My favorite holiday has always been Thanksgiving… that is to say my favorite secular holiday. While our family did not really have any set traditions, I will always recall the house being so warmly filled with the smell of the turkey roasting in the oven, the sage bread stuffing, which I still need to make, and the sights and sounds of football on TV. Appetizers included carrot and celery sticks and black olives, which we loved to wear on our fingertips, or place on top of the carrots. Don’t judge.
My parents and my brother and his family are back East, and that is where I would traditionally travel. As a child we would alternate between Philadelphia and Glen Rock, New Jersey, but the holiday, no matter where it was, was always about family being together, celebrating each other and being grateful.
This was what Thanksgiving used to be, and hopefully will be again. But it now seems like it’s only a segue to Christmas, at least as far as the stores are concerned. Holiday decorations are already on full display and in full bloom, and the Black Friday shopping hours have sadly found their way into Thursday… and then been extended even more, throughout the weekend and into Cyber Monday. It has become all about the retail and less about the gathering and celebrating.
Maybe it’s a generational thing, but it was only in recent celebrations that we would go around the table and express what we were thankful for, grateful for. And that has now become the most significant and essential part of the holiday for me… expressing gratitude… and hearing others express gratitude, so you know what they are thankful for and perhaps what they need… or may need.
So what does Judaism say about gratitude? EVERYTHING!
The first lesson for me is to never wait anymore to express gratitude. I now, and have been for some time, wake up and recite the Modeh Ani. How powerful it is to start your day by thanking Hashem for the day itself and all it holds in possibility.
Now, I will admit, these days being thankful seems harder because of all that is going on in the country and the world, and at times, I pray that G-d reveals himself and helps humanity in a more direct way. Maybe it’s like Purim, where G-d is there and is always orchestrating, but is not mentioned once. It can be confusing… but being grateful and humble are two ways to ALWAYS connect with Hashem.
I love what Rabbi Brian Field says about this. In his exceptional article called “Gratitude is the Foundation of Judaism,” he writes:
“The original Hebrew word for Jew, Yehudi, is a form of the Hebrew word for thank you – todah. In other words, Judaism means “the path of gratitude.” Instead of calling ourselves “the people of the book,” we more accurately could call ourselves “the grateful people,” “the people of the thank you.”
But the part that really hit my heart and brain was this:
“Dayenu divides up the Exodus into fifteen steps and offers gratitude for each one. In other words, when expressing gratitude, don’t just offer a blanket generalized thank you. Spell out the details. It’s in the specifics that a thank-you has real power. Second – we don’t wait for the problem to be fully taken care of in order to express appreciation. Each small step along the way is worthy of being appreciated.”
I am overwhelmed with life right now, as are many of us. We are dealing with real health issues, but also unemployment, depression and sadness. So what is the way out? Humility and recognizing we are not in control of many things, and having faith in Hashem is a must… But where we ARE in control is in our ability to fully and viscerally feel and express gratitude, and if we do this with each and every step, our eyes will open to all that is right and beautiful and okay.
So as you sit down for your Thanksgiving meal this year, bring a little Judaism to the table. Look at each person in your six or under gathering… or your family and friends on Zoom… take a real moment and express specifically why you are grateful for them. Express that while you know things are tough, you also know that Hashem truly has your back and that this too is for the good.
We may not always be able to see things, but we can ALWAYS be grateful for the things we do see, and have and feel. So enjoy your Todahgiving, and remember that from the moment you wake up, to the moment you go to sleep, you have the ability, and in Judaism, the actual prayers and guidelines, to be and express gratitude, humility, to forgive and ask for forgiveness… and this is what a holiday or holy day should be about…
And guess what… EVERY day is holy!
So thank you to Ben, to you our readers, to my amazing family and friends. I am humble, please forgive me for any mistakes I have made, and I forgive you for the same… and for all you, I was, am and will always be grateful. Todah.