Thanksgiving and Judaism are a perfect fit! Saying thanks is a natural part of our lives and a recurring theme in Jewish prayer. The truth is that it is good to give thanks. Period. We know that it takes more energy to frown than to smile. I would claim that it is much better for us to give thanks than it is to complain. We read in Psalm 92: “Tov L’hodot l’Adonai: It is good to give thanks to God.” It may well be good for God; however, it is most certainly good for us.
Giving thanks helps us; it strengthens us; it makes us happier and more complete human beings. Robert Emmons, a professor at UC Davis and author of the book Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier has actually proven that giving thanks actually improves our physical and spiritual health; that people who express gratitude actually feel better – in their bodies and in their souls. Moreover, people who make a habit out of being thankful have more to offer by way of emotional support to those who are suffering.
The Talmud recognized the importance of giving thanks, too. We are instructed to say 100 blessings a day. Since built into blessings is the concept of thanks, we can posture that saying blessings and giving thanks are synonymous.
In an article in the Huffington Post, Rabbi Geoffrey Mitelman wrote:
“And in fact, to be a Jew is to give thanks — by definition. The Torah tells us of how Leah gave birth to several sons, and when the fourth one was born, she said, “This time, I will give thanks to Adonai,” (odeh et Adonai). The root letters of odeh, “I will give thanks,” form the basis of the name that Leah chose for son: Yehudah. From Yehudah, we get the name “Judah.” And from “Judah” we get the word “Judaism.”
Now, add to the healthful act of giving thanks: a fire in the fireplace, light during the darkest time of the year, family members coming together with one another (and on best behavior), and an enormous and delicious meal filled with comfort foods for every person and every taste….and you know why Jews love Thanksgiving. It is a holiday with no religious prohibitions; it is a celebration that is inclusive; it is an opportunity for Jews to be part of the majority – to celebrate together with non-Jewish neighbors and friends. It has patriotic overtones, too: parades, football, shopping, a long weekend. It is a holiday that, like our own Jewish holidays, is both agricultural and historical. It is one day but with a second day of leftovers. It asks nothing of us except to be thankful. It doesn’t suggest that we ignore our problems; it doesn’t ask us to forget reality; it doesn’t ask us to be someone we are not. Rather, Thanksgiving asks only that we look at things differently: From the perspective of a glass half-full rather than half-empty. It begs us to see the world with favorable eyes and good intentions; that we allow our own acts of giving thanks the opportunity to heal us and heal others. Even a little bit.
Mitelman recommends that we try the following blessing at our Thanksgiving tables, and that, in doing so, we dare to see things in a new light:
I am thankful for the mess to clean after a party, because it means that I have been surrounded by friends.
I am thankful for the clothes that fit a little too snug, because it means I have enough to eat.
I am thankful for a lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning, and gutters that need fixing, because it means I have a home.
I am thankful for the parking spot I find at the far end of the parking lot, because it means I am capable of walking.
I am thankful for my huge heating bill, because it means I am warm.
I am thankful for the piles of laundry and ironing, because it means I have clothes to wear.
And I am thankful for the alarm that goes off in the early morning hour, because it means that I have another day in front of me.
We each have the power to change our perspective just a bit. We each have the capacity to give thanks and accept thanks from others. We each can make our corner of the world a little more peaceful, a little more playful, a little more thankful.
From our home to yours, best wishes for a peaceful, healthy and creative Thanksgiving holiday.
Rabbi Lisa S. Eiduson, EdD