I’m a minimally observant Jew, and also a mother to two young children, which means my time to sit and focus on prayer is sparse and sporadic. When I do “pray,” I’m mostly thinking of stuff I’d like to happen for myself or my family. Even though these things may be selfless in nature, I realize this isn’t exactly praying, but more like wishful thinking.
I was doing a whole lot of asking and not a lot of thanking. And, considering how many wonderful blessings have filled my life, I definitely had a good deal of gratitude to express. Like most of us, however, I got caught up in what I didn’t have instead of being grateful for what I already got. I wasn’t praying fully.
Yes, prayer can serve to ask for what we want. There’s nothing wrong with setting intentions and verbalizing your desires. I know this does wonders for people, and can be a powerful way to set you on your to achieving your dreams. However, this is not the true purpose of prayer.
The purpose of prayer is gratitude. Gratitude toward a power greater than ourselves. Gratitude toward G-d. Gratitude in even our darkest times.
Jewish liturgy offers us numerous ways to praise G-d. I don’t speak Hebrew fluently, but I know how to say G-d is great, G-d is king, G-d is almighty and much more in the biblical language of my people just because of how many times those words appear in the siddur (Jewish prayer book).
Of all the prayers, perhaps none is better at offering up our gratitude toward G-d than Nishmat Kol Chai.
I first learned about this prayer from a close relative. She is the type who creates vision boards and says affirmations. In short, she is highly focused on attaining her goals.
At first, I had no idea what prayer she was referring too, but then we looked at it together in the siddur, and I was instantly reminded of the familiar chant I had heard in synagogue many times before. I probably glossed over the Hebrew, half-halfheartedly following along, never really taking the time to understand what the prayer was all about. A prayer full of thanks to G-d. A prayer to help guide us toward what is most needed in our lives.
My relative was in the middle of her goal to say this prayer at least once a day for 40 days. Why 40 days? Well, 40 is a significant number in Judaism and doing anything for 40 days straight shows real commitment. The idea for this came via Instagram star, Charlene Aminoff. A hip, orthodox Jewish woman who creates beautiful wigs and inspires women of all faiths. Aminoff turned to the words of Nishmat Kol Chai, reciting the prayer for 40 days and claims she was rewarded with what she needed in life. Her story has lead to a movement. With more than 35,000 followers on Instagram, Aminoff has made travel cards and other Nishmat-inspired accessories the hottest things in the Jewish community.
Skeptics will no doubt look at what Aminoff is doing, and think this is just another scam. Reciting a prayer every day — even for 40 days — won’t magically make your life better, it won’t make you lose weight, cure your ailments or find you love. True, prayer alone won’t solve our problems. But, prayer can help get us to a better place to receive what we most desire.
And to receive what we desire, we must ask from a place of gratitude. When we are able to truly be at peace with whatever place we are in at the moment, even if that place isn’t our ultimate desire, we can better focus our efforts on attaining our goals.
I recently committed to reciting Nishmat Kol Chai daily. If I am diligent, I will reach 40 days in mid-January, about a week after my birthday. I have already had days when I have nearly forgotten to recite the blessing, and other days when I wasn’t really in the mood. I have found when I do say the prayer I feel better, more at ease and more at peace.
Am I expecting anything spectacular to happen in January? No. But, I am curious to see what unfolds over this next month or so.
While the Nishmat Kol Chai is a Jewish prayer, I think non-Jews can glean aspects from it that might suit their lives. I particularly like the following excerpt, which I think is suitable for most other monotheistic faiths:
Were our mouth as full of song as the sea, and our tongue as full of joyous song as its multitude of waves, and our lips as full of praise as the breadth of the heavens, and our eyes as brilliant as the sun and the moon, and our hands as outspread as the eagles of the sky and our feet as swift as hinds — we still could not thank You sufficiently . . . Do not abandon us, Hashem our God, forever. Therefore the organs that you set within us and the spirit and soul that you breathed into our nostrils, and the tongue that you placed in our mouth – all of them shall thank and bless and praise and glorify, exalt and revere, be devoted, sanctify and declare the sovereignty of Your Name.
If you don’t practice a monotheistic religion, or any religion, or don’t believe in the concept of G-d or other higher powers, you can still practice daily meditation and expressions of gratitude. Whether we think our good fortune comes from G-d or random acts of the universe, we can still be grateful.
And, if you aren’t ready to express your gratitude, that is OK. When you are ready, the words will be there.
The Nishmat Kol Chai can be found in Jewish prayer books for Shabbat morning services. For a quick link to the Hebrew version, click here. For an English translation, click here.
What prayer helps you express your gratitude? Comment below.
Wow this is a really beautiful article! It gives a lot more meaning to my daily nishmat prayer! I use nishmas.net to say nishmat and keep track of the 40 days. It makes it really easy!
That’s wonderful. Admittedly, I have slacked off and need to get back into ths. I’ll have to give that app a try!
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