I offer thanks to You, O living and everlasting king,
for having restored my soul within me; great is Your faithfulness
Our first conscious act of the day is to avow our indebtedness
and gratitude to our Creator. As soon as we wake from sleep,
before getting out of bed or even washing our hands, we recite the above-quoted lines of the Modeh
Ani prayer, acknowledging that it is He who grants us
life and being every moment of our existence.
The ideas contained in the ostensibly simple lines of Modeh
Ani fill many a profound chapter in the legal, philosophical
and mystical works of Torah. They touch upon the omnipresence
and all-pervasiveness of G-d; on the principle of perpetual
creation (G-ds constant infusion of vitality and
existence into the world, without which it would revert to
utter nothingness); on the laws governing the return of a
pikadon (an object entrusted to ones care) and
on the Kabbalistic concept of Sefirat HaMalchut (the
divine attribute of Sovereignty).
So why is the Modeh Ani said immediately upon waking,
with a mind still groggy from sleep? Would it not have been
more appropriate to precede it with a period of study and
contemplation of these concepts?
Night and Day
The physiology of our bodies and the rhythm of the astral
clocks partition our lives into conscious and supra-conscious
domains. During our waking hours, our mind assumes control
of our thoughts and actions, screening, filtering and interpreting
the stimuli that flow to it, and issuing commands and instructions
to the body. But at night, when we sleep, the command-center
shifts to a deeper, darker place within our psychea
place where fantasy supersedes logic, sense supplants thought,
and awareness is replaced by a more elemental form of knowing.
Hard facts become pliant, absurdities become tenable, in this
There are certain truths, however, that are unaffected by
these fluctuations of knowledge and awareness. Our faith in
G-d, His centrality to our existence, the depth of our commitment
to Himwe know these things utterly and absolutely, and
we know them at all times and in all states of consciousness.
Wakefulness and sleep affect only the external activity of
the intellect; what we know with the very essence of our being,
we know no less when plunged into the deepest recesses of
slumber. On the contrary: when awake, we must wade through
the presuppositions and polemics of an intellect shackled
to the realities of the physical state in order
to arrive at these truths; asleep, our mind loosened from
its subjective moorings, we enjoy a closer and deeper (albeit
less conscious) awareness of our innermost convictions.
The Modeh Ani prayer exploits a most unique moment
of our daythe moment that lies at the threshold of wakefulness,
the moment that straddles the conscious and supra-conscious
domains of our day. There are other moments, other prayers,
in the course of our day which take full advantage of our
powers of intellect and reasoningprayers that follow
lengthy and profound meditations upon their content and significance.
But each morning, as we move from the liberating hours of
sleep to a day of conscious thought, a most unique opportunity
presents itself: the opportunity to express to ourselves a
truth that inhabits our deepest selves, to declare what we
already know to the awaiting day.
A similar phenomenon can be discerned in a halachic
discussion that underlies the mitzvah of bikkurim (first-ripened
Bikkurim, like the Modeh Ani prayer, is a declaration
of indebtedness and gratitude to G-d. In the 26th chapter
of Deuteronomy, the Torah instructs:
And it shall be when you come into the land which the L-rd
your G-d is giving you for an inheritance, and you will possess
it and settle in it;
You shall take from the first of the fruits of the land
... and place them in a basket; and you shall go to the place
that the L-rd your G-d will choose to rest His name there.
And you shall come to the kohen that shall be in
those days, and you shall say to him: I proclaim today
to the L-rd your G-d that I have come unto the land which
G-d swore to our fathers to give to us....
In his proclamation, the bikkurim-bearing
farmer goes on to recount the story of our liberation from
Egypt and G-ds gift to us of a land flowing with
milk and honey, concluding with the pronouncement: And
now, behold, I have brought the first fruit of the land that
You, G-d, have given me.
When did our forefathers begin bringing the first fruits
of their newly-gained homeland to the place where G-d chose to rest His name? The first verse of the
Torahs chapter on bikkurim contains conflicting
implications as to when the practice of this mitzvah is to
commence, giving rise to a legal debate between the Talmud
and the Sifri (a halachic Midrash).
The Jewish people entered the land of Israel under the leadership
of Joshua one month after the passing of Moses, in the year
2488 from creation (1273 bce). But fourteen years were to
pass before the land would be conquered and each tribe and
family allotted its share (the conquest of the land took seven
years, and an additional seven years were required for its
division into twelve tribal territories and more than 600,000
estates for the heads of households entitled to a share in
the land). It is for this reason, says the Talmud, that the
verse specifies to bring bikkurim when you come
into the land... and you will possess it and settle in
itto teach us that the first fruits of the
land should be presented to G-d only after the conquest and
allocation of the land has been completed.
The Sifri, on the other hand, places the emphasis the same
verses opening wordsAnd it shall
be when you come into the land to imply that the obligation
to bring bikkurim applied immediately upon the Jews
entry into the land. The Sifri bases its interpretation on
the first word of the verse, vehayah (And it
shall be), which throughout the Torah is indicative
of an event that is to come to pass immediately.
However, notwithstanding their conflicting readings of the
verse, there is not much practical difference between the
Talmud and the Sifri with regard to the actual bringing of
bikkurim. The Torah instructs that bikkurim should
be brought from the first-ripened fruits of your
land; this, agree all the sages, teaches us that the
mitzvah of bikkurim applies only to a person who owns
the land outright.
So even if the obligation to bring bikkurim had applied,
in principle, from the very first moment that the Jewish people
entered the Land of Israel (as per the Sifris interpretation),
the mitzvah could not have been performed until the land was
conquered and each family was allotted its own estate.
(Indeed, the Jerusalem Talmud expresses the view that no
single family assumed possession of the land allotted to it
until every last family had received its share. Even if the Sifri were to disagree with this
position, it would have taken at least seven years (until
the conquest of the land was completed) for the first Jewish
farmer to acquire a plot of land from which to bring bikkurim.)
There was, however, one case in which the Sifris concept
of an immediate obligation to bring bikkurim could
have applied in actuality. As a reward for joining their fate
to that of the people of Israel, the family of Jethro was
granted an estate in the Holy Land, in the environs of Jericho;
this they received immediately upon the Jewish peoples
entry into the land, as Jericho was the very first city to
be conquered by Joshua.
So there was at least one family estate from which bikkurim
could have been brought immediately when you come into
Between Dream and Reality
Despite the fact that there is little difference, in terms
of actual practice, if we say that the time for bringing bikurim
is when you will possess it and settle in it (as
the Talmud holds) or immediately when you enter the
land (as per the Sifri), the Talmud and the Sifri represent
two very different conceptions of the mitzvah of bikkurim.
The Talmuds conception of bikkurim expresses
the notion that true gratitude for something can only come
after one has come to understand its significance and appreciate
its impact on his life. Unless one has taken possession
of something by studying and analyzing it, unless one has
settled in it by experiencing it in an aware and
informed manner, of what value are ones pronouncements
The Sifri, on the other hand, holds a Modeh Ani-like
vision of the mitzvah of bikkurim, insisting that our
very first moment in the land that G-d has granted us should
be one of recognition and acknowledgment of the divine gift.
For forty years, as the people of Israel wandered through
the Sinai desert, they dreamed of the land designated by G-d
as the environment in which to realize their mission in life.
Then came the great moment of crossing from dream to realitya
reality that actualizes the dream, but which also coarsens
its purity. This is the moment, says the Sifri, in which to
give expression to all that we know and sense about the Holy
Land. For though our knowledge may be primitive and unformed
by the standards of daytime reality, it comes from a place
in us that will no longer be accessible when we have ventured
further into this realm of conscious knowledge and feeling.
Only by expressing it now, on the threshold between supra-conscious
awareness and conscious knowledge, can we carry over from
the perfection and purity of our supra-conscious selves into
the tactual reality of our conscious lives.
Regarding the debates between our sages on matters of Torah
law, the Talmud states that These and these are both
the words of the living G-d.
For although only one view can be implemented as Halachah
(practical Torah law), both represent equally valid formulations
of the divine wisdom, and both can, and should, be incorporated
in our vision of and approach to life.
As per the Talmud, we must take care that we fully comprehend
and identify with the gifts we offer and the feelings we declaim.
As per the Sifri, we must seek connection with the supra-rational,
supra-conscious self that underlies our conscious and intellectual
persona and strive to carry over its unsullied perfection
into our daytime lives.
Based on the Rebbes talks on Shabbat
Ki Tavo of 5743 and 5744 (1983 and 1984),
Adar I 25, 5752 (February 29, 1992), and on other occasion
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe
by Yanki Tauber
. The Modeh Ani prayer does not contain any
of the names of G-d, referring to Him instead as the living
and everlasting king. It is for this reason that we
may recite it before washing our hands in the morning, when
it is forbidden to say any words of holiness.
Chassidic teaching explains that this does not mean that
Modeh Ani is less a communication with G-d than the
other, holier prayers. On the contrary: it addresses
the very essence of G-d, which transcends all divine names
and descriptionsincluding the concept of, and the
conditions required for, holiness.
. See the Rebbes essay, On The Essence of
Chassidus (Kehot, 1978).
. Maimonides makes this the basis for a halachic
ruling in the section on the Laws of Divorce of his codification
of Torah law, the Mishneh Torah. At issue is the seemingly
oxymoronic question of whether a person can be forced to
perform a certain action willingly. According
to Torah law, the marriage bond is created by an act of
the husband; consequently, in the case of divorce it is
he who dissolves the marriage by handing a writ of divorce
(get) to his wife. If the woman petitions for divorce,
the court is authorized to obligate the man to grant her
a get. Should he refuse to comply, the court is empowered
to coerce him to do so. But since a get is valid
only when granted willingly, the court must also force him
to say, I am willing. Yet what significance
can his declaration possibly have? If the court is authorized
to enforce the divorce, why demand the statement? And if
his consent is truly needed, can words so obviously mouthed
under duress be regarded as consent on his part?
Maimonides explains: As a Jew, this person wishes
to be of Israel, wishes to observe all the commandments
and avoid all of the transgressions of the Torah; only his
evil inclination has overpowered him. So if he is beaten
so that his evil inclination is weakened, and he says, I
am willing, he is considered to have divorced willingly
as his declaration is consistent with his true, inner will
(Mishneh Torah, Laws of Divorce 2:20).
. The Holy Temple in Jerusalem was built by King
Solomon more than 400 years after the people of Israel conquered
and settled the land of Israel. Until that time, the Sanctuary
made in the desert, which was set up in various places in
the Holy Land (at Gilgal, Shiloh, Nov, and Giveon), served
as the abode of the divine presence.
. Talmud, Kiddushin 37b.
. Sifri on Deuteronomy 26:1.
. Mishnah, Bikkurim 1:1-2.
. Jerusalem Talmud, Sheviit 6:1, Challah
2:1, et al.
. Numbers 10:32; Sifri, ibid. Only the generation
of the Exodusthe 603,550 heads of households
who came out of Egyptwere entitled to a share in the
Holy Land. Jethro, who converted to Judaism after the Exodus,
had no such entitlement; nevertheless, he and his descendants
were granted the Jericho estate for a period of 440 years,
until the construction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem,
at which time it was given to the tribe which had relinquished
the Temple site in order that it become the communal property
of all Jews.
The Midrash explicitly states that the children of Jethro
were given possession of this piece of land for 440 yearsa
time-period that begins from the year of Israels crossing
of the Jordan under Joshua.
. Talmud, Eruvin 13b.
. The Torah section of Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26-28),
which includes the chapter on bikkurim, is always
in proximity to the 18th of Elul, which is the birthday
of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the founder of
Chassidism, and of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812),
founder of the Chabad branch of Chassidism.
The lives and work of these two great leaders parallel
the two versions of bikkurim put forth
by the Sifri and the Talmud. Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov
revitalized (and revolutionized) Jewish life with his emphasis
on the depth and purity of the faith and commitment of the
simple Jew. Rabbi Schneur Zalman taught the necessity of
internalizing this faith and commitment through the structured
intellectual and emotional processes he outlined in his
Chabad philosophy and approach to life.
. Likkutei Sichot, vol. XXXIV, pp. 145-152.