awakening from sleep, we resume our life’s journey. From the moment that the
holy Jewish soul is returned to the body, a fresh opportunity is presented to
actualize our lifelong process of growth. How do we achieve this lofty goal?
that sleep is the period of time when our soul (the neshama) ascends to the
supernal realms. The vacuum left behind causes a temporary influx of what we
call – tum’ah – spiritual impurity. Upon awakening this tum’ah recedes to our
hands with our sages giving us the knowledge of how to remove it by
re-sanctifying our hands.
But even before we do that, t he
first thing we do in the morning is say “modeh ani”, proclaiming our
humble gratitude to our Creator for showing His confidence in us by restoring
our soul to our body, giving us another day of life in which to fulfill Torah
and mitzvoth. We surely appreciate that the renewal of our life each day is a
gift — a fresh opportunity to actualize our lifelong process of spiritual
growth. How do we achieve this lofty
goal in a practical way? And how, we might ask, are we permitted
to say “modeh ani,” before we have purified our hands?
In order to try to answer these
questions, we will look a bit more deeply into the spiritual connection between
our hands and our voices.
explains that the hands represent the earthly power and might that lie within
the domain of Eisav; but the voice,
which emanates from the realm of the soul lies within the domain of Yaakov.
When Yaakov approached Yitzchok for his
brachos, Yitzchok touched him and felt the “hands of Eisav” but heard the “voice
of Yaakov”, and thus made the immortal declaration: “…hakol
kol Yaakov —- ve hayadayim yedai Eisav.” (Toldos 27: 22)
more deeply into these words, we come to learn that, according to the Malbim, Hashem
desired that Yaakov be given both spiritual and material gifts and
blessings. However, material blessings would come to Yaakov
not by means of natural cause and effect, but only through hashgacha, through
his voice – his Torah and tefillah. If however, G-d forbid, his Torah learning and
tefillah were to be diminished then the
flow of material blessings would also decrease.
now we are ready to address our earlier question – how is it that we are
permitted to utter the “Modeh ani…” even before we wash our hands? First we should recognize that the impurity
that rests on our hands when we wake up is reflected in interesting ways.
Accordingly to one neurologist, the first parts of the body to, so to speak,
wake up after sleep are the hands. Conceptually, we can understand this as
follows: Our Sages have taught us that the first inclination that “wakes” up
within us is the yetzer hara and only later in life does the yetzer hatov
“awaken” thereby becoming proactive. Thus Eisav, the embodiment of the yetzer hora, proceeded Yaakov and was born
first, the Midrash teaches in order to absorb any extant impurities, so that
Yaakov Aveinu could be born free of blemishes. Another moshal which can clarify
this issue is that many fruits initially are surrounded by an inedible klipah
which actually protects the valuable fruit until it fully develops.
precious soul, which has now been graciously returned to us, needs be the
director of all our deeds. Therefore, first thing upon awakening, we proclaim are
the “modeh ani…” to acknowledge that it is our neshoma for which we thank
Hashem. The neshoma is embodied in the voice – the kol, kol Ya’kov, a Divine
gift. And since the praise is of a purely spiritual content, it lies beyond the
realm of any negative influence of impurity. Therefore, we are able to express this
praise even before washing our hands. However, for other praises,
blessings and tefillos that are connected with our physical endowments and
pleasures, we need first annul any
remaining impurity and re-sanctify ourselves through netillas yadayim.
Interestingly, the nusach of netillas
yadayim, the first blessing of the day, provides a profound insight: “Blessed ( or: The Source of all) are You,
Hashem, our G-d King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments,
and has commanded us on the washing –“netillas yadayim” – of the hands. Notably,
the Sages did not choose for this blessing the word “rechitza” meaning “washing”
but “netilla” meaning “taking”, as
in the bracha of the lulov where we say “al netillas lulav,” on the
taking of the lulov, Perhaps a deeper reason for the selection of this – nusach
is that just as the mitzvah of lulov is
accomplished through the act of “taking
hold” of the lulov, so also do we
achieve spiritual success with the use of our hands – our ma’aseh yadayim – by “taking
hold of “ , i.e., controlling and directing our actions toward the fulfillment of the will
of Hashem. May we soon merit to raise our voices and
hands together in a unison greeting the Moshiach and the final redemption soon
in our days.
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