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Posts Tagged ‘Modeh Ani’

The Siyum HaShas

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

We doubt anyone attending last week’s massive Siyum HaShas at MetLife Stadium will forget anytime soon the breathtaking sight of more than ninety thousand people breaking out into dance and song in celebration of the Torah following the delivery of the siyum by Lakewood Rosh Yeshiva HaRav Malkiel Kotler. Or the chills they experienced as Cantor Yitzchok Meir Helfgott recited the Kel Moleh Rachamim prayer in honor of the victims of the Holocaust who died Al Kiddush Hashem. Or the inspiration they felt as tens of thousands of Jews prayed together as one. All were testimony to the centrality of Torah to Jewish identity, fealty to the Ribbono Shel Olam and submission to His Will.

In a very real sense, every day in the lives of countless Jews around the world is a testament to Torah and halacha – getting up in the morning with the Modeh Ani prayer and going to sleep at night with the Shema, putting on tallis and tefillin, davening, being scrupulous about kashrus and taharas hamishpachah, seeing to it that children are Torah-educated, striving to lead homes anchored in Torah and mitzvos.

But last week there was an added dimension. Jews around the world publicly declared the centrality of Torah to Jewish identity and as that which connects Jews everywhere. They celebrated the study of the entire Talmud by thousands almost as one from one end of the world to the other. The texts were the same. The methodology was the same. The commitment was the same. Even the singsong cadences were often the same.

And virtually the entire world was focused on the proceedings at MetLife Stadium. The secular media seemed fascinated with the notion that in an age of high-tech gadgetry and spectacular scientific breakthroughs, grown men had committed themselves to building every day of their lives around the study of ancient texts while still more than holding their own with the rest of the world.

From this perspective, Agudath Israel of America’s monumental undertaking in organizing the MetLife Siyum HaShas was nothing less than a historic contribution to the Jewish people and deserves the gratitude of all Jews. We believe the event inspired Orthodox Jews in America to a greater participation in the new Daf HaYomi cycle, to a deeper camaraderie with their fellow Jews, and to walk with even greater pride as the world came to know more about what we truly are about.

Modeh Ani – A Prayer of Thanks

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Dear Readers: Everywhere you turn, it seems that people are beset with so many problems and worries; some are financial in nature, some revolve around social issues like shidduchim and marriage, some involve setbacks and losses, and the non-actualization of the vision we had of how the days of our lives would play out.

When people are focused on what is going wrong in their life, without balancing the bad with awareness of what is right, then they become susceptible to feelings of depression, anger or even hopelessness. To offset this negativity, which can undermine your well-being, it is important to take a moment to appreciate what is good in your life.

The following is the last of my summer poem series.

Modeh Ani – A Prayer of Thanks

The tired young father,

Shakes his head in dismay,

He has so many expenses,

They seem to increase day by day.

He is consumed by the fear

Of how on he will be able,

To pay the myriad of bills

Overflowing on the table.

He looks up and sees a photo,

Of his baby and his wife,

“Modeh Ani,” he whispers,

For my wonderful life.

The frail old lady,

Has been worn down by her years,

Her face is creased and lined

By long ago tears.

She has suffered much loss,

And is no stranger to pain,

Out of reach are cherished goals

That she will never attain.

Yet she lives on her own,

And is clean and well fed,

“Modeh Ani,” she utters,

That I can get out of bed.

The mother got up early,

Before the clock struck seven.

Sixteen hours later, she’s still up

Though it’s way past eleven.

The chores are never-ending,

There are dishes still in the sink,

The baby is teething,

Her toddler woke up and wants a drink.

She then hears her teenage son,

As he opens the door with his key,

All her children are now home,

She whispers, “Modeh Ani.”

Her oldest is getting married,

An erliche boy, but not her first choice,

She thought her daughter could do better,

She’s not sure she should rejoice.

Suddenly a surge of overwhelming emotion

Suffuses the mother of the kallah,

As her Holocaust survivor parents,

Walk to their grandchild’s chuppah,

Through so much mesiras nefesh,

They rebuilt the family tree,

On the lips of the baalat simcha,

A fervent “Modeh Ani.”

Carrying The Torch Of Torah

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Even before his eyes open in the morning, the kollel student has in his head the rapid-fire flow of verses, laws and teachings from the prior day’s learning. The words of Modeh Ani exit his lips while he reaches to shut the alarm before it wakes his family. Soon he will be on his way, confronted with many topics of halacha and hashkafa.

He will concentrate on the pages in front of him and ask questions: What is it that is being said here? What exactly is Rashi alluding to? Why is it phrased in this way?

If the answer is obvious, he will ask why the statement needed to be made at all. If there is a seeming contradiction in what he’s reading, he will seek out explanations and clarifications. He is looking for foundation and principle, for what is to be included and excluded. He wants to know what is expected of the Jew.

And yet kollel students are derided by a fair number of people in our community. Perhaps this is due to misconceptions about whom a kollel student is and what he represents – a proper understanding of which gets to the very heart of whom we are as a people and why we were created in the first place.

What is the reason for our existence? The question has been debated by philosophers and intellectuals throughout the ages. For religious Jews, the answer was given when Am Yisrael stood at Har Sinai and received the Torah. From that moment on, the study and fulfillment of its instruction would be the defining purpose of our lives.

Torah learning is our connection to Hashem, the cornerstone of our faith, the very essence of our being. A Jew must have interwoven into every aspect of his life what it is that Hashem wants from him. In other words, he should strive to achieve spiritual perfection. How? Through cleaving to Hashem, the Ramchal tells us (Mesillat Yesharim chapter 1). And this cleaving comes through studying Torah.

Now we understand the function of the kollel. As a consequence of the Jews having splintered into so many different factions, there has been an ongoing decline in Torah scholarship. Things are not as they once were. The Talmud (Berachos 35b) states, “The earlier generations made their Torah fixed and their work temporary.” Since we no longer have this level of study, the kollel is a means to ensure a viable foundation for higher Torah learning. It is a means to defend against spiritual decline and conserve the fundamentals of a Jew’s life.

If it is not possible for all of us to immerse fully in Torah, we should at least attach ourselves to those who do. These are the people who sustain the world, because it is the Torah that makes the world exist (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbos 137b, Pesachim 68b, Nedarim 31a). Kollel students are not very different from the Kohanim and Levi’im of long ago who carried the responsibility of maintaining the Beit HaMikdash on behalf of the rest of the nation.

The word kollel means “collection” or “gathering” and is an institution of full-time advanced learning of a variety of Judaic subjects. The intent of the program is to have a quorum of Jews who study full time and are supported by others. This is the concept given in the Torah by Yaakov to Yissachar and Zevulun, who established a partnership with one learning Torah full time and the other working fulltime, dividing the reward between them.

On a practical level, the kollel provides a training ground for communal rabbis and leaders. If we want to ensure future generations’ commitment to Judaism, it is incumbent on us to preserve the core of Judaism – the scholars and teachers who transmit and elucidate the Torah. This fact of life becomes obvious from a basic survey of the many communities – Atlanta, St. Louis, Dallas and Philadelphia, among others – that have become home to high-level kollels and seen concomitant spikes in Jewish religious observance.

A kollel system as large as Lakewood (with more than 4,000 students), even though beautiful, is an anomaly. Most community kollels consist of only a handful of students – sometimes as few as six or seven. Of some 13 million Jews worldwide, a miniscule percentage learns full time and receives a small stipend (usually less than 200 dollars a week).

Smart Wrinkles

Wednesday, February 15th, 2006

This column is being written on my secular birthday, February 14 (my real birthday is 11 Adar), a birthday – not surprisingly – that I share with my twin brother. The strange thing about that is that when I look at him, I see the middle-aged zayda that he is. Yet when I look in the mirror, I see a young kid who happens to be a grandmother. Sure, the face is not as taut as it once was, and the girth is a bit more than I’d like; but no doubt there is a young person looking back at me. Other people might not see it that way, but my opinion is the one that counts. And the fact is, I may be chronologically “up there” but in my eyes I’m still a kid, albeit a mature one. Which means I have the best of both worlds – a youthful outlook melded with the wisdom that is the byproduct of experience.


Staying “young” isn’t all that difficult. Just don’t take anything for granted, no matter how many millions of times you’ve experienced it. Like walking down your street. There is always something that should make you open your eyes in wonder, as if you are seeing it for the first time. Even a blade of grass growing from a crack in the sidewalk can be something to get excited about.


Every morning we say Modeh Ani, as we thank God for returning our souls back to us. In a way every day – if not a “birth” day – is a “rebirth” day and we should view and enjoy our daily activities with renewed awe and appreciation. Just as children do. They can see a squirrel for the hundredth time or hear a story over and over again and never lose their enthusiasm. That is what being young is all about. Joie d’vivre. Joy of life.


I love the fact that I am now a year older. Unlike most people who groan at the thought that an impending birthday will bring yet another year to their life count, I’m thrilled about it. Why? The obvious reason for embracing aging is that it sure beats the alternative.


All of us have had close calls. I actually feel like benching Gomel every time I cross the street – even when the light is green. There have been many times when distracted or careless drivers turned onto the street as I was crossing – cutting just inches in front of me. Had I been a few steps forward And then there are the medical tests that need to be repeated or require further investigation that we all have tzittered (shook with fear) over. We’ve been lucky, B”H, but we all know too many others – our age or younger – who weren’t so fortunate. I am also very aware that almost all my grandparents’ grandchildren – 30-40 of my first cousins – did not live past their mid-20s. They were murdered by the Nazis. I am one of the few who did; not by any heroics, but by simply being born years after the war.


But beside the fact that aging means I’m still alive, when people ask me why I’m so happy about getting older, I truthfully tell them, “The older I get – the less stupid I am.” Throughout your life, you are faced with many life altering decisions, difficult challenges and tough hurdles. No one gets a “free pass” over the obstacles and potholes that litter the road of life which can throw you some rather serious curves. Young people are often clueless when it comes to wisely assessing the situation – whatever it may be – and making the best choice. But with age (what I call life experience) you can learn invaluable lessons from the mistakes you made earlier as well as from the errors of others, thereby gaining the wisdom and sechel that will hopefully guide you – and those who look to you for advice – on to a smoother path.


It’s like the more you drive – the better you are at driving. The more you live – the better you are at living.


Wrinkles are a small price to pay for that.

Modeh Ani – A Thank You

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

Over the years I always wondered why Hashem – the Master and Creator of the Universe – was so machmir – so adamant in having us mortals sing his praises and thank him all the time. From the minute we wake up till the moment we go to sleep we have to express our awareness and gratitude for literally everything that we have. We are required to acknowledge that we woke up in the morning because of Him; we thank Him for our food, our clothing – even our ability to go to the bathroom.

I would think to myself – shouldn’t Hashem be beyond this need for validation and praise. After all the need for a ‘pat on the back,’ the desire for recognition is a very human trait – why would G-d need our admiration and our tributes, especially when literally we are dust on feet.

I believe I received an answer on Shabbas Hagadol when I went to a drasha and a friend who lives in a different part of the city went to another one. When we discussed what we heard, we realized that there was a common theme – the extreme importance of hakarut hatov – acknowledgement of a service rendered. It is precisely because getting appreciation and validation is a very human need that Hashem in His wisdom, insisted that giving thanks become second nature to us. This achieved giving Him constant hakarut Hatov for what He does for us.

Showing appreciation to another for what they do for you seems to be the key to successful relationships – both at home and at work. At the drasha, it was pointed out that something as easy as opening one’s month and saying a simple thank you to a wife for doing the laundry, or to a husband for going out to work was an essential ingredient to shalom bayis. Likewise if a co-worker took on some of your work, or an employee stayed an hour later to help finish a project – it would lead to more productive and pleasant work environment if there was recognition of the person’s efforts.

And this is where Hashem’s insistence for praise and tribute comes in. The Creator of all there is does not need accolades from us mere mortals. To think He does need us to extol Him is extremely arrogant and presumptuous. What he wants from us is to get into the “habit” of expressing gratitude and appreciation because doing so leads to a happier and successful life. In His eyes we are just infants and like young children, must be trained to behave a certain way. This is best done by constant repetition. Every time a mother and her child are about to cross the street, she will admonish him/her to look both ways. After a while it becomes the child’s habit to look in both directions. Likewise, when we constantly thank Hashem for his thousands of chesseds (kindnesses) such as a giving us life and the necessary means to sustain it – like food, water, and clothing – it becomes second nature to us to do so.

Lashon hatov – praise and positive speech is a by-product of hakarut hatov. As I see it – lashon harah malicious or hurtful, or critical speech – can be practiced on two levels. One can actively “bad-mouth” somebody, denigrating some aspect of the person, or criticizing something they did, or failed to do. This is known as gossip or mudslinging. Another aspect of lashon harah is … saying nothing. Sometimes silence is not golden. Not opening your mouth and giving a compliment, recognizing a favor – in other words taking someone for granted and making them feel worthless – can cause the same feelings of hurt and rejection as actively saying something negative or critical.

Just because a wife, for example, has prepared a thousand suppers for her husband does not mean that it is something that should be expected day every day. We humans have eaten thousands upon thousand of meals – yet Hashem expects us to say a blessing of thanks each time. Hashem is teaching us that no matter how familiar or frequent something is – like a meal provided by Him and prepared by a wife or mother, it should never be taken for granted. By the time someone is 20, they have woken up over 7000 times. But each time get up we utter the Modeh Ani prayer, thanking G-d for letting us wake up to continue our lives.

G-d does not need our appreciation. But other human being do. By having us constantly thank Him, G-d is training us to getting into habit of practicing hakarut hatov with the people with whom we share our earthly space. It is the road that leads to shalom bayis and peace in general. For that reason alone, He deserves our eternal praise.

Love, Trust And Faith – Achieving True Peace Of Mind

Wednesday, October 20th, 2004

During Rosh Hashona, when it is customary to greet friend and stranger alike with good wishes for the upcoming year, I try to avoid uttering the phrase, “Have a happy and healthy New Year. The sentiments expressed are fine and sincere, but to me the words have lost their clout by overuse – the way, “have a nice day” has, or “I’m sorry,” uttered without thought as you move your way into a crowded train. It’s become an automatic , unthinking response.

Instead I say to everyone I care about that they should have a year in which they will have “peace of mind”. Having peace of mind means all is well in the major aspects of one’s life – there are no dire health, parnasah, (livelihood) shidduch, shalom bayit or child – related issues eating away at you, preoccupying your thoughts and your actions. It means restful sleep at night, and no stomach churning anxiety as you reluctantly face a new day in the morning.

This year I as I uttered these good wishes, I found myself wondering how does one achieve a state of being where true peace of mind/spirit envelopes you? The fact is, that there are very few people, if any, with perfect lives, where everyone they are connected to – parents, spouses, friends, children and themselves are in good health, have no social or educational issues, financial problems, or other significant concerns.

I realized that one can attain this state of well-being by simply having hakarat hatov – acknowledgement and therefore appreciation of the good in one’s life. There, might be room for improvement – the kids could get fewer colds and ear infections, or have better grades, your spouse could be a bit more complimentary, your boss a bit more generous, your 22 old year old daughter could have more suitable dates – but life is generally at a madraga (level) that is worth being grateful for. You have the job, the spouse, the children, the health – all you have to do is embrace your good mazel and be content. Contentment with your lot is the path to peace of mind, and the ability to say, “Modeh Ani” when you wake up ? and mean it.

But sadly, there are men and women and children who have experienced soul-shattering turmoil and horrific loss. Though there are aspects of their lives that are good and worthy of appreciation, they have gone through an excruciatingly painful, non-fixable catastrophe whose dark immensity overshadows that good and diminished it.

Living consists of emotional pain so intense and overwhelming that it consumes the person totally and he/she cannot escape it. Everyday objects and activities release bullets of emotional agony. A school bus that goes past your home that no longer stops, an empty bedroom full of belongings, a Shabbat table with unused chairs. There is no running away from the spirit-breaking confines of a new reality.

The sorrow that threatens to bend the core of one’s being to the breaking point, often is intensified by a gangreneous guilt that gnaws away at the soul, much like a woodpecker pecking away at a tree, constant and consistent and relentless.

How can these neshamas wrapped in grief find peace of mind – even a tiny modicum of it.

It is through Hashem’s ultimate gift to mankind – faith in Him.

But what does faith really mean and how to achieve it? I can only offer my feelings and thoughts on something that many greater than me throughout the ages have grappled with.

Faith is trust. Unwavering, undiluted, doubt-free trust, which can only be attained through love. Case in point. A baby getting a needle that causes it seconds of pain – which to the infant seems like forever – trusts the actions of its parents. It does not stop loving them because of this seemingly cruel act. It does not say to itself, “My parents are evil, they hurt me and let me down, I don’t want anything to do with them. I reject them.” Rather it trusts its parents so completely that every painful act perpetrated by them is accepted and received and internalized as being something that was to its benefit, even though it has no idea as to how the “torture” inflicted on it could possibly be a good thing.

The baby has total, unobstructed faith in its parents, it trusts them unequivocally – because it loves them with all its soul.

Hashem in his kindness has given us a blueprint for attaining trust in Him. It is contained in the Shema, which begins with Judaism’s ultimate declaration of faith – (one uttered by martyrs as they were murdered) “Hear Oh Israel – Hashem is Our G-d, Hashem is One.”

Immediately following this declaration is an admonishment: ” and you shall love your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources.”

We are not advised to fear G-d. Obviously, it takes no effort to be afraid of an Almighty G-d who can turn your life inside out with a blink. Nor is loving someone a challenge when life is wonderful.

But loving someone unconditionally despite the fact that He has brought pain and suffering – in spite of the pain and suffering – is the ultimate act of trust. Being able to say without hesitation yet without understanding it that, “this (the apparent tragedy) too is for the good” is the supreme achievement of faith and love for Hashem and the only path to consolation and the nechama crucial for peace of mind.

Although you may never be relieved of your sense of loss and your heart will always be bruised and there will be an emptiness in your soul, your pain can be soothed to the point of it being bearable, allowing you to take your first steps on the path to true peace of mind. If you can believe whole hardly, that Hashem controls every nuance of our lives – then guilt is a torture that is underserved – and one you wrongly inflict on yourself. Guilt is an unmitigated conceit – since you are saying you are in control and responsible and not Hashem. Faith in Hashem’s mastery of the universe will soothe your soul’s wounds and sleep will be attainable.

Attaining and maintaining love in Hashem and an acceptance of His unfathomable ways can be, and is the ultimate challenge even to those seeped in Yiddishkeit from the day they were born. But the reward is a life lived, if not b’simcha, at least with peace of mind.

During these Days of Awe – Yamai Noraim – I wish you and Klal Yisrael success in your davening and true peace of mind, all the days of your lives.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/love-trust-and-faith-achieving-true-peace-of-mind/2004/10/20/

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