (kesamim)

so that he could not say:

‘I don’t have any ritual items with me.’

Another way of read it is

this omen

the elders of Midian took with them…”

וקסמים בידם: |

כל מיני קסמים, |

שלא יאמר |

אין כלי תשמישי עמי. |

דבר אחר |

קֶסֶם זה |

נטלו בידם זקני מדין |

Rashi on Numbers 22:7

One of the points that is pointed out by our rabbis in their translations and their commentaries on the Talmud is that the acts of a kosem is to take ordinary things, enchant them in order to reflect their desires, and then cast them as an act of the Divine Will. Instead of being in-tuned with the situation and proactive in adverting their disaster by their own actions, they instead want to change the world around them. They do that sympathetically by taking items created by G-d, manipulating them in a certain way and then trying to strong-arm the orders of the universe to submit to their will. Instead of mitigating and preparing, all too often the simpletons think they can change they whole world to suit them. By taking elements of nature and tweaking them, they mistakenly believe they can manipulate the Divine Will and the order of the universe. (see Talmud Sanhedrin 81b; also related commentary of 19th century American Talmudist Rabbi Marcus Jastrow)

The Rambam has the following to say regarding magic:

ודברים האלו כולן |

דברי שקר וכזב |

הן והם שהטעו בהן |

עובדי כוכבים |

הקדמונים לגויי הארצות |

כדי שינהגו אחריהן |

ואין ראוי לישראל |

שהם חכמים מחוכמים |

להמשך בהבלים אלו |

ולא להעלות |

על לב שיש תועלת |

בהן שנאמר |

“כי לא נחש ביעקב |

ולא קסם בישראל” |

ונאמר |

“כי הגוים האלה אשר אתה יורש אותם אל מעוננים |

ואל קוסמים ישמעו |

ואתה לא כן |

וגו’” |



כל המאמין בדברים האלו |

וכיוצא בהן |

ומחשב בלבו שהן אמת |

ודבר חכמה |

אבל התורה אסרתן אינן |

אלא מן הסכלים |

ומחסרי הדעת |

ובכלל הנשים |

והקטנים |

שאין דעתן שלימה |

אבל בעלי החכמה |

ותמימי הדעת |

ידעו בראיות ברורות |

שכל אלו הדברים |

שאסרה תורה |

אינם דברי חכמה |

אלא תהו והבל |

שנמשכו בהן חסרי |

הדעת ונטשו כל דרכי האמת |

בגללן ומפני זה |

אמרה תורה |

כשהזהירה על כל אלו ההבלים |

“תמים תהיה |


עם ה’ |

אלהיך”: |


“And all of these things

are matters of falsehood and lies,

and they are the very means through which

the idol worshipers

fooled the nations of the world

into following them.

And it is not proper for Israel,

who are exceptionally wise,

to follow after these vanities,

nor to entertain the possibility

that they have any benefit.

As it is said [in the Torah]

“there is no divination in Jacob,

nor charming in Israel.”

And it is stated,

“For these nations that you will inherit

listen to the omen-readers and charmers;

but for you, it is not so

[…that Hashem, your G-d, should permit you to do

so].” (Deut:18:14)


Anyone who believes in these things

and things like them,

and thinks in his heart that they are true

and wise matters,

even though the Torah has prohibited them,

he is one of the mindless

and ignorant,

and is grouped among the “wives”

and immature

whose mind is lacking.

But those who possess wisdom

and sound mind

knows by clear demonstration

that all of these things

that the Torah prohibits

are not things of wisdom;

rather, they are emptiness and vanity

that fools stray after,

and all of the paths of truth

have been corrupted because of them.

Because of this the Torah states,

when it warns us about these vanities,

“You shall be simple

[or perfect; uncomplicated; whole-hearted]

with Hashem,

your G-d:” (Deut. 18:13)

[see Parshat Chukat 2011]

Mishneh Torah, Avodah Kohavim, Chapter 11, § 16

Rambam, Rabbi Mosheh ben-Maimon, Maimonidies;

the 12th Century Spain and Egypt

It is undeniable that our tradition forbids the use of charms and magical items. It is our goal to be unison with the seasons of blessing. We want to be on the same page as nature and G-d so that we don’t miss out. But we aren’t so foolish enough to think that we can change the order of the world to suit our own purposes. Anything that we hold as a charm is forbidden to us, we can’t warp the world nor should we warp our minds minds with such foolishness.

But do we not as Jews hold certain items as sacred? Are not certain ritual items held in high regard, and when we take them upon ourselves do we not feel a sense of protection and a good atmosphere surrounding us? Yes. But it is not at all the same. Balaam apparently recognized the difference, when he said:

Behold, they are a people

that rises up like a lioness

and raises itself like a lion;

it does not does not lie down

until it eats its prey

until it drinks the blood of it’s kill.”

| Hen-am

| kelavi yakum

| vecha’ari yitnasa

| lo yishkav

| ad-yochal teref

| vedam-chalalim yishteh.

Numbers 23:24

Rashi would acknowledge that we do have ritual items and ceremonial acts that we as Jews engage in. But we should understand that we are not enchanting or spell-casting through our acts or rituals. Rashi points this out in his commentary for this verse:

Behold a people etc.:

For when they awaken from sleep

in the morning

they strengthen themselves as a lioness

and like a lion

in grabbing mitzvot;

to don a tallit,

to recite the Shema,

and put on tefillin


Does not lie down:

at night until he consumes and destroys

any harmful thing

that comes to tear him.

How so?

He recites the Shema on his bed

and entrusts his spirit

into the hand

of the Omnipresent [Heb. ha-Makom].

Should an army or any troop

come to harm them,

the Holy One, blessed is He,

protects them,

fights their battles

and strikes them [their attackers] down dead

הן עם כלביא יקום וגו‘: |

כשהן עומדים |

משנתם שחרית, |

הן מתגברין כלביא |

וכארי |

לחטוף את המצות, |

ללבוש טלית |

לקרוא את שמע |

ולהניח תפילין: |


לא ישכב: |

בלילה על מטתו |

עד שהוא אוכל ומחבל כל מזיק |

הבא לטרפו. |

כיצד? |

קורא את שמע על מטתו |

ומפקיד רוחו |

ביד |

המקום, |

בא מחנה |

וגייס להזיקם, |

הקבה |

שומרם |

ונלחם מלחמותם |

ומפילם חללים. |

Rashi on Numbers 23:24

When the morning comes a Jew should be quick to rise in the morning with enthusiasm in order to take on their daily responsibilities. (see Tikkun Chatzot; and Modeh Ani) Sure we have ritual items, and we hold them so dear that as religious Jews that we start our day with taking upon ourselves the ritual-items of our faith. But we don’t do it for the protection of the items. We do it because they enable us to be able to meet our responsibilities of prayer and devotion; with the reciting of the Shema day and night. This is our avodah, our service and our work before Hashem, that we are to do as faithful people. These symbols of our faith are not charms, they are items that meant to help connect us to our spirituality and to the Torah; to help us get in touch with the consciousness of the Omnipresent. We don’t try to fight against G-d’s works and creation, instead we try to be in sync with it.

We must keep in mind that our faith is not at all passive, but it does not allow us the possibility of believing we can change the universe and nature. We aren’t allowed the luxury of sympathetic magic in order to try to bring blessing and good fortune to us. What is the working principle and the distinction between the nations and Israel, as far as Balaam can see, is that they have the drive to go out and grab their fortune for themselves. Like a lion they get up with strength and eagerness to grab hold of what they desire, and don’t stop until they are satisfied.

We don’t try to fight the Divine Will, nor try to mold it to our own shallow and short-sighted desires. Instead we engage ourselves in the works of Torah and mitzvot that are given to us by G-d. We engage in His works. And at the end of the day when we finally do lay down to rest we need not rely on our own strength or any type of magical power; instead we entrust ourselves to G-d and He does the work of protecting us.

For this reason it is said this parsha, in this first verse we have discussed, that:

“For in time it will be said of Jacob

and of Israel: ‘What has G-d done?’”

כָּעֵת, יֵאָמֵר לְיַעֲקֹב |

וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵל, מַה-פָּעַל, אֵל: |

Numbers 23:23

The Morning Washing: Clean and Holy Hands

The Morning Washing: Clean and Holy Hands
Negel Vasser and Netilat Yadayim

כל אדם הקם |

ממטתו שחרית, |

בין עשה צרכיו בין לא עשה צרכיו – |

צריך לרחוץ ידיו |

ברביעית הלוג מים מן |

הכלי |

ואפילו אינו רוצה להתפלל עד |

לאחר כמה שעות, |

לפי שכל אדם כשהקבה |

מחזיר לו נשמתו |

נעשה כבריה חדשה |

כמש |

חדשים לבקרים כו,” |


שהאדם מפקיד נשמתו עייפה, |

והקבה |

מחזיר לו |

חדשה ורגועה, |

כדי לעבוד להשית |

בכל יכולתו, ולשרתו כל היום, |

כי זה כל האדם לפיכך |

צריכים אנחנו להתקדש |

בקדושתו, |

וליטול ידינו מן הכלי, |

כדי לעבוד עבודתו ולשרתו, |

כמו כהן שהיה מקדש |

ידיו מן הכיור |

בכל יום קודם עבודתו. |

וכיון שצריך לטל ידיו מן |

הכלי דוקא, |

לכן יברך על נטלית ידים,” |


ולא על ריחיצת ידים,” |


מפני שהכלי |

שממנו נוטלין לידים – |

נקרע נטלאבלשון חזל, |

לכן תקנו בברכה זו |

לשון נטילה, |

להורות דצריך כלי. |

Anyone who rises

from his bed in the morning

whether he relieves himself or does not –

he needs to wash his hands

with a quarter of a lug of water

from a vessel.

Even if he does not intend to prayer

for several hours.

Considering that the Holy One, blessed be He,

He returns his soul;

becoming a newly-created being.

As it is written,

They are new every morning…”

(Lamentation 3:23) [At night]

A person entrusts his weary soul to him

and the Holy One, blessed be He,

returns it to him [in the morning]

new and refreshed.

to worship Him with all his ability,

in any capacity, and serve him all day,

for this is the entire purpose of man [1]

We should therefore sanctify ourselves in

His holiness,

taking our hands with a vessel,

to carry out his duty and service

Like a priests who would sanctify

his hands from the Lavern

everyday before his service.

Having taken his hand with

an actual vessel

therefore bless [with] “al netilat yadayim

(Heb. “to take the hands”)

and not “al rechitzat yadayim

(Heb. “to wash the hands”)

because the vessel

from which one takes the hands

is called a Natla in the words of the Sages.

By them fixing this blessing

with the word netilah

they mean with an actual vessel.[2]”

Shulchan Aruch haRav 4:1 – Helichot Netilat Yadayim –

The Laws Regarding the Sanctification of the Hands

I have to admit, this topic is one that is of such difficulty and can easily bring so much controversy regarding it that I have been very hesitant in approaching this next piece. But it is absolutely necessary to deal with this topic before we move on. I don’t want to debate out the controversies, but I do want to give explanation to the rituals of washing in context of the Nusach haAri z”l. This might differ in some respects from the normative traditions known by Ashkenazim and Sephardim alike as many personal customs and chumras have complicated how different communities approach this custom. I will present the simple and straight forward approach, relying on elements of practice and Jewish law taken from the urging of chachaimim (scholars) of both traditions.

Previously we began our studies with the topic of Modeh Ani, of giving thanks to G-d immediately upon awakening. As we learned one of the unique features about the prayer is that it intentionally does not make use of any of the seven Divine Names before washing, these are the scriptural names which should not be erased: [3] They are:

El, Elohim, Adonai, YHVH, Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh, Shaddai, and Hashem Tzevaot

If we have slept at all unclothed one needs to wash. The reason is because the sages teach us that when we sleep a spirit of uncleanliness, an unenlightening consciousness comes over the body in the absence of our conscious self. According to the Zohar there is a residue of this unclean spirit that remains on the tips of the fingers that should removed by washing (Zohar, Vayishlach). For practical reason, this also is a good practice because one might have touched unclean parts of their body during the night, before touching any other parts of our body especially the orifices of the body, one should first wash. By washing one shows the immediate need to care for oneself, but also to approach our walk and practice before G-d with pure intentions. Based on this it is the Kabbalistic custom to not walk outside of ones reshut hayachid – their personal space, or own domain – without washing; the span of four amot (about 6-feet; or 2 – 2.3-meters).

Washing is one of the most misunderstood of all the mitzvot (commandments). Most often the reason is because people misunderstand exactly why we are washing. This is because washing has had different applications at different points in history. And because there are different types of washing during the day. We need to look at both topics to understand which instance we are actually speaking about here.

The Biblical Significance of Washing

Washing Hands At Kotel

Washing before prayer at the Kotel

One of the earliest examples we have in the scriptures of ritual washing takes place in the context of the Mishkan – the Tabernacle sanctuary. Before the priests entered into the holy confines of the Temple complex to worship they would wash in the copper Lavern that stood inside the courtyard (see Exodus 30:17-21, 38:8). This ritual purification was as a sign of preparing oneself in order to worship. Likewise even sacrifices that were going to be offered on the altar were washed, washing serves as a symbol of preparing something for sacred use.

Now there are other examples biblically of washing; washing for reason of impurity. This is the most often known reason, often enumerated in the mitzvot of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. When one is ritually unclean for some type of sin or affliction they are to wash their hands, wash his clothes, then bath and they are unclean for a certain amount of time (example, Leviticus 15:11). Because this topic comes up so often, it is often thought of as the only reason that people of the bible washed. People often associate all washing with removing illness and for reason of cleanliness.

However, this is not the case here when we wash our hands in the morning. Simply put the biblical form of washing and bathing is to make someone ritually pure, to remove tumah that would prohibit them from being able to enter into the Holy Temple. Since the Temple does not stand today, and we have no means of attaining true ritual purity through its rites, we are not concerned with ritual purity to the same extent (as we see this is a full washing of ones hands, feet and clothing; as well as full and complete ablution, immersion in a stream). All of us until the future Temple is rebuilt are in a state of general impurity, but as we don’t utilize the Temple rituals this is without consequence to us.

Secondly, if we consider it, obviously a person that was subject to tumah impurity could not ascent to the Temple complex anyhow. Until they were pure again, no matter how many times they washed their hands, they could not go up into the sacred places until the days or even weeks of their quarantine passed. Thus the biblical washing in the courtyard is undoubtedly something all together different.

The reason we wash is not to somehow elevate ourselves out of impurity necessarily, but to elevate our mindset through an act of devotion. When we consider this the words of the Psalm of David make sense:

I will wash my hands in innocence,

and so will I surround Your altar, Hashem.”

| Eirchatz b’nikayon kafi

| vaasov’vah et-mizbachach Hashem

Psalm 26:5

We wash our hands as an act of purifying ourselves for divine service, as we wash our hands we are doing so with intention of coming before G-d with a pure and innocent heart. This is further explained to us by the Psalms as well:

Who shall ascend

into the mountain of Hashem,

and who shall stand in His holy place?

He who has clean hands and a pure heart.”

| Mi ya’aleh

| b’har Hashem;

| u’mi-yakum bimekom kadosho.

| N’eki chapaim u-var leyvav.

Psalms 24:3-4a

Our clean hands are symbols of our innocence, hands free of innocent blood and the stains of wrong doing.

The Rabbinic History and Law Regarding Washing

One of the reasons this washing in the morning is often misunderstood and people debate the practices related to it is because we don’t have a great deal of Talmud writing regarding this practice of morning washing. Though we will find extensive writing regarding the washings of the priests, the washing of sacrifices, immersions of vessels and people in the mikveh, and washing before and after meals; we will be left with a lot of ambiguity relating to morning washing. This would be something that would be dealt with in clarity by the later halachic writings from the Shulchan Aruch in the 16th century on, but this specific morning washing we are talking about is not a major rabbinic topic in Talmudic times.

The most closely related form of washing from the Talmud, the example that stick out in peoples mind the most when it comes to ritual washing, is the use of yetilat yadayim – washing with a blessing for the elevation of the hands that is taken from the Talmud. Though there are different types of washing the one most people associate mentally with is washing with a blessing before a meal (in which bread is eaten).

Though ritual washing would be an important topic about Judaism noticed by foreign cultures and religions, the broad practice of ritual washing was not established until well after the destruction of the Temple. Rituals which were reserved for the priesthood in the Temple era would be memorialized in everyday practice, reintroduces as spiritual practices that the whole community of Israel would participate in as early as the 3rd century CE. A lot of these symbols became things that would take place around the table, a symbolic altar. Just as the rabbis instituted the blessing and salting of bread in honor of the holy sacrifices that were salted, we wash our hands before a meal just as the priest washed before their sacrificial service. We wash to rise to a spiritual occasion, not to remove germs or physical impurity. Though one needs clean hands for netilat yadayim, the blessing of the hands, it does not purify the hands; it sanctifies them, prepares them for spiritual use.

Washing Hands At KotelScholars often note that the word netilat is a strange and uncommon word. One cannot escape that the word netilat does not mean to wash. To translate it as such would be incorrect. Notice when we say the blessing for the lulav the blessing of netilat lulav is recited; it doesn’t mean to wave the lulav, and most certainly it doesn’t mean to wash the lulav. Netilat is often understood by the scholars to mean to elevate. They notice that during the post-temple rabbinic age the people took to washing their hands by elevating them, washing to the wrist from a vessel. It was often assumed by linguists this practice came about by being suggested because such a uniquely styled vessel in the Greek speaking Mediterranean is called a natla (αντλίον), (and thus it is likewise named as such in Aramaic) was utilized for this purpose. (see Talmud Bavli, Brachot Chullin 107a)

The blessing makes more sense to us if we use the modern Hebrew understanding of what it means to netilah; it means to take, to receive, to accept something. But it doesn’t mean to take just in the sense of merely obtaining something; it can also mean to accept responsibility. As we wash our hands with a blessing we are taking our hands and accepting upon them responsibility to do righteousness and holiness with these hands.

The question that often arises for people when they are learning how to wash, is when do we say a blessing for washing. Some people assume that every time we wash, we say a blessing. This is not so. We wash with a blessing before a meal, because we are about to bless for eating. We are blessing in order to do a specific holy acts of blessing again over food and eating.

However, when we awake in the morning the first thing that we as proper people should do is to ready ourselves for the day. That means getting dressing and cleaning up; washing our face, brushing our teeth, etc. However, remember, as I stated the kabbalists have taught us one should not touch any orifices of their body with unclean hands upon awaking because it can bring harm to us.

Just as pious people do not walk four amot without a kippah (a yarmulke, a head covering) out of respect for G-d, pious Jews are of the practice of not walking more than four amot without washing to avoid harm. Though technically the rule of four amot can extend to the personal domain outside of one’s home, it is the practice of the pious to not walk more than four amot from their bed without washing. For this reason it is the custom of most Chassidim, and many Sephardim and mystics, to wash at the place one slept. Though one might reckon their reasons are for the purpose of being stringent in regard to the distance of four amot, the true impulse to doing so lies behind the spirit of the devout to not delay in doing a mitzvah. We should jump to perform a mitzvah as soon as we can, not putting it off. In enthusiasm to start doing works of holiness the pious make practice to wash at their bedside.

Now when one washed at their bedside, they do not need to recite the blessing of netilat yadayim, as they are not going to going to engage in any specific holy act immediately. In fact it is preferred by our rabbis that one merely wash to remove the spirit of impurity from ones hands; pouring clean water from a vessel over one hands, first the right then the left, alternating three times back and forth. The water should be allowed to flow into a bowl or basin, and disposed of in a place where one does not intended to walk; this impure water is specifically what we call negel vasser in Yiddish (lit. “nail water”), meaning dead and impure water.

Now that ones hands are clean they may go about washing and doing all their daily activities. We do not say a blessing because we are going to engage in our mundane activities. We reserve the blessing of netilat yadayim for after we are finished arising, specifically after we have evacuated our bowels by going to the restroom and after saying the appropriate blessing of asher yatzar, we pair those two blessings together. Being relieved and refreshed, we wash with a blessing in order to go about the rest of our spiritual and worldly obligations. But this is a topic we will discuss more in detail next time, when we discuss the blessing of Asher Yatzar.


Question: Why do wash?
Answer: In order to remove an impure and unenlightened spirit of slumber.

Question: How often do we need to wash in this manner?
Answer: After every time we sleep we wash.

Question: Do we wash with a blessing?
Answer: When we arise we do not need to wash with a blessing.

Question: What if there is no water for washing available?
Answer: One should rub their hands together with a dry clean substance such as dirt or sand [4].


1 – See Ecclesiastes 12:13

2 – This is in agreement with the Rashba (Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet of 11th century Spain), vol. 1, §190, and §595.

3 – See Shulchan Aruch haRav 4:3, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi.

4 – See Shulchan Aruch haRav 4:3

Modeh Ani: “I give thanks before You”

Modeh Ani: “I give thanks before You…”
Starting the Day with an Attitude of Gratitude

“I give thanks before You

eternal and living King

who returns my soul within me

with mercy.

Great is Your faithfulness.”

מוֹדֶה אֲנִי לְפָנֶיךָ |

מֶלֶךְ חַי וְקַיָּם |

שֶׁהֶחֱזַרְתָּ בִּי נִשְׁמָתִי |

בְּחֶמְלָה. |

רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ: |

Modeh ani lifanecha melech chai v’kayam shehechezarta bee nishmahti b’chemlah. Rabah emunatecha.

Last time, in our first installment of this series we touched on the idea of Shiviti Hashem – placing G-d before us, recognizing His place in our lives. It is a silent meditation done before we open our eyes or say a single word. Now we are actually going to being discussing the recited prayers of Judaism. This first of these is the Modeh Ani, the prayer said up awakening and while still in this meditative state; with our eyes closed, remaining quiet and motionless until we say this prayer. As these are the first words on the lips of every religious Jew each day, its important for us to consider their meaning.

Historical Background

Before we begin talking about this prayer lets get a little historical background about it. Whereas with other prayers I would prefer to turn to the Shulchan Aruch, (Code of Jewish Law, 16th century) we cannot look that far back historically with this prayer. However, it would be mentioned in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Abridged Code of Jewish Law 1:2, 19th century). Though Jews have always begun the morning with prayers of thanksgiving and acknowledgement of G-d, this prayer is actually a recent addition to our tradition.

The first existent instance of this prayer is in a work called Seder ha-Yom by Rav Moshe Ibn Machir of Tzfat, published in 1599, but merely as an addendum.1 Based on that the prayer is assumed by scholars to have its origin earlier in that century.

This is one of the most beloved of all Jewish prayers. The great love for this prayer comes from it’s simplicity. It is this simplicity that made this prayer memorable to so many people that it became a liturgical standard. It is also this simplicity that hints to many scholars that this was created as a simplified version of the prayer Elohai Neshama, which we will discuss another time. It was this prayer that was traditionally said in the morning since the times of the Talmud (Talmud Bavli Berachot 60b). This theory may hold some truth as Modeh Ani is one of the prayers that is included in many prayerbooks with a selection of essential prayers for children. This prayer is so well loved that it is often the first prayer taught to Jewish children, even as mere toddlers most every religious child can say this prayer by heart.

Even thought this prayer is relatively new in light of all of Jewish history, it should not be dismissed as though it were created at whim. Prayers are composed with careful consideration of sacredness. The best way we can be sure to say an appropriate prayer is to use the language of the righteous that went before us. We pray in the Hebrew language and with the tone of our forefathers. Just as they merited to connect to G-d with certain meaningful statements, we use like words to seek to connect to G-d in the same consciousness they did. We want to have a heart like the prophets and righteous, so we model ourselves after their example using words they would use.

Modeh Ani follows the general way that liturgy is derived; prayers, even the most obscure, can be drawn from and blended together with other prayers, Talmudic references and scriptures to make a new prayer.

Upon investigation it appears to me that this prayer might actually have its origins in the Talmud, or at least part of it. This connection goes unnoticed because it is presented in the Talmud Yerushali – the Talmud as documented in Palestine as opposed to Talmud Bavli – the Babylonian Talmud, which is more comprehensive and thus more popularly used. I’ll help with the English:

“Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani

said three introductions

as they occurred during the day

changing with each creation.

In the morning

a man is obligated to say:

I give thanks before You

Hashem my G-d

and G-d of my fathers

who brought my soul from darkness

to light.

At Mincha (noon)

a man is obligated to say:

I give thanks before You

Hashem my G-d

and G-d of my fathers,

just as you privileged me to see the sun

in the east

likewise privilege me

to see it in the west.

In the evening [one is] required to say:

May it be your will, Hashem our G-d,

and G-d of my fathers,

just as I was in darkness

and you brought me to light,

so will you bring me out

from darkness to light.”

רבי שמואל בר נחמני |

אמר כננד ג׳ |

פעמים שהיום |‬

משתנה על הבריות |

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 |‬‫

Talmud Yerushalmi, Vilna Edition, page 58

Although these prayers are not know to have been made it into the traditions we know today, in the 3rd century Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani proposed three prayers to be said during the three times of the day; dawn, noon and dusk. Notice how two of them begin with the words “modeh ani lifanecha / I give thanks before You.” This is the first occurrence in the rabbinic literature of this phrase. They are beautifully reverent and hopeful prayers.

This prayer is made of three main pieces, from all three of the traditional sources: the first piece from the Talmud, Talmud Yerushalmi shown above; the middle part as a summarization of the Elohai Nishma prayer, which thanks G-d for returning our soul; and a phrase of scripture added on at the end as we will also explore.

Exploring The Prayer by Laying out The Parts

Let us to learn how to practice this prayer by exploring the words of it. It really is so concise and clear that the lesson truely is in the telling.

I give thanks

מוֹדֶה אֲנִי |

Modeh ani

Unlike other prayers, this one begins as a statement and not a blessing. The reasons for this we will explain in a minute. But one thing about this wording is very telling. Unlike the general blessings that bless G-d because of who He is and because He is “our G-d” (Eloheinu); this prayer is a personal statement. In some ways this prayer has more in common with a meditation than a blessing, which you will also see along the way.

The prayer is a statement that “I” (ani) give thanks to G-d. Modeh is actually a variant of the word hodah. Hodah does mean to thank, but it also has a deeper meaning. It can also mean to admit, to acknowledge, to confess, or rise to the understanding of something. This is very appropriate wording, because before we can actually give thanks we have to have the ascent of understanding that we should be grateful. Before we can give thanks we need to acknowledge in ourselves that we ought to give thanks.

Now women use the famine equivalent of modeh which is “modah;” thus a lady may say “modah ani.”

This is a perfect moment, lying on ones bed, with their eyes closed, before saying any other words, to consider all the reasons “I” have to be grateful. And it all starts with the obvious, that we woke up to a new day of life.

before You

| לְפָנֶיךָ


Why does it use the word “lifnecha / before You,” is this word really necessary? This word can only seem superfluous if we think that it is added to the statement in order for us to understand who we are directing our prayer to. But we are not giving thanks to G-d, we are giving thanks before G-d. As we learned in the morning meditation of Sheviti Hashem upon awakening we must immediately make ourselves aware that we are in the presence of the King, and therefore we should set our intention to act and speak becomingly. Likewise, being in the presence of our most important Master we are told in the halachic works to rise up with “gibor ki’ari / with the strength of a lion” meaning “halev ki gevurah / with a heart of bravery.” (Kitzur 1:3) Not only do we rise up quickly to face the day because we are laying idle in the presence of the King (which is also alluded to in the next words), but this Mighty King watches over us so we can face the day with courage. Who is this King? He is the:

eternal and living King

| מֶלֶךְ חַי וְקַיָּם

melech chai v’kayam

Unlike the gods of the nations, with some gods ruling over certain days of the week, or certain hours of the day; our G-d is always the sole Deity in the universe. G-d is always the sole Authority. He is a living G-d, active and involved in our existence.

Now we should take notice that up until now this prayer has made creative descriptions and use of grammar in order to pose this prayer with references to G-d, but without use of any of the sacred names we normally use in prayer or in the scriptures. This is intentional. Until one washes their hands one should avoid saying any of the sacred names out of reverence. What names are these? They are all the names normally one is forbidden to erase. (The Rav’s Siddur, Nusach haAri-z”l of the Baal HaTanya) The reason for this can be found in the explanation for the next words:

who returns my soul within me

| שֶׁהֶחֱזַרְתָּ בִּי נִשְׁמָתִי

shehechezarta bee nishmahti

G-d returns our souls to us. To hechezir means to return, to reinstate; simply put, to bring back. We are taught by the sages that during our sleep our soul departs from our bodies, we rest in a state that is close to death. The Talmud tells us this state of sleep we experience is so deep it is 1/60th of death (Talmud Bavli Brachot 59b). During our bedtime prayers one entrusts their soul to G-d, that He keep it and then return it to us in the morning so that we awaken. During that time it is entrusted to G-d our soul communes with Him. As we sleep our souls are able to recharge and rejuvenate (Kitzur 1:2), it returns to the Source of life from which it came and when we awaken it returns.

However, during this period of sleep we are told that an unholy spirit, an unenlightened consciousness comes over us in the absence of our enlightened self. The mystics teach that a residue of the unclean spirit remains on our fingers, therefore we should wash to remove it. On a practical level, during the night we may have touched body parts that are unclean, therefore we should take care to show care for ourselves and reference to G-d to clean ourselves up before we begin our daily service. I say that because that is what we awaken to do, to serve Hashem. And just as people in the days of the Temple would wash before saying their sacred prayers at the lavern, so we too wait until we wash to say the sacred. We will talk more about that later when we get to washing.

But this prayer of Modeh Ani, because it makes no uses of any of the Divine Names it is permissible for us to say even before we wash. By composing the prayer this way it was made possible to move the moment of thankful devotion from later in the morning ritual (after washing or going to the restroom, etc) to the moment one awakens. In fact, it is ideal to say this prayer before opening the eyes, moving or saying any other words.

For a moment I would like us to go back to the word “shehechezarta / who returns.” Quite often in everyday spoken Hebrew to hechezir means to pay back, retaliate, hit back; or return tit-for-tat. Though we entrust our souls into the hands of the Everlasting with total hope and expectation that He will return it to us, we do not presume to be so worthy to say we deserve such goodness from G-d. Thus is added the following word:

with mercy

בְּחֶמְלָה. |


We should never feel that we are entitled to anything, most certainly none of us is a good enough person in our own merit that we can say to G-d that we deserve that He give life to us each day. The universe doesn’t owe us anything. But out of compassion and mercy life is restored to us anew each day. This word behemlah, can also mean pity. That doesn’t mean that G-d feel sorry for us in that He sees as pathetic. Its more like an adult who sees an infant needing something, this compassion is like their impulse to act to aid the child because their efforts might be valiant but they still need the help. G-d has that impulse towards us.

Now at this point we are told by all the major commentators that we should pause after this word and before we say the next two words. (see Rav’s Siddur; Kitzur 1:2, last sentence). And this is where our prayer shows all the clear signs of a mediation, we have the opportunity to pause and consider this truth. We have a brief moment to consider how compassionate G-d has been towards us, and how we in turn we should be compassionate towards our fellow man; being emulators of G-d’s graciousness.

The other reason we pause is because the next words are actually part of a separate clause that is a direct quote from scripture, the pause also helps us to recognize the sacredness of the scriptures by distinguishing its words from that of the common prayer. We also want to clear our minds to ready ourselves to recognize the following truth. It is summed up in the words:

Great is Your faithfulness.

רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ: |

Rabah emunatecha

These words are actually taken from the biblical verse of Lamentations 3:23. Though I’ve tried to keep this study as concise as possible, we really need to take a look at this scripture in order to understand the significance. Of course, its always best to have it in context especially since this is a responsive statement. The entire clause is:

“The kindnesses of Hashem

surely are not numbered,

surely His mercies have not run out.

They are new every morning,

great is Your faithfulness.”

| Chasdei Hashem

| ki lo tamnu

| ki lo chalu rachamav.

| Chadashim labekarim

| Rabba emunatecha.

Lamentations 3:22-23

This scripture charges us to understand that G-d is limitless, and thus the resources of His mercies are endless. They have not run out, they will not run out. Everyday He has just as much potential in this universe for us, its a renewable resource that can never be spent. Everyday G-d creates the day anew, and refreshes our souls anew. Everyday the world is a place of open opportunity and we are new people able to make a fresh start.

We again considering the thought of how G-d is faithful, in that we entrusted our souls to Him with confidence and He returned it to us. Thats what emunah, or faith as we say in English, means in Hebrew. In this case it is used of G-d, surely this word does not mean “belief.” G-d has no need to believe anything. Instead it means that you can trust in the person to do the right thing, you can have fidelity in them. Or as we say in Hebrew “b’emunah / I swear on my life;” we can have that much trust and confidence in G-d. Here we acknowledge how dependable our G-d is and worthy of our trust.

Now, we bring our minds back to the mindset of being emulators of godliness, modeling our behavior after the ways of a just G-d . We should now consider how just as G-d is faithful to us, we should be trustworthy and dependable in the ways of Torah and in our relationships with one another. And then say the words, “raba emunatecha.”

One should now rise to meet the day! This is usually followed by washing and other prayers, which we will also cover in this series in the weeks to come.

Do you need a siddur? This blog proudly cooperates with The Open Siddur Project. The project is a volunteer based organization dedicated to documenting and making the wealth of Jewish prayer and prayer resources available with free, redistributable licensing in electronic format and print formats. You can find my contributions of liturgy HERE. Find out how you can also be a part of this worthy cause!

1– It has also been suggested, in a citation from the Authorized Daily Prayer Book (1946, 1116ff) of Rabbi Joseph H. Hurtz (1872-1946) – Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom (1913-1946). Though the citations of Rav Hertz always reflect the incorrect date of publication as 1695. This is historically incorrect as Rav Machir was a contemporary of the Ari z”l, who lived in 16th century.

Sheviti Hashem: The Unspoken Declaration

Sometimes The Siddur Has Silence that Speaks Louder Than Words

If one was to ask a class of observant Jewish students what the first prayer in the siddur (hebrew prayerbook) is just about every hand would go up in the air. It’s seems like an obvious answer for most of us. But of course, if this was a real classroom I would be pulling a Lisa Simpson and complicating the matter by pointing out some geeky fact that turns the questions on its ear. You know the type, the preschool kid that tells the teacher she’s wrong because it was Copernicus that proved the world was round. No one likes a know it all. But, truthfully the answer is not quite as cold cut as it seems. And my reason for pointing out my odd fact is not to be an intellectual elitist, holding on to some more stringent view. Let me explain. First off, it would be helpful if before we start talking about liturgy we understand what we are discussing.

The Development of Liturgy

Liturgy has always existed within our tradition. The most published portion on the holy scriptures, probably more so than any book, is the Book of Psalms which is clearly written as a collection of musical and liturgical standards. Repeating holy scriptures was our first stab at formal prayer, and in some cases fixed prayers later became enshrined in holy scripture. The influence went both ways as scriptures and Temple prayers developed.

When the Temple era came to an end, with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. prayers took center stage as prescribed in Isaiah chapter 1, to offer sacrifice of the lips instead of animals. Fixed prayers from the Temple were now elevated in significance, and new prayers were added over time to deliver something worthy of saying for just about every occurrence and season. But the siddur, the prayerbook we know today would not make its rise until around the 15th century at best and not widely available as a complete work until the mid-to-late 19th century. For most of our history people have just repeated prayers they knew from their common recurrence in our life-cycle events. And when in doubt people would turn to their rabbis for advice. Through out the ages we have learned these prayers like one learns a song, that is our liturgy. The tune and delivery I use my be different from yours, but that’s the nature of song. But no matter how it’s delivered, it’s a homelike tune we all relate to on some level.

The Development of the Nusach Ha-Ari z”l

As the treasury we know today as the siddur was being developed, so too the school of Jewish mysticism was on the rise. The mystics were a group of elite rabbis who collected prayers, but for a different reason than to just know what to say on a given occasion. They knew the prayers by heart, they didn’t need a script. Prayers collected by the kabbalists were incorporated in their own siddurim, but these books mostly served as commentaries on selected prayers. The commentaries contained many diagrams and instructions on how to focus the mind in a meditative way though kavannot (Heb. “Intentions”).

As I briefly touched upon in my last weeks look a the kavannah of Psalm 67 for the Sefirat ha-Omer, the Baal haTanya – Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe – was one of the first of the great rabbis to really take the mystical traditions of the Lurianic kabbalists (the followers of the ARI Z”L, the great mystic of the 16th century) and present their customs in a complete liturgical work for congregational prayer and daily devotion. The Baal haTanya’s siddur was intended to teach the common man how to pray, a much needed aid that was starting to take root during the late 18th century in Europe. His simplification came by focusing on documenting the things that needed to be said, and leaving out silent meditations.

The Baal haTanya provided his chassidim with a siddur that made full use of the richness of Jewish prayer that Eastern European Jews enjoyed and carefully conformed it to the teachings of the ARI Z”L. The text the holy Ari adopted and taught from was the Sephardic tradition, the liturgy documented by the Jews of Iberia and intern favored by the Jews of the near-east. The Baal haTanya conformed his text to that style and incorporating many of it’s unique prayers.

However, interestingly, prayer books like Eastern Europeans enjoyed were not at all common in Sephardic and Oriental Jewish communities. There was more documentation about their prayers and customs in classical legal works and kabbalistic commentaries they called “siddurim” than in any book dedicated to how to say your prayers or lead a service. Simply put, it wasn’t as needed because there was greater familiarity with the Hebrew prayers for the Jews of the near east. In the end as Sephardim and Mizrahi Jews began to formulate true prayerbooks for their prayer services like Ashkenazim (Eastern Europeans) invented, they brought in the silent meditations presented with their highly involved diagrams. Why? Partially because of their familiarity with them. Secondly because, in the days before the prayer books the diagrams were often enlarged and displayed in synagogues and holy shrines for one to use as prayer aids. It just seemed right that they belonged.

The Shviti: Placing Hashem Before Us

Those of you who have visited any Jewish shrines know exactly what I’m talking about when I mention charts and mystical diagrams. We call them Shvitis, they often take on the form on an enlarged writing of the Four-Letter name surrounded by verses of Psalms or prayers. The most famous of these is probably in the form of the Psalm 67 menorah. Others incorporate many mystical ways of reading Divine Names, but that are not meant to be pronounced. Why do we call them Shvitis? Because they usually bear the words of the Psalm that says:

“I have set


before me at all times.”

| Sheviti

| Hashem

| l’negedi tamid

שִׁוִּיתִי |

יְהוָה |

לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד |

Psalms 16:8

Now one might ask, how intrusive into the text of the siddur can these mandala like meditations be? I mean, if they are useful why are they left out of the Baal haTanya’s siddur? You might say, who is he to leave out these things that are so authentic and sacred? Well, if we use a siddur as a seder (an order) of prayers and devotions, and go through it from waking up to going to sleep, then the first occurrence of shviti is at the beginning of the siddur. That’s right. When one wakes up they are to immediately have in mind this verse “I have set HASHEM before me at all times.” For this reason in many Sephardic and Edut haMizrach siddurim the first words you will see is these words “sheviti Hashem l’negedi tamid.”

If this was a real classroom I would hear just about every western, observant Jew gasp. This is problematic because at this point in history we all accept that the first words of out of our mouth and before we open our eyes is the prayer Modeh Ani, that we greatly thank G-d. Of course we also obsess over the different customs of washing among the different sects of Judaism, but we all accept in unity that we don’t intone the Four-Letter Name of Hashem in the first prayer we say of the day and instead wait until we get around to taking care of our business. So we all start with this prayer that refers to G-d, but without explicit use of the Four-Letter Name (יהוה).

So ingrained is it into the mind of observant Jews that this prayer is taught and known by the children as some of their first words. Really, before some Jewish toddlers can tell you answers to simple questions they already know how to say this prayer by heart. Though in our different communities we might truncated the prayers to make them easier to say for children at first, Modeh Ani is not one of them as we want them to learn it in full. This is our first confession of the day. I don’t want to spend too much time of it, as we will get to this prayer next week, and I’ve already taken us the scenic route to the point of all of this.

At this point, many would say “Oh, okay, I understand now why the Baal haTanya would leave it out. You don’t want to confuse people so that they might say the words of sheviti Hashem. Good thinking.” But still there will be the few who will grumble, and whisper to each other “See I told you those sephardim, chassidim, and kabbalsists are playing fast and loose with orthodoxy.” Considering myself to be the product of all of the above I would ask someone to cough up their copy of the Shulchan Aruch for a second. I’d hold it up and make the point that there is nothing more Orthodox than the Shulchan Aruch, which would become known to anglos as The Code of Jewish Law. I wouldn’t even site the words of Rabbi Joseph Karo, the Sephardic Kabbalistic master known as the Maran who first authored the work. Ironically I’d cite the words of the Rema, Rabbi Moses Isserelis – who wrote the Ashkenazi glosses to the work:

“I have placed Hashem before me

at all times:”

This is a paramount principal

of the Torah

and attribute of the steps of the righteous

who walk before G-d.

שויתי הלנגדי |

תמיד:” |

הוא כלל גדול |

בתורה |

הורה ובמעלות הצדיקים |

אשר הולכים לפני האלהים: |

Shulchan Aruch: Rema 1:1

We don’t need to turn far. If we take “the book” when it comes to Jewish practice and turn to the very first reference page and paragraph, and here we have it. This would also be repeated by the Baal haTanya in the Shulchan Aruch haRav, Mehadurah Batra 1:5, just with the quote of our biblical verse at the end instead of being the leading words. According to the “code” the first thing we are supposed to think in our mind at the start of the day is “I have placed Hashem before me at all times.” Here the Rema is himself quoting the Rambam – Rabbi Moses Maimonides, the 12th century Sephardic scholar, master rationalist, and first exhaustive codifier of Jewish law (see Moreh Nevuchim – The Guide for the Perplexed 3:4)

Now, there is probably a reason other than just typesetting that explains the juxtaposition when the Baal haTanya repeats this law; to make it clear to his reader that this is a thought and not a statement he moves it to the end and adds the words “k’umo shekavut / as it is written.” He wants his chassidim to know this is a thought, it’s not spoken words. Like it’s written, it remains written but not said. As I have pointed out, when he created his siddur the Nusach Ha-ARI Z”L known as Siddur Torah Ohr (the precessor to Siddur Tehillat Hashem) he focused on the spoken words and not the meditations. However, if you look closely, it was not a forgotten point. It just became mentioned in the notes (which are exact quotations from his Shulchan Aruch).

Nusach ARI Z”L as a Process, Not a Possession

And this is primarily the differences between the Nusach ha-Ari (Chabad) tradition and the Nusach ARI Z”L siddurim of either Sephardic or other Chassidic origins. The nusach of the Sephardim/Mizrahim and other Chassidim have been heavily influenced by the teachings of the ARI Z”L and following his teachings so their prayers are Nusach ARI in their own right as well. However these other texts tend to contain many meditations and silent things that are not meant to be spoken out loud, and contain local variances and customs. This pretty much sums up the differences. The ARI Z”L never wrote a siddur of his own, and for that matter never wrote any writings for himself. Instead we learn of his wisdom through his student Rabbi Chaim Vittal and his other disciples, so we all just copy his teachings. Thus no one can lay claim to having “the” Nusach ARI. The Nusach Ha-ARI Z”L is a way, not a thing.

I say all of this because as we start to step into the study of the siddur I am going to be presenting the text according to the Nusach Ha-ARI Z”L. This is most often going to be based on the text of the Lubavitcher Chassidim, the text I have adopted and utilize in my daily prayers. Though at other time I will mention the Nusach Edut haMizrach, the tradition of the Sephardic and Middle-Eastern Jews; which is my tradition by birth. I do this to be intellectually honest, I can only share what I know. This is what I understand so that’s all I feel free talking about. But I will try to touch on other unique aspects of the different traditions when possible. But I hope we all understand that when we talk about the siddur we are talking about a growing and living thing that we all need to be flexible and giving towards. Because it’s something different to us all. And that is okay and possible, without compromising anything! Nachon, got it?

The Kavannah: How to Sheviti Hashem

Now on to the fun part. As we have discussed, the generally universal tradition today is to always start our day with a prayer of thanks; this is the Modeh Ani. It is the custom to not open one’s eyes nor say any other word in the morning until we give thanks. But we don’t say any Divine Name until we wash out of respect of G-d and in respect of our need for self-care right away. However, before we open our eyes it is a good practice for us to mentally make ourselves aware that Hashem is before us at all times. We can even visualize the Four-Letter Name (יהוה), but not say it. This is something we should all be able to agree on, it is appropriate.

But why should we do it? If it’s a kavannah – an intention – what is it’s purpose? What do we want to achieve or recognize by this? To find the answer lets continue looking at the text of the Shulchan Aruch:

“For the manner that a person sits,

moves and conducts himself

when he is alone in his house,

is not the manner one sits, moves and deals

when before the presence of a great king.

Likewise, in the way one chats openly as

he wishes while he is among his household

and relatives, is not the same way as when

he speaks in the court of a king.

How much more, if a man strongly takes

to heart that the great king,

The Holy One, blessed be He,

whom the whole earth is filled with His glory,

stands over him and observes his deeds.

As it says, “If a person hides

out of sight, will I not see him” says Hashem.

[Considering] this he will respect

and surrender to awe

of the Holy One, blessed be He,

and be bashful before Him always.

One should not be ashamed

before people

who mock his service to Hashem.

Even secretly when lying in ones bed

know before whom he is lying.

Immediately arouse oneself from slumber

with agility to serve the

praised and exalted Creator.”

כי אין ישיבת האדם |

ותנועותיו ועסקיו |

והוא לבדו בביתו, |

כישיבתו ותנועותיו ועסקיו |

והוא לפני מלך גדול; |

ולא דיבורו והרחבת פיו |

כרצונו, והוא עם אנשי ביתו |

וקרוביו, כדיבורו |

במושב המלך. |

כל שכן, כשישים האדם אל |

ליבו שהמלך הגדול, |

הקבה |

אשר מלא כל הארץ כבודו, |

עומד עליו ורואה במעשיו, |

כמו שנאמר: “אם יסתר איש |

במסתרים ואני לא אראנו נאם ה‘”, |

מיד יגיע אליו היראה |

וההכנעה בפחד |

השית |

ובושתו ממנו תמיד. |

ולא יתבייש |

מפני בני אדם |

המלעיגים עליו בעבודת השית. |

גם בהצנע לכת בשכבו על משכבו |

ידע לפני מי הוא שוכב |

ומיד שיעור משנתו, |

יקום בזריזות לעבודת |

בוראו יתברך ויתעלה |

Shulchan Aruch: Rema 1:1

The Rema, does such a great job of explaining this concept so it’s hard to top that. But he gives us a lot to think about. Everyday as we consider this the meaning of it grows. Let’s take a few minutes to walk through some of these thoughts together, these are just a few ideas of what we can think about:

Make The Name of G-d Apparent – even before we have opened our eyes or moved to get up we are to think about G-d. Placing G-d before us means that we make a mental commitment to act as though we are in the presence of G-d. Just like if we were in the presence of a king or judge we would want to behave becomingly, we should recognize our lives are watched over by G-d. This comes with a benefit, on one hand we have G-d looking out for us to administer liberty and justice. But we also have a responsibility, to recognize that G-d demands that we behave as decent people in our dealings even when we think that no one else is watching. Before we open our eyes, we determine to behave as noble and dignified people in our dealings; both in public and private. If we can do it in our private lives we won’t have slip ups of bad actions in public.

Choosing to Use Noble Speech – what’s funny about the wording that the Shulchan Aruch uses is that it describes a person that is in their own home, among their own guests and surrounded by their own family and feeling free to speak openly he just “blabs” with his mouth widely letting loose whatever he feels like without regard. Before we say a single word we determine to employ noble and becoming speech. One of the terrible things about lishon hara – evil speech – is that most of us would never allow ourselves to say the types of things publicly that we say privately, we would be too ashamed. So we should think about being in the presence of the greatest King, G-d Himself, then we would watch what comes out of our mouth and speak in a dignified way. This means, even in the way we speak to ourselves in our thoughts. Think about it, some of us say demeaning things about ourselves that we are too considerate to ever say to another human being

Consider Where G-d Is At In Our Lives – the entire world is filled with G-d. We understand, in kabbalistic principal, that G-d is the Ain Sof; without limits, without end. But that also means that though G-d is not one thing or a person, His very sustenance and glory fill the entire universe. G-d’s glory exists in everything and everywhere, no matter how much any of us try to take credit or mold things our way. We need to consider that there is nothing outside of His realm of influence or where His rules of goodness need not apply. We need to think, how would we act if G-d was a person standing over us and observing our deeds? It’s not that G-d is watching over us like a prison guard waiting for us to slip up. Actually, the relationship is one in which G-d is given credit for everything we enjoy and every opportunity we have through a blessing. In order for us to do something that is wrong most people out of seeming shame decide that they will not say inappropriate blessing for whatever action or item they are illicitly enjoying. But just because we don’t mention G-d doesn’t mean His ways don’t exist; that’s as silly as pretending your spouse doesn’t existing if you turn around their portrait. We should discipline ourselves to know that godliness is displayed through creation, progress, wisdom, prosperity, etc. Everything we see is a manifestation of G-d’s order, if we understood that then everything we see will begin to remind us of G-d and His ways.

Be Bashful Before G-d – often times when people speak in the English vernacular we refer to this concept as being “ashamed before G-d.” Though this is not a mistranslation, it’s not exactly a one-for-one rendering. Even before we get up out of bed and out of the sheets we need to understand that we are completely exposed before G-d. But its more than that. As we begin to engage in our daily needs and we assess the day we can stand amazed at how brilliant the Creator is. Everything we begin to do and enjoy has blessings traditionally associated with them. Sometimes the truth of it just hits us, we just have to say “wow, it really is amazing that all these things necessary for life work out for me day after day.” Life is a complex function, with many dependencies for us to just to wake up let alone get through the day. G-d  is called Chai haOlamim – The Life of the Worlds – all the universe and  life within it is an extension of Him and sustained by His will. Even us. We are just a small part of this big universe, yet even as simple people we benefit from so much that we can be humbled. We feel so small before G-d and the universe that we become like a child with a surprise gift that is so bashful for being remembered that they want to hide shyly. We should always try to retain this type of wonder with the world.

But Don’t Be Ashamed Before Men – even before we move from bed, to get out from under the sheets we make a conscious choice to not feel embarrassed or foolish for our wonder of life and our respect to honor the little things in life, realizing that all these small things when they come together make our world so much better. There is nothing mature or smart about taking for granted the gift of life and the wonders of the world as the self-proclaimed intellectuals of our age like to flippantly do. They say that nothing you do as an individual matters that much. Some suggest that religious people thinking G-d considers their needs and betterment to be egotistical. Others suggest a faithful person is needlessly groveling and that his humility is a sign of mental weakness. Either way, it can be hard to face the world some days because people are so jaded that many will attack your devotion for reasons of humility or ego; you just can’t do anything right. But we aren’t supposed to hide from the world, we are called to transform it. That mean’s we also aren’t to conceal our service to G-d and pride in being our true selves, because it is through those things that we exemplify the truth of our values. Our actions speak louder than words.

Wake Up With Enthusiasm – if we really took to heart the idea that G-d watches over us then we would realize that we are laying before the Great King. Just as people jump up from bed with excitement if an important guest suddenly showed up, we need to wake to the day in order to serve G-d. We wouldn’t leave a king waiting at the foot of our bed, no we would jump up quickly and honored to be of service. How do we do accomplish this? By arousing ourselves to get up and wake the day. It means more than just getting up. The battle of our day starts even before we open our eyes or say a word, it starts when we actually wake. We should arouse ourselves to wake with all the agility and excitement that a youth would show toward their beloved.

When we begin the day by placing Hashem before us we recognize that G-d is present. As the day and world unfolds before us we begin to see that G-d is present in the world, in our deeds, and in our happenings. If we want to encounter G-d then we need to get up and see Him in action. As we lay there without saying a word we begin to arouse ourselves to rise up and meet G-d where He is, emulating G-d’s passion to be active in the world. This gives meaning to the scriptures when it says “has kol basar mif’neh Hashem ki naior mim’on kadsho / be silent all flesh before Hashem, for He is aroused out of His holy habitation.” (Zechariah 2:17)

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