Understanding Prayer: Thanking & Thinking (2/10)

Posted By on November 28, 2019


Let me tell you a story
about the first prayer we say every morning. Modeh ani lefanecha. I thank you for giving me back my soul. It happened on our honeymoon. Elaine and I were travelling through Italy and we’d come to a little
coastal town called Paestum, a place with Roman ruins
and the sea glittering in the morning sun. The trouble was, I couldn’t swim. I just never learned. But
as we sat on the beach and looked out across the
water, I realised that the shore must be sloping very gently
indeed, because people were far out into the
sea and yet the water was only coming up to their knees. It looked safe just to
walk out. And so I did. I walked to where I had
seen people standing just a few minutes before and yes, the water was gently
lapping against my knees. Then I turned around and started
walking back to the shore. That’s when it happened. Within a minute I found
myself out of my depth. How it happened, I’m not sure. There must have been a dip in the sand. I’d missed it on my way
out, but on my way back I walked straight into it. I tried to swim but I failed. I kept going under. I looked around for rescue,
but the other bathers were a long way away – too far to reach me; too far to even hear. Besides, we were in
Italy, and as I went under for the fifth time, I remember
thinking two thoughts. “What a way to begin a honeymoon.” And “What’s the Italian for ‘Help’?” It’s difficult to
describe the panic I felt. Clearly someone rescued me
or I wouldn’t be here now. But it seemed at the time like the end. Evidently somebody,
seen me thrashing about, swam over and brought me to the shore. He deposited me, almost
unconscious, at Elaine’s feet. I never found out who he was. Somewhere there is someone
to whom I owe my life. It changed my life. For years afterward, I
would wake in the morning knowing that but for a
miracle, I wouldn’t be here. Somehow that made
everything easier to bear. Every life has its difficult moments, but I never forgot that
day, on an Italian beach, when the life I so nearly
lost was given back to me. It’s hard to stay depressed
when you remember daily that life is gift. Which
is why, every morning, I say with real feeling those words: Modeh ani lefanecha: “I thank you, living and everlasting King, for giving me back my soul in mercy. Great is Your faithfulness.” Thank you, God, for giving me back my life. Think about it. The very first words you say every day is Modeh. Even before we think, we thank. That’s the first rule of prayer. It’s about not taking life for granted. It’s a meditation on the miracle of being. We are here. We might not have been. Somehow that makes everyday a celebration.

Posted by Lewis Heart

This article has 10 comments

  1. Rabbi, Did you ever learn to swim? That was the great lesson sir. Don't allow yourself the victimhood…and be able to do the same for another someday. That's why God his infinite wisdom blessed be he made swimming natural for us! Blessings and gifts; His mercy and goodness endureth forever.

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  2. That happened to me when I was a child. I was always afraid of deep waters. But one day, after the incident somehow I lost the fear, and I plunged into the water closed my eyes, and held my breath, I found that I was able to swim underwater. Hashem, blessed is He, is a Great G-d. I love him so much, and I am grateful to be his child. He is a Good G-d. Merciful, and Kind. Blessed is He.  Thank you Rabbi Sacks for your videos you are a great inspiration. B"H

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  3. Rabbi, what prayer book is that? I'm not (yet) well-versed in hebrew, and looking for a prayer book that has book hebrew and english. Thank you for the videos. Good fasting.

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  4. your story is incredible since i had an exactly identical experience in life . I also never learned to swim and almost drowned in a small lake/waterfall called Ein Geddi while on a tour with classmates from Hebrew university of Jerusalem in/around the year 1966 when i was a student there . The bottom of the lake was getting deeper slowly as i advanced further but suddenly it dropped and i started sinking more and more until someone noticed that i am not joking and at the last minute when i was about to give up he pulled me out . What a miracle that was and god clearly was watching me and saved me .
    Shanah Tovah u mvurekhet !

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