“When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude.” – Elie Wiesel, z”l (1928–2016)
On this day after Thanksgiving, Sabbath approaches once again – and perhaps as we continue to digest our meals from yesterday, we also hopefully remain on the 10-Day Gratitude journey we began last week. For me, this Gratitude Challenge has been a great blessing. It has caused me to be more mindful of the process of gratitude, as I have made myself conscious to add an expression of gratefulness into each day. Using various means of communication available, I have truly enjoyed reaching out and expressing my feelings of gratitude every day. The process has also renewed my awareness of the many gifts in my life, which I fear I can often take for granted. In a few cases, I encouraged myself to communicate gratitude, even when it was more difficult to feel it, in the spirit of healing. That felt good too, although admittedly, not as easy. I’m wondering how the Gratitude Challenge has been for you. I would love to hear from you personally, if you want to share – I so enjoy receiving weekly responses from many of you!
Judaism is very big on GRATITUDE…in fact, did you know that the very first words recited traditionally by Jews upon waking in the morning are Modeh Ani, which means “I give thanks”? It is interesting to me that the two key prayers which bookend our day as Jews are simple “one-liners”: the “Shema Yisrael – Hear Oh Israel” before we go to bed each night and the “Modeh Ani – I am grateful” when we awaken in the morning. The full line of the morning prayer is so beautiful:
“I give thanks before you, Oh Divine One, living and eternal, for You have returned within me my soul with compassion, abundant is Your Faithfulness!”
I remember teaching this prayer to my daughters when they were small and being so struck with the depth of this line – and how full of meaning it was that in one small sentence three beautiful concepts were included: gratitude, compassion, and faithfulness. A good way to start the day! And in fact, Jewish prayer is full of gratitude. The daily Birchot Ha-Shachar, or Dawn Blessings, recited first thing in the morning are a list of many things to be grateful for – the human body, the physical world, land to stand on, eyes to see with. In fact, even our collective name itself includes this notion of gratitude. The word Yehudi which means “Jew,” which came from Jacob’s 4th son, Yehuda, is from the same root as the word Modeh, which means “I give thanks.” Thus, Jewishness is thankfulness – they are essentially one and the same.
In last week’s message, I spoke about the need to reach outward to express gratitude, especially during these challenging days. Our Talmudic sages remind us that those who take the time to be grateful for what they have are truly the lucky ones among us – and as they do, they are inspired to reach out to others in need. This very act builds a stronger community and creates greater wellbeing for all of us. So, in keeping with this message, it is important to remind you that the meaningful and good work we do here at the Jewish Federation is only possible when generous donors and community members like you reach out to make a difference. Your unrestricted gift to our Annual Campaign supports all of our wonderful programming – from our low-cost professional counseling services offered through Jewish Family Service, where we never turn anyone away for inability to pay, to feeding our community’s most vulnerable with a hot meal delivery, to Holocaust education for the next generation, and Zoom sessions designed to enlighten and enrich us during these socially distant times. Here at Federation, we are committed to continuing to create a vibrant, inclusive community, which responds to those in need – and we need your help and involvement in this journey. Together, we can make a better world, especially during these difficult times – first here in our town, and then moving out into the Jewish world at large. It feels good to give and to stand with our community. Click here to make a donation.
I will close with the powerful words of the great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, 20th century theologian and philosopher about gratitude and giving:
“How strange we are in the world, and how presumptuous our doings! Only one response can maintain us: gratefulness for witnessing the wonder, for the gift of our unearned right to serve, to adore and to fulfill. It is gratefulness which makes the soul great.”
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom – with peace and gratitude for you,
Ruth Steinberg, LCSW
Director, Jewish Family Service
Photo caption: Gratitude abounds…a recent long-awaited visit with good friends Erika Kahn and Regine Pringle at their retirement facility brought me such joy and lifted our spirits!