Rabbi’s Weekly Teaching
Thanksgiving -- Thursday, November 22, 2012
These are difficult days. Many are still struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Difficult economic and political challenges confront our nation. And in Israel, our Jewish brothers and sisters are facing a new round of hostilities by those who would wish to see her destruction.
In the face of mounting challenges, it sometimes feels almost impossible to summon the desire to be thankful. In the face of misery, we might think, how can we be thankful?
Each day as Jews we are able to find the blessings within life to express our gratitude, and as a nation we are fortunate to celebrate Thanksgiving today. It's in effectively confronting hardship that we most need to seize the opportunity to give thanks. Finding the blessings in our lives helps give us needed perspective.
Our spiritual ancestors found that their most important well of strength was to choose life in the face of death and to cling to their blessings rather than allow the atrocities overwhelm them. What was true with our Jewish People for thousands of years is also true for our American ancestors. Abraham Lincoln formally established the first Thanksgiving Day in the midst of the Civil War. Looking into the chasm of death and destruction, Lincoln wanted the American people to still find gratitude as a means to help our nation to survive, to heal its wounds and to thrive as a great nation.
Cultivating an attitude for gratitude is how we manage to put aside the bitterness of life. It's been said that you can either choose to "be bitter or be better." Every person, at some point in their life, will confront what seems like an impossible obstacle. The bitter person who has lost their ability to find the blessings, no matter how small, will succumb to bitterness and defeat. However, an attitude for gratitude allows us build up our personal account of blessings and then enables us to withdraw from this account when confronted with life's inevitable challenges.
A Jew liturgically pronounces prayers of thanksgiving three times a day. By tradition we discipline ourselves to appreciate at least 100 blessings every day of our lives. This powerful prayerful ritual has served to safeguard our faith. It was this very attitude for gratitude that allowed Jews to observe Seders in the midst of the Nazi Holocaust; that allowed martyrs to pronounce their faith and gratitude to God for what they had received, even as they were being slaughtered. In a sky darkened by crematorium smoke, Jews recalled blessings received, and looked towards a promising future when God's light could shine more brightly. This attitude of thankfulness gave us the strength to persevere through the worst periods of Jewish history, and it remains the secret to Jewish survival.
As American Jews we share with our fellow Jews and our fellow Americans this powerful day of Thanksgiving. But, we need to take the spirit of this day and apply it diligently to our lives each and every day. This will anchor our lives and enrich the lives of our children and grandchildren.
"To Render Thanks" by Nahum Waldman
We must often revive the gladness of gratitude
And retrain our lips to utter words of thanks.
God's gifts often go unnoticed in our haste;
And disappointments may blind us to our blessings...
We give thanks for the beauty of nature and its gifts,
And pray that we may share as richly as we have received...
We are grateful for love and the opening of hearts
Between husband and wife, parents and children.
We give thanks for our freedom, while knowing its frailty,
And recognize our obligation to nurture and protect it...
We are grateful for the gifts of knowledge and conscience,
Enabling us to know truth from falsehood, right from wrong,
Disturbing our peace when the blessings we enjoy are denied to others,
When their need for justice and compassion is unfulfilled.
We give thanks to God who shares with us
A small spark of Divine glory and wisdom,
Involving us in the drama which is both God's and ours -
The partnership of completing the work of creation.
Happy Thanksgiving and Shabbat Shalom,
Green Powered by Whole Megillah