The New Synagogue of Long Island
The Synagogue for Spiritual Judaism

Thanksgiving: A Jewish Perspective


We, the American citizenry, are a thankful lot. Our calendar is dotted with days when we express our gratitude to various individuals and entities. On Veterans’ Day, we thank the members of the Armed Forces for their dedicated service. On Memorial Day, we show our gratitude to those courageous men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice while defending our liberties and democratic lifestyle. On Labor Day, we express our appreciation to the industrious American workforce, the people who keep the wheels of our economy turning. On other selected days, we pause to thank different historic individuals who have made valuable contributions to our nation.


As Jews, we have our holiday routines: Shabbat dinners with candles, Kiddush wine and ha-Motzi over the challah. On Rosh Hashanah, we have apples and honey. Passover? There is a whole manual to tell us when to dip, when to drink, even how we are supposed to sit.


And then there is Thanksgiving. The day when we thank G-d for enabling all the above - and for all else G-d does for us.  The idea of giving thanks is a familiar theme in Jewish tradition. Judaism views every day as a day of thanksgiving; every day is a chance to say “thank you” to G-d for the many blessings we have.  We gather to eat - the same people, at the same table, with the same enticing aromas wafting in the kitchen. But we do not have a script.  Sure, we feast on turkey, argue politics, and watch football. But what about the ritual? What about the meaning?


“Judaism” is actually built upon the word gratitude. Because Leah was grateful to G-d for the gift of another son, she named him Yehudah (Judah) which means, “I am grateful.” In fact, Judah’s name carried such importance that it became the name for our people - Yehudim, Jews, literally, the grateful ones. How profound that at the root of what it means to be Jewish is the very idea of gratitude!  Sitting around a table with family and friends. Delicious food ready to be enjoyed. Gathering for a meal and giving thanks. Sharing values and tradition.  What could be more Jewish? Thanksgiving and Judaism - the perfect match.


Scientists have found that there are all sorts of positive outcomes from practicing gratitude. Our physical health and immunity against disease is improved. When we rid ourselves of negative emotions such as resentment, frustration, and regret, replacing them with thoughts of gratitude, we can sleep better, gain more self-respect, and have better relationships with our family and friends. With gratitude, we can be more hopeful about the future.


In traditional Judaism, we begin each day with a prayer: “Thank you G-d for restoring my soul to my body and for giving me another day of life.”  With this prayer, we begin our day with gratitude and in a conversation with G-d: “How bad can the day be?  How good can the day be?”


Before COVID, did we appreciate the things we had? Have we learned to be more grateful for what we have? Like a fridge full of food, our friends and family, the roof over our heads, and having an extra 6-pack of Charmin? We focus now on simple acts like going for a walk and reading a book. This time has reminded us to simply stop and smell the roses.  Take a moment to focus on the goodness in the world and in your life.  A grateful perspective is critical to sustain our positive attitude - to energize, to heal, and to bring hope.  Now, more than ever, this Thanksgiving let us recognize the good (hakarat hatov) and say, Thank You. (Todah Rabah)!


Recite the words of the Shehechiyanu prayer this Thanksgiving as you sit around the table with your loved ones.  Express your gratitude to the G-d of Life who enables us to reach this beautiful day:

 

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu, Melech ha’olam, shehechiyanu v’kiyemanu v’higiyanu laz’man hazeh.

Blessed be G-d, the Eternal Source of all life, for keeping us alive, for sustaining us,

 and for bringing us to this joyous season!


Happy Thanksgiving to All!


Rabbi Stuart Paris, HaKohen




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Torah Completion and Celebration

Sunday, May 15, 2016

7 Iyar, 5776

Rabbi Stuart Paris and Rabbi Gedaliah Druin

Rabbi Gedaliah Druin completing the last letter of the Torah