Thursday, August 23, 2012

#BlogElul 5 & 6: How great is Your trust in me

I'm taking two of the #BlogElul themes and putting them in one for this blog - Trust and Faith.  In Hebrew, there is one word that can capture aspects of both of these english words - Emunah.  There is another word in Hebrew, bitachon, that can also convey 'trust', and sometimes bitachon and emunah get used interchangeably.  But in rabbinic literature, emunah is often the word that conveys both meanings.

When we awake in the morning, the traditional blessing that is recited upon noticing that we have regained consciousness is Modeh (Modah for women) Ani lefanecha, Melech Chai v'kayam, she'he'chezarta bi nishmati b'chemla rabah emunatecha: Thankful am I before You, Living and Eternal Sovereign.  You have returned my soul to me in mercy.  How great is your trust/faith in me!

The idea of waking with this blessing goes back to Talmudic times and is derived from verses in Lamentations (3:22-23) that rabbis interpreted to mean that Creation is renewed every day.  Our souls are safeguarded in God's hands, metaphorically speaking, while we sleep and, when we awake, it is God who has restored our souls.

When I pray these words, I often focus more on the first phrase - Thankful am I before You... There is so much to contemplate in these few words.  A story is told of a Hassidic master, the Apter Rebbe, who had not started his morning prayers, yet it was now noon.  He explained that he had awoken and begun to recite modeh ani,  but began to wonder, 'Who am I?', and 'Who is the You before Whom I am I?'  Still pondering these questions, he had been unable to go forward. (in 'A Book of Life: Embracing Judaism as a Spiritual Practice, by Rabbi Michael Strassfeld, p. 5).

Focusing on the first part of the prayer can invoke a sense of awe if, like the Apter Rebbe, one truly begins to think about the essence of the 'I' and what we understand to be the 'Thou'.

But the last part of the prayer is where we find the word, emunah, and the emphasis is quite different.  How great is Your faith.  Does God need faith? Surely not.  But on days when we might not feel like opening our eyes, on days when we might not be looking forward to the tasks that lie ahead, on days when we feel loss, pain, loneliness... uttering the words of Modeh Ani can remind us that each day is created anew.  We have been given the gift of today.  What shall we do with it?  When we are lacking faith in our own strength, our own abilities, or our own will to get ourselves up and out of bed, we remind ourselves that God has faith in us.  Its God's little daily pep talk with us.

Here faith and trust are interconnected in one Hebrew word - emunah.  God has faith in us.  Our soul has been entrusted to us for one more day so that we may do something remarkable with it.  And God believes in our capacity to do just that.  God trusts that we will use this day wisely.  Rabah emunatecha, we say - Great is your faith/trust.  Why so great?  Because perhaps we didn't use the gift we were given so wisely yesterday.  Perhaps we didn't do all that we could have with our time.  But great is God's faith that we may still live up to our full potential.  Preparing for Rosh Hashanah, we are invited to consider how we are using each gift - each day.  We are called upon to have the faith to believe that more is possible.  We are called upon to trust and believe that we can raise ourselves higher.
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz

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