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Jewish law mandates that one pray three times a day, in the morning, afternoon, and at night. The morning service, Shaharit, formally begins with the Pesukei D’zimrah (verses of praise) section, but before that there are several preliminary prayers and blessings to thank God for providing us with our daily needs and for performing everyday miracles.
Traditionally, Jews begin each day with Modeh Ani, a short, two-line prayer which opens by referring to God as the eternal and living king. The prayer speaks of sleeping as a minor type of death in which the soul leaves the body to spend the night with God. The prayer thanks God for returning the soul to the body, enabling the individual to live another day.
This prayer is generally said when one first awakes, while still in bed. For this reason, God’s proper name (“Adonai”) is not used, since the rabbis deemed it improper to speak God’s name before ritually washing the hands.
Indeed, because people are unaware of their actions during sleep, it is possible that they touched something during the night that would make their hands ritually unclean. For these reasons and others, many Jews wash their hands promptly after getting out of bed, pouring water from a cup over their hands either two or three times in succession.
Out of Bed–Straight to Prayer
After washing, a blessing is traditionally made, followed by a recitation of verses praising God’s name. Although modern denominations have adapted different sets of prayers, most versions start with a line from Psalms 111, “Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom” (111:10), reminding the newly-awakened Jew of the importance of God.
Following these verses in the siddur (prayerbook) is Asher Yatzar, a prayer normally recited after going to the restroom. The prayer thanks God for creating us completely, with all of our body parts in working order. It declares that if any part of our body were to work in the wrong way, life would be much harder. The blessing ends with a testimony that God “heals all flesh and does wonders.”
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