When Eli suggested we learn together and then “upped the ante” by suggesting that we let others into the conversation, we never expected that these conversations would take off the way they have. Eli, because of his passion, humor, and great mind, has a great way of drawing my teachings out, besides adding his own. It’s the interactions that make the series so engaging for its thousands of listeners. Better, it is itself a model for how prayer “works” and why we need to ask for what we want to an “all-knowing” G-d. Prayer is not just asking for help—man, a helpless creature, coming to G-d as a pauper looks for alms. Prayer is an invitation to Hashem to bring His goodness, the goodness He passionately wants to give but cannot/would not (so says Rashi) give unless man asks. This is the incredible insight of Chazal who say (on the verse at the beginning of Bereishit 2) that “the rain did not fall because there was no man to work the earth—to pray for rain” (Rashi). Hashem obviously wants the rain to come down, and He knows that the world will fail if it doesn’t, but He needs man to make it happen. He wants a world in which we are partners, in love and common care. In a sense, our prayers work like two people in conversation—what comes out of you is so different because the person across from you wants to hear you. It just wouldn’t have happened if he wasn’t there. So, too, we “bring out” of Hashem the very things He desires to give, but they only come by virtue of our desire and asking. It’s the synergy He seeks, the connection called “brit.”
That type of interaction is what makes this series so special for both Eli and me. Something happens on “Siddur Alive” that’s alive and connecting and I’m thrilled that it will now get wider exposure thanks to 5TJT. My life mission is to teach and inspire, and it is my prayer that these teachings will not only surprise and delight you, but truly inspire you to a fuller, more loving life which, of course, means one more deeply connected to the Holy One, expansive be He. Enjoy!
Eli Schwebel: Hi, Rebbe! Gut morgen … We’re beginning this series, so important, Siddur Alive! That’s what we decided to call it because we’re looking to connect with the Siddur, for real. Not just as a book of words…but alive! Rebbe, where do we start?
Rav Daniel Kohn: Amazing, Eli. For sure. Let’s just step into this the way we step into our day. The Siddur is meant to empower us, to make it possible to be alive in the world, to do that connected to G-d, knowing our source. So the first thing that comes out of our mouths is “Modeh.”
I think many people struggle in the morning when they wake up. So, there’s a lot of people who struggle with negative thoughts. Because the rabbis say that when you were asleep, you were tasting one-sixtieth of death, which is kind of a way of saying that when you’re out of consciousness then you’re really part of what it’s going to be like when you’re out of consciousness. The bad deal that comes with that is that a lot of people wake up with negative thoughts because they’ve been in a state of negation when they’re asleep. So they wake up with this negation. I don’t want to get out of bed. What do I have here? What’s life about? What am I doing here? Because they really, in a sense, have to reassert and affirm the truth of their presence in this world in a way that’s really touching their glory. I’ve worked with a lot of people like that. And I’m one of them. One of the things that really saved my life was the ability to connect to exactly what I’m teaching. This is not just “stuff,” intellectualization; these are great powers that are embedded within the words of the Siddur.
So let’s start. First word: “Modeh.” Get this, “modeh” is a very rich word. It means “accept,” it means “thank,” and it comes from the root “hod,” which means “shining glory!” So our opening of the day is: Accept it, you’re back! Accept that you’re alive! Not everyone is so happy to do that. Many people in the morning have trouble accepting that this is it, they’re alive and it’s for real. No more dreams, it’s for real now.
Next, “thanks!” — I am grateful for that. I want this…and it’s a time actually to think of something you’re grateful for, even if it’s just your breath, or the sun coming in through the window, or the feel of your pillow. Mamash, take that moment. It’s crucial because, unfortunately, we’re biologically programmed to look out for danger or look out for what’s wrong, but here we’re encouraged to find something that is pleasant, nice, sweet…here for you!
Then next, feel how amazing all this is. “Glory” is like a burst of light, or something coming out in all its glory. It’s a surprise, it’s important, it’s above the regular, standard routine.
Modeh! Accept, thank, be in the glory! They all come together because when I sense the glory of the moment, I want to give thanks and then I deeply accept life. Only when I really accept this thing called “being alive,” I can be open to being grateful and only then does my glory shine, because when I’m grumpy, it doesn’t!
Eli: Totally, Rebbe… Grumpy, groggy, wanna go back to sleep, get me outta here — totally not glorious.
Rav Daniel: Yes, in Hebrew, when a person experiences His glory, that’s when he really wants to give thanks. And so the first step for us in the morning is to focus on something that gives us a sense of our hold, our wanting to be here. Our fully accepting this mission of life. Sometimes the best way to do that is just to look out the window at the beams of light of the sun — in Hebrew they’re called “karnei hod,” which means “beams of glory.” I don’t know if you people can do that in New York—see the sunrise. So how about just breathe, feel that first breath, take a moment to accept it, be grateful for it. That’s glorious itself. Then, if you want to get more advanced, then touch — think of something in your life that is glorious. Something you did yesterday, something small even — the way you smiled at someone, or did a good thing, a little ray of light. Or think of someone who is a little ray of light in your life and then say, “Wow! [That’s the glory.] Thanks!”
Eli: Amazing … a game-changer. I need this… Thanks! Hey, but what about “ani,” you know, the next word.
Rav Daniel: Next time. That’s a big one!
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.