By Rabbi Rick Sherwin
Ben Azzai, a second century Rabbinic Sage, defines rich people as those who know how to count their blessings. It is not so easy to do!
As difficult as it sometimes is, I work – and it does take work – to look past the inconveniences and frustrations of personal daily life to see those blessings. Even when the traffic is intolerable on the Interstate (and there is always traffic on I-4), I feel a pang of gratitude as I exit that I escaped the craziness without a crash. Whenever I walk into a grocery store, I try to look past the rising prices to see the options before me that do not exist in the scarcity and hunger in many parts of the world. The weather in Orlando is always “too”: too hot, too humid, too rainy in the summer afternoon, even too cold in the mornings of winter months. How thankful we should be for air-conditioning and heating.
Americans have a reputation for complaining, and sometimes, as in the current political environment, it is quite legitimate. The world is filled with the 10 plagues of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, murder, greed, narcissism, arrogance, hubris, self-righteousness, and dignity-denying words. We have to remind ourselves that our world is filled with people who bring us blessing: the ones who endeavor to reflect the 13 Godly Attributes of moral relationship, and those who speak out and say “no” to narrowly focused leaders and single-issue communities whose I.Q. is greater than their We.Q.
People are suffering through rampant fires and severe weather, protecting their loved ones, facing the danger of losing the world they know. We offer more than empathetic prayers and spiritual support: we gather food, open our homes to those in need, and thank God for sending angels in the form of firefighters, first responders, blood donors, and volunteers who step forward in so many ways. Through the face of fear, we know how to face the world and to count our blessings.
This is my first Thanksgiving following my father’s death, and I know many others who feel a sense of absence at Thanksgiving and holiday tables. I keep in mind Rabbi Morris Adler’s poetic line that I have shared with other mourners: his presence is more vital than his absence. While the loss of loved ones hurts – sometimes deeply and with excruciating pain – and cannot be avoided, we affirm that their presence is uplifting and vital, life-giving, forever touching our soul regardless of temporal length or geographic proximity.
My friend, Ray Whitley, a young man who battled Hodgkin Disease for many years, always believed – and knew – that he would emerge from each hospital stay and return to a full palate of daily living. Ray loved Thanksgiving, and authored a simple prayer that should inspire us all:
We thank You for filling things:
For filling the world with people, our hearts with laughter,
For filling words with meaning, our lives with people who uplift our spirit.
On this day, we ask one more thing: that You fill our hearts with thankfulness.
As we celebrate this Thanksgiving Shabbat, make sure you count your blessings when you lift your cup of wine or grape juice to toast life and recount the blessings you enjoy. Recite ha-Motzi as you prepare to enjoy the meal, even Thanksgiving leftovers. At the end of the meal, before you leave the table, take the opportunity to fulfill the Deuteronomic charge: “You shall eat, you shall be satisfied, you shall offer blessing.” You and those at your table might then use the opportunity to individually recite the formula: BARUKH ATA ADONAI, We praise You, our Eternal God: we are thankful for___________________
Amen! L’Chayim! Shabbat shalom!
Rabbi Rick Sherwin, a graduate of UCLA, was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Rabbi Rick’s passion is filling spiritual services and interfaith educational programs with creativity, relevance, dialogue, and humor.