(What follows in an exceprt of what I shared with my wonderful kehilla on my first Shabbat back on the pulpit. It’s just about re-learning life’s simplest things.)
We don’t often notice it, but our daily morning liturgy is powerfully determined to get us to imagine and experience each morning as if it were the moment at which we’ve been granted life for the very first time - our moment of birth. Consider: Modeh Ani. Consider the amazement we express in “asher yatzar” at the fact that our body is functioning. Consider the bracha whose words literally stuck in my throat the morning I woke up in the cardiac ICU, “Baruch ata Hashem… hamachazir nishamot lifgarim metim”….. Blessed are You God who restores life to dead bodies.
It’s not hard to understand why our Sages encouraged us to think about each waking up in this way. Because at the moment when life in all its wonder, in its full miraculousness, in all its potential, was ACTUALLY given to us, we had no idea what was going on. We utterly lacked the consciousness and self-awareness to appreciate what had just happened. Our Sages recognized that we had spent the single most profound spiritual moment of our existence wondering about nothing else that when the milk would be arriving. And so they did all they could to get us to harness our powers of imagination, and to try every morning to experience awakening from sleep, as if it were coming into existence to begin with. As if God had just now granted us life. In order so that we ask each day the questions that we couldn’t have asked that day back in the maternity ward, so that we begin each day awestruck at the miracle of being alive, and inspired to put in a day worthy of this miraculous intervention.
Though clearly the sages never wished such a thing upon anyone, it sometime happens that a person is granted life when he actually IS self-aware and conscious enough to realize what has just happened. To recognize that a miracle has been done. And I suppose that it’s some kind of mitzva to share a little bit of what this experience makes you think about as you look out into the sunlight and prepare to leave the ark. . These thoughts are still far from full maturation. They are just beginnings.
One thought that’s occurred to me is that when God grants us life, He doesn’t grant us generic life. He grants us OUR life – the life whose contours and purpose are defined by the needs of the people who need our love, and who need our care. The people who would have been most drastically affected had our life not been granted this second time. This is the life we are supposed to live. God does not grant us a generic life to live. He grants us OUR life to live.
Also: what we owe to God for the life He has granted us, is NOT that we succeed. Yes, we hope for success, we pray for success, success is good. But success is not what we owe God. What we owe to God for this life He has granted us, is to give this thing our very best shot. To put everything we have into it. To not cheat Him on effort. .This is what it is to say, and to live, “Modeh ani lifanecha…:
And unconnected but connected…. I have said hundreds of times, just before the mi sheberach for cholim, that we partner with God in bringing healing. I now know that this is true. Your numerous and profound expressions of care and love have, together with God’s help, brought me healing and strength. And at the risk of embarrassing them momentarily, I thank Albert and Yaron, whose professional expertise and capacities are seamlessly intertwined with their love.
Modeh ani lifanecha, I thank you God, el chai v’kayam, and Modeh ani lifnechem, and I thank you, my friends, for your having restored my life to me with your great compassion.