A great deal of research, particularly in the areas of happiness and health, demonstrates the importance of gratitude. People who express gratitude for the good things in their life are happier, healthier, and more energetic than those who are looking for reasons to be upset.
One of the most eloquent prayers of gratitude begins with the Hebrew phrase Nishmat kol chai (transl., “Soul of every living being...”). This prayer, part of the Jewish prayer book, is recited on the Sabbath and on festivals, as well as at the Passover Seder. The prayer is quite ancient and is even referred to in the Mishnah, the first written record of Jewish oral law, as the Blessing of the Song to be recited at the Passover Seder. Some sections of it were part of an ancient thanksgiving prayer for rain recited in Temple times. Nishmat may very well be more than 2,000 years old. More than that, there are several terms in Nishmat that suggest that it was written as a song for all of humankind, for example: “every living being,” “spirit of all flesh,” “God of all creatures,” “every knee shall bend to you,” and “every upright body shall bow to you.”
There is a theory that the prayer of Nishmat was written by the Apostle Peter, known as Rabbi Shimon (Simon) Cephas. Rabbi Jacob Tam (c. 1100 – 1171), a prominent French Tosafist, asserted that Peter wrote this magnificent prayer. Eisenstein (1907), author of the Hebrew-language encyclopedia Otzar Yisrael, cites a Midrash that also makes this claim. There is also an ancient Yemenite prayer book that states that Peter wrote the prayer of Nishmat. It is quite likely that this prayer was cited at the Last Supper. In any case, it is a moving prayer of thanksgiving and belongs to all of humankind. It is also a strong reminder that if you want to be spiritual, you have to help the poor and needy.
The following is the text of the Nishmat prayer, translated from the original Hebrew into English. This translation relies on those in both the ArtScroll Siddur and the Koren Siddur.
The soul of every living being shall bless Your name, Lord our God; and the spirit of all flesh shall always glorify and exalt Your remembrance, our King. From eternity to eternity, You are God, and other than You we have no King, Redeemer, or Savior, who liberates, rescues, sustains and shows us compassion in every time of distress and anguish. We have no King but you, God of the first and of the last, God of all creatures, Master of all ages, extolled by a multitude of praises, who guides His world with loving-kindness and His creatures with compassion.
The Lord neither slumbers not sleeps. He rouses the sleepers and awakens the slumberers. He makes the mute speak, sets the bound free, supports the fallen, and raises those bowed down. To You alone we give thanks. Were our mouths as full of song as the sea, and our tongue as full of jubilation as its myriad waves, if our lips were full of praise like the spacious heavens, and our eyes shone like the sun and moon, and our hands as outstretched as eagles of the sky, and our feet as swift as hinds – we still could not thank You sufficiently, Lord our God and God of our ancestors or bless Your name for even one of the thousand thousand, thousands of thousands, and myriad myriads of favors You did for our ancestors and us. You redeemed us from Egypt, Lord our God, and liberated us from the house of bondage. In famine You nourished us; in times of plenty You sustained us. From the sword, You saved us; from plague, you let us escape; and from serious and lasting illness you spared us. Until now Your mercies have helped us, and Your kindness has not forsaken us. Therefore the organs You formed within us, the spirit and soul Your breathed into our nostrils and the tongue You placed in our mouth – they will thank and bless, praise and glorify, exalt and esteem, sanctify and do homage to Your name O our King. For every mouth shall give thanks to You, every tongue shall vow allegiance to You, every knee shall bend to You, every upright body shall bow to You, all hearts shall fear You, and all our innermost feelings and thoughts shall sing praises to Your name, as is written:
All my bones shall say: Lord, who is like You? You save the poor from one stronger than him, the poor and needy from one who would rob him. (Psalms 35)
Who is like You? Who is equal to You? Who can be compared to You? O great, mighty and awesome God, God Most High, maker of heaven and earth. We will laud, praise, glorify You and bless Your holy name as it is said:
Of David. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name. (Psalms 103)
O God, in Your absolute power, great in the glory of Your name, mighty forever and awesome in Your awe-inspiring deeds, O King –who sits on a high and lofty throne.