Jews Accustomed to Giving Thanks By Rabbi Ari Ballaban
Our American Thanksgiving holiday expresses an idea quite at home in Judaism. Jewish tradition, especially our liturgy, is filled to the brim with the idea that one ought to be thankful for the blessings which he or she receives:
- Our tradition teaches that the first thing a Jew is supposed to say in the morning is the modeh ani prayer:
“I offer thanks to You, living and fulfilling Sovereign, who has [once again] returned my soul to me in mercy. How great is Your trust!”
- Our Amidah prayer includes (and concludes with) a full section of hoda’ah (literally, “gratitude”) prayers that thank God for the blessings of our world. In one of the most direct sections we say:
“We gratefully acknowledge with thanks that You are Adonai, our God and the God of our ancestors forever. You are the Rock of our lives, and the Shield of our salvation in every generation. Let us thank You and praise You—for our lives which are in Your hand, for our souls which are in Your care, for Your miracles that we experience every day, and for Your wondrous deeds and favors at every time: morning, noon, and night…”
- In the category of “there’s a blessing for that!?”, we can note that Judaism even has a blessing (which is also featured near the beginning of our morning liturgy) that we are meant to say after using the bathroom:
“Praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe, who formed the human body with wisdom, creating the body’s many pathways and openings. It is manifest and known before Your throne of glory that if one of them were to be wrongly opened or closed, it would be impossible to endure and stand before You for even one hour. Blessed are You, Adonai, who heals all flesh, working wondrously.”
People often joke that Judaism has a blessing for everything. Unfortunately, this adage, while admittedly mostly true, has often characterized our faith as rigid and formulaic. In truth, our proliferation of blessings motivates Jews to be conscious of how profound our day-to-day lives really are. The blessings Judaism invites us to say do not just over-saturate our lives with ritual, rather they shake us to recognize how special and sacred our world is, even the things which may seem mundane.
While there certainly are a great many things we should strive to improve about the world, Judaism makes it incumbent upon us to see the small blessings in our lives and to recognize them for what they are: true, miraculous blessings. Our American Thanksgiving holiday gives us an opportunity to do something similar to this. Here truly is an American celebration which fits perfectly together with an idea taught by Judaism!
This Thanksgiving, let us all try to find the small miracles which together form our world and enable us to live lives worthy of blessings. I know that as we sit down at our Thanksgiving tables, our minds may gravitate toward the big things which obviously merit a feeling of thankfulness; however, let’s try to follow the example of our tradition to recognize all the small things that go into making such large blessings. There is wisdom in this Jewish tradition, and I think following this Jewish example can lead to much good.