As we celebrate Thanksgiving during this tumultuous and challenging year, I am reminded of an insight that a friend shared with me last year before Thanksgiving, authored by Rabbi David Abudraham in his book published in Seville, Spain in 1339.
Abudraham’s comments explain an interesting Jewish custom in the prayer services. When the cantor is leading the services and reciting the Amidah (central prayer of the Jewish liturgy), the congregation listens and responds “Amen,” acknowledging the cantor’s prayers and requests. Yet, when the cantor reaches the blessing of Modim, which is an expression of thanks and gratitude, the community joins in. A response of “Amen” does not suffice, and the entire community recites a similar prayer of thanks.
The reason for this deviation, explains Abudraham, is that saying “thank you” cannot be delegated. Our requests can be made by a representative on our behalf, but gratitude has to be communicated directly. Giving thanks cannot be done just by the community; it must be done by each individual.
Fast forward to 2020, and we find ourselves celebrating Thanksgiving again. Despite the challenges of the past year, we recognize how much we have to be grateful for. Or, perhaps more accurately, because of the challenges of the past year. So much of what we previously took for granted can now be truly appreciated. Either way, it is again time to say thank you.
Yet, something is different this year. Many of us are accustomed to celebrating Thanksgiving with large groups of family and friends. This year we may be celebrating it on our own.
Perhaps this change in circumstances gives us an opportunity to reflect on the message taught by Abudraham -- that it isn’t enough to say thank you as a community, as a country, as a collective whole. We must bring the message of gratitude home. We have to internalize and appreciate how lucky we are and how much we have to be grateful for. And, finally, we can commit to maintaining a perspective of gratitude all year round.
Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!