Thanksgiving : Take Note. Be Grateful. Enjoy. by Prof Gerald August

Nov 23rd, 2011 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Reflections & Observations
What do a bracha (blessing) and Thanksgiving have in common?

A bracha’s essential element is to recognize a good that was done for us and to express appreciation for that good. It is gratitude, and gratitude is the essential ingredient for a human being to be happy. If you expect nothing and get something, you’re happy. A bracha is an opportunity to focus on the things we receive but don’t really pay attention to.

I learned this lesson from Rav Simcha Weinberg. We were sitting down to have lunch, and he asked me if I wanted to make an olam hazeh (this world) blessing or an olam haba (heavenly)

blessing. I said, “The heavenly blessing. What is that?” He explained that a “this world” blessing is muttered in haste. The heavenly blessing slows us down and focuses us. So he told me to describe all the people involved in producing the pasta I was about to eat.

I started enumerating: a person planted a seed, someone cultivated the seed, then the wheat was harvested, someone had to put it in a truck and take it to the silo. Then it had to be shipped across country in a truck so there was a truck driver. It got to New York and had to be delivered by another truck driver to the particular cafeteria where we were eating. Then someone heated the pasta and poured the sauce.

The Rabbi said to me, “Look at the gratitude you owe to all of the people involved in bringing you this food.” A lot of people worked to deliver the pasta, so gratitude is due.

Then he told me to close my eyes and just breathe and appreciate the aroma coming from the pasta and sauce. With my eyes closed, my focus was totally on the sensation of my sense of smell. I had really never noticed an aroma as I had when I closed my eyes. Then he finally told me to make the blessing, slowly, and think about everything I was saying . He was correct. The blessing was a different blessing filled with gratitude. I appreciated my meal both mentally and through more of my senses. I took note, was grateful and enjoyed.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that teaches us to focus on the everyday bounty we may take for granted. Thanksgiving is a meaningful holiday for people of the United States of America. We all need to appreciate what we have, and as the Rabbis teach us, “Who is rich? People who take joy in what they have.” Please note that it does not say that people should be content to stay with what they have. Striving to gain more of what you want is okay. But happiness can be achieved today, as well as in the future.

Thanksgiving is a time when we need to reflect on how safe and good the United States has been to Jews and other persecuted peoples. It is a country that pioneered religious freedom. Have you ever read the letter George Washington sent to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island?

The key phrases are: All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

May the children of the stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the other inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.

It is a little letter with large implications.

The question I have is, can we make the sehechiyanu blessing? It is a blessing that gives thanks that we have survived and reached this season. It would seem to be appropriate. After all, the prayer is there to have us focus on all the ramifications of reaching this season. If you don’t think that saying the first part of the blessing, which includes G-d’s name, is warranted, then just start from the word sehechiyanu, or say the last part in English: Bless He who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season. Take note, be grateful and enjoy.

With the freedom to be Jewish perhaps a good way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to do something you haven’t done in terms of being Jewish. Maybe you will pick up a Jewish book on ethics or philosophy and read it. Maybe you will give a little more charity to a Jewish organization. There are numerous books, websites and posts on Youtube. This website has many short ideas that are quick to read and will expand your mind. Even if you are a devotee, try one of the resources you never look at.

Another way to celebrate Thanksgiving, an American holiday, is to donate money to a food bank so that more Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving.

Have a delicious dinner… and savor it!