In light of the challenges I faced when asked to offer simple thanks during one morning’s prayers, I decided to explore the passage, included in many versions of the morning blessings, that begins: “Therefore, we are obliged to acknowledge and thank you…”
Obliged to Thank– Or Not?
This paragraph, which leads to recitation of the Shema, is preceded by the following passage:
You should always fear God inwardly and outwardly, and gratefully acknowledge the truth, and speak truth in your hearts, and rise up early to say:
Master of all worlds, we do not offer our supplications before You based on our righteousness, but rather based on Your great mercy. What are we? What are our lives?….Man barely rises above beast, for everything is worthless [hakol havel].
But we are Your people, the children of Your covenant, the children of Abraham, Your love, to whom You took an oath on Mount Moriah; the descendants of Isaac, his only son, who was bound on the altar; the community of Jacob, Your first-born, whom You called Israel and Jeshurun, on account of Your love for him and joy with him. Therefore…
— My People’s Prayerbook: Traditional Prayers, Modern Commentaries,
volume 5: Birkhot Hashachar (morning blessings)**