Every year in November, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving Day, a day dedicated to gratitude. Based on a story about early European pilgrims feasting with the Native Americans who had saved them from starvation in the New World, families now unite to watch football games and consume festive turkey dinners.
From a Jewish perspective, gratitude is part and parcel of our daily existence; we are champions at giving thanks, every day.
The blare of the alarm clock pierces the early morning silence, jolting me from Dreamland. I leap across the bedroom in a bound or two and deftly turn it off, careful not to wake my wife in the process. My Creator has granted me another day of opportunity to be my very best. I graciously accept His gift of life with the words, “Modeh ani l’fanecha, Melech chai v’kayam, she’hechezarta li nishmasi b’chemla. Raba emunasecha” (“I thank you, living and lasting King, that You returned my soul to me with graciousness. Great is Your faith (in me).”) As a Jew, I am privileged to begin every day with an expression of thanks to G-d for the very life that I live; in doing so, I acknowledge that, despite any of yesterday’s blunders or failings, my Creator believes in my ability to make today spectacular.
The blessings of modern life often function as double-edged sword, promising a grand liberty, yet delivering its opposite. Unfortunately, many in the industrialized world have difficulty adopting, or even comprehending, an attitude of gratitude.
Life’s purpose is not simply to exist long enough to pay the bills for some number of decades, as our working stiff and his slavemasters would have you believe. Rather, we live in a continuous relationship with G-d, constantly elevating ourselves and our universe through our actions. Our existence transcends the ubiquitous fraud that passes for much of modern life.
We reject the crass goals of our surrounding hyper-materialistic society, choosing instead to focus on the spiritual; after all is said and done, the Torah that we learn and the mitzvos that we fulfill are our only products that matter. We begin the day with a mitzvah, the washing of our hands, and we end the day with another mitzvah, the recital of the Shema. Every moment of every day provides a fresh opportunity to thank Hashem for His infinite kindness.
Three times daily, I utter the Thanksgiving blessing of the Shmoneh Esray prayer. While reciting it, I like to think of the abundant blessings that characterize my life: my family; my five fully functioning senses; my abilities to stand and walk; my two careers; my home…the prayer isn’t long enough to enable my mind to cover everything. Indeed, does anybody reading this essay have an excuse to feel bitter?
In Sefer Tehillim (150:6), David HaMelech states, ”קה תהלל הנשמה לכ.“ (“Let all the Soul praise Hashem”) Our sages explain this statement as a directive to thank Hashem for our every individual breath of life (source: Devarim Rabbah 2:36 ). Indeed, even an individual human being’s most mundane activities are imbued with blessing.
We are meant to acknowledge Hashem’s constant goodness, even in seemingly mundane or stressful situations. A working professional may need to fight traffic on five days a week, yet ingenious digital technology enables him or her to learn Torah during that commute. The mild pain from an old injury to my arm reminds me both of the injury and of my miraculous recovery. A phone call from my daughter in Jerusalem may come at an inconvenient time, yet gives me pause to thank Hashem for blessing me with a daughter who misses me.
Yes, sitting on my couch in the fairest climate in the freest society in human history, I can come up with innumerable reasons to express gratitude to G-d. Why limit ourselves to one Thursday every November? For the Jewish People, every day is Thanksgiving.