Rav Daniel Kohn (left) and Eli Schwebel

Eli Schwebel: Gut morgen, Rebbe. It is so amazing we’re moving on this! And “Modeh” … wow, it’s so different to wake up to acceptance, thanks, glory. It seems too basic.

Rav Daniel Kohn: Definitely, now let’s move to the next levels: “Ani lefanecha—I before you.” It’s actually strange grammar; we should have said, “Ani modeh,” not first “modeh.”

Eli: Yeah, I know that, just never thought about it.

Rav Daniel: But the truth is acceptance, thanks, and glory need to come first, before “ani.”

“Ani” is a very powerful word. In Hebrew it comes from the word for power, “ohn” (like Yaakov says about Reuven, “reishit oni,” my first strength). But declaring your power can’t come first in the morning. First is “modeh”—I’m in acceptance that it’s you, Hashem, Who makes me; I’m glowing because of You. Then “my power” comes out right, as strength, which comes from a higher source.

Eli: It’s the opposite of being egotistical. I know when I perform it’s first “shine.” If I think “me” it doesn’t happen.

Rav Daniel: Totally. First let the flow come, then, without taking ownership—hey, I wonder if that word in English, own, comes from “ohn!”—anyhow, without taking it for yourself, but, on the other hand, sensing the power of what is channeling through you. And then we get to “lefanechah.” Another grammar “mistake”…

Eli: Why?

Rav Daniel: Because you should be saying “lecha”—I am thankful to You, not in front of You.

Eli: What’s that about?

Rav Daniel: It’s more of a declaration than a thank-you. It is like, “This is what I do before You: I accept, thank, and glow. And I stand, present, alive, and awake.” This phrase is actually taken from Elokai neshamah: “My G-d, the soul You placed into me … as long as it is in me thank I before you.” This is my reality, my way of being. But I do it in full awareness of You being here. It’s not about me thanking You.

Eli: I’m not sure I’m getting it, Rebbe…

Rav Daniel: Here’s the deal. The first person to ever be modeh was Leah when she gives birth to Yehuda and says, “This time I’m going to thank G-d.” What was the “this time?” So Rashi says that it was the first time anyone thanked Hashem! Not Adam, not Chava, not Kayin, not Noach, not Avraham, not Sarah, not Yitzchak, Rivka, or Yaakov! And this was because something happens suddenly—and the emphasis is on suddenly—I mean think of Leah and her wanting her husband’s love, her naming her first three children around “maybe now he’ll love me,” “maybe now he’ll accompany me,” and suddenly she gets a fourth child and, notice, doesn’t mention him—Yaakov.

Eli: Yeah, it’s a very tough story. I wrote a song about it. But, what, why does the fourth child change things?

Rav Daniel: Rashi says, “Because now she knew she’s special”… “I’ve been given more than what was coming to me.” I mean, this is unbelievable! “Every wife was meant to have three children and I got four!” That’s it, I’m different. Let alone that everyone is, but some people’s lives lead them to realize it suddenly. Now, she’s not in the business of “He loves me, he loves me not” anymore—she is who she is.

Eli: Wow, that’s the moment she glows!

Rav Daniel: Exactly. And she needs to experience it in her own—ohn—space. She’ll return to Yaakov, for sure, but for now, “This time, I thank G-d.” And us, this time, is every morning. We have to start not by saying, “I thank You, G-d” but “I thank lefanecha”—I know I’m in front of You, I know You’re King but I’m not talking to You yet; I’m just being modeh. I know You understand. I’ve got to touch this in me, first.

Eli: Every morning touch it in me first. I’m special, I’m “before” You—like lying here before You—like also, this comes before I get to You. I’ve got to “modeh,” then “ani,” and it’s before You. Wow, connecting. I feel it.

Rav Daniel: Yeah, feel it. Thank you, Eli!

Eli: Love ya, Rebbe. Can’t wait ‘til next time!

Please look out in the coming weeks for more transcribed installments of Siddur Alive, and continue to follow @EliSchwebel on Instagram to see them in engaging video format.

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