Further Awakenings in the Siddur

The Soul, Slow Waking, and a Little Grammar

Beyond the first two lines of the earliest morning prayers — it takes some of us a long time to make those first few steps — Jewish morning blessings continue to focus on awakening, with attention to body, soul, and Torah/mind. Here are some notes on “the soul” as well as a tune for slow wakers, as well as notes on Hebrew grammar related to this variant of the waking prayer.

Elsewhere on this blog, is a post, prepared for Tu B’svhat last year, and focusing on one of the daily blessings: Strength to the Weary. There are more posts relevant to the early morning prayers, which can be found, I hope, through the search function. Other resources and ideas are always welcome, although this blog cites as general references only egalitarian sources.

NOTE: Temple Micah‘s siddur study group will explore, over the next few months, Birkhot Hashachar [Morning Blessings] and Psukei D’zimrah [Verses of Song]. Discussions will begin in, and center around, the prayer texts themselves. All are welcome. (More details, schedule and a handout to frame group-led discussions is available on the siddur study group page.)

Please note that the Source Materials page offers citations and more details about many books and other resources cited here.

On “the Soul”

Always bear in mind that the Holy One, blessed be He, is pure, that his ministers are pure and that the soul which He gave you is pure; if you preserve it in purity, well and good, but if not, I will take it away from you.
— from B. Talmud, Niddah 30b

My People’s Prayer Book offers several notes about the soul in comments on the blessing which begins, “Elohai neshamah shenatata bi tehora hi… [God the soul you gave to me is pure…].” The discussion in MPPB was published before the URJ produced Mishkan T’fillah. So, it is helpful to note in reading about this blessing that Mishkan T’fillah does not include the line, “One day You will take it from me, and restore it to me in the time to come,” or conclude with reference to “restoring souls to lifeless bodies.”

David Ellenson, of Hebrew Union College, comments on evolving ideas of the soul in the context of resurrection of the dead, with particular reference to Reform and Reconstrutionist prayerbooks. His remarks, too long to include here, are available through Google Books preview. Summing up non-Orthodox liturgical language of the last 150 years or so, he concludes: “Immortality of the soul is thus everywhere affirmed, even as bodily resurrection is universally rejected.” (MPPB, p.134).

Lawrence Hoffman, also from Hebrew Union College, and Elliott Dorff, a Conservative rabbi at the University of Judaism, discuss the concept of the soul, the Rabbinic notion that the soul reunites with the body each morning, and Judaism’s evolving concept of the soul’s resurrection at the end of days. Some of the material is available at Google Books and/or through Jewish Lights.

Marc Brettler, biblical scholar and teacher at Brandeis, writes:

The fundamental premise here — that a person consists of a body and a separate soul — is foreign to the Bible, whose n’shamah means “breath” and, by extension, “breathing [living] person,” but not “soul.” God controls who breathes, and breathed life into the first person (Gen. 2:7). This prayer assimilates the Hebrew n’shamah to the late idea of resurrection, found biblically only in Daniel 12:2, giving us the novel notion that the soul will be re-breathed back into the the body. — MPPB, p. 127

Jonathan Sacks has this to say in his 2009 commentary to the Koren siddur:

My God, the soul…. An affirmation of Jewish belief in the freedom and responsibility of each human being. The soul as such is pure. We have good instincts and bad, and we must choose between them. The blessing ends with a reference to the resurrection of the dead, returning to the theme of the first words said in the morning. [See “modah/modeh ani“]


For Slow Wakers

If most tunes for the Jewish “wake up” prayer strike you as way too peppy for early morning, or if you’re just interested in a new piece of Jewish music, spend a few moments with this version of “Modah/modeh ani.” The words differ from those of many siddurim. (Thanks to Carly “Ketzirah” Lesser for making and share the video.) The music-prayer can be enjoyed without examining the differences and the reasons behind them. But if you’re interested, explore here. TOP

Different Words, Different Views

Kohenet Siddur’s “Modan Ani,” sung by Ketzirah:

Modah ani lefanayich
ruach chaia v’kayemet
shehechezart bi nismati bechemlah,
raba emunateich.

Reishit chochmah yirat havaya
seichel tov lechol oseihen,
tehilatah omedet le’ad
— transliteration provided by Carly “Ketzirah” Lesser
from Kohenet Siddur (more on that below)

One noticeable difference in this wake up prayer is gender. Gender pervades Hebrew in ways that it does not enter English. So, to begin:

the standard “modah/modeh ani lefanecha
— usually translated something like “I am grateful before You” —
contains a pronoun with the masculine singular ending [echa].

Ketzirah instead sings:

Modah ani lefanayich,”
“I [“I” has no gender] am grateful before You [feminine singular].”

The prayer uses

ruach chaia v’kayemet
[“living and eternal spirit,” with feminine adjectives to match “ruach“]

in place of

melech chai v’kayam
[“living and eternal sovereign,” with masculine adjectives to match “(m.) sovereign”].

It continues with a feminine verb form for “return” — “shehechezart” (in place of the masc. “shehechezarta“), goes on with “bi nismati bechemlah” [“to me my soul in compassion”], concluding with “raba emunateich,” with fem. “faithfulness” in place of the usual masc. “emunatecha.”

The next words, used in the Kohenet siddur (more on this source below) but not usually found as part of “modah ani”, are taken from the psalms:

Psalms 111:10, old JPS translation:
רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה, יִרְאַת יְהוָה –שֵׂכֶל טוֹב,
תְּהִלָּתוֹ, עֹמֶדֶת לָעַד
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
a good understanding have all they that do thereafter (עֹשֵׂיהֶם)
His praise stands forever.”
Kohenet Siddur
Reishit chochmah yirat havaya seichel tov
lechol oseihen,
[repeated in the song] omedet le’ad.”

The Kohenet text uses a feminine name for God and two feminine words where the psalms text is masculine:

oseihen” [feminine “doers thereafter”]
in place of the masculine “oseihem**


tehilatah” [“her praise”]
in place of “tehilato” [his praise]

Through the strange and wondrous workings of the Internet, “A Song Every Day” (originating from Washington, DC) is now in touch with Carly “Ketzirah” Lesser’s “Peeling a Pomegranate,” also from DC. As a Kohenet, Lesser focuses “on an embodied, woman-honoring form of Jewish spirituality that respects the earth and G!d/dess in all forms that s/he appears (male, female, both, and neither).” Here are links to Kohenet, the Kohenet Siddur and Lesser’s work.
BACK to Slow Waking

I am not entirely sure about the use of “hen” (fem.) and “hem” (masc.) and hope someone with better Hebrew grammar will explain. I did discover, however, that — leaving aside feminine and masculine for the nonce — “oseihem” is usually marked “meaning of Hebrew uncertain” and translated in various ways: “those who practice it” (English Standard and newer JPS), “those that do His commandments” (King James), “his Servants” (Aramaic Bible in Plain English), and “all doing them” (Young’s Literal).

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Virginia hosts "Conversations Toward Repair" on We Act Radio, manages WeLuvBooks.org, blogs on general stuff a vspatz.net and more Jewish topics at songeveryday.org and Rereading4Liberation.com

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