This morning I found myself discussing the meaning of some of the daily prayers that Jews recite each morning. It reminded me of the relevance and maybe even the necessity of finding words like these to remind and guide us as we journey through life. So here, in a bare bones fashion, are the prayers and their most urgent meanings (in my opinion).
- Modeh Ani– A prayer to be recited immediately upon waking up in the morning, this prayer was added to the morning liturgy to ensure that we find a moment, however brief, to express gratitude for the gift of this day. Modeh Ani is a reminder that however tired, grumpy, uninspired, or burned out we might be, today is a gift and our ability to experience this day is similarly a gift.
- Mah Tovu– This prayer is often misunderstood because people don’t know about it’s origins in the biblical story of the prophet Balaam. Balaam was sent to curse the Israelites, but every time he opened his mouth to speak, words of blessing came out instead. Therefore, Mah Tovu is a reminder that we are faced, each moment, with the choice between being a blessing and being a curse. We should choose to be a blessing and should summon all of our agency and creativity in service of this goal. Also, Mah Tovu reminds us of the power and importance of speech. We need to learn how to control our mouths.
- Elohai Neshamah– This prayer reminds us that we have a soul, and that our soul is good and pure. Reciting this prayer can serve as a reminder that it is in our nature to incline toward goodness, compassion, love, and kindness. This prayer reminds us that each of us has a soul and that listening to our soul can help us find our way in the world. Cultivating the inherent goodness of our soul is essential to living our best life and we should pursue this for ourselves and help create contexts that enable others to do the same.