Modeh Ani: My Blessing for a New Day

The prayer that is said in the Jewish tradition on waking up is modah ani (men say modeh). It is personal. “I give thanks before You, G*d, ever sustaining in life, for breathing into me my soul in your boundless compassion and faith.”   This prayer is said every morning, regardless of what the day will bring.  Shabbat or weekday, days of challenge or joy, this prayer is said.

Today, I am thankful that this prayer is the ultimate “I” statement, a declaration that speaks only to my own gratitude.  There is irony in this because today, January 20th is a day marked by a national ceremony, the inauguration of a new President of the United States under the authority of our constitution which of course begins not with the pronoun I, but “We.” The power of any public ritual, civic or religious, is vested in that “we” – the recognition that there is a reverence shared.  So why such an emphasis on my individuality in a time with such unifying potential?

For me, modeh ani today is a reminder that the power of a unifying ritual is that it is meant to speak to many different perspectives not flatten them.  That there is no need to surrender at the door even the strongest feelings of misgivings or frustration.  Instead, the ceremony finds a way, to whatever extent possible, to contextualize and lift up different relationships to a shared value rather than a demand to fall in line behind one person or ideology. Otherwise, it isn’t a ritual of unity but a declaration of fealty.

Perhaps no matter what, the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris will never feel unifying to those who did not vote for them. Perhaps, no words will bridge the gap between distrust and a fresh start.  And there are certainly those who will opt-out not only of the ceremony but even the desire to find new ways forward and do so because they will not accept the process. I also know that a ritual is not reality and aspires to describe a world that is envisioned and a history that is idealized. The real work of inclusion, and reform, honest appraisal, and accountability is ahead of us.  A ritual can only do so much and only should do so much.

Coming back to modeh ani, however, I am grateful that on this day as a new dawn breaks I can say the same words that I say every day. That I can celebrate this day and its potential without knowing exactly what it will bring.  And rise from there.  Hopeful that this is one of those days where the everyday path of my own life, intertwined with loved ones and neighbors, might intersect with something greater, whether mystic chords of memory, the moral arc of history, or however we come to take the measure of the days ahead.

Modeh ani lifanekha melech chai v’kayyam shehechazarta bi, nishmati bchemla, raba emunatekha

May this morning that opens with the same immeasurable gratitude before G*d for restoring my breath and my soul, be a time of rising compassion and faithfulness to the traditions that hold us together even while they honor what makes each one of us our own unique soul.

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