During the High Holy Days and the joyous Festivals celebrated last month, some of us spent more time in prayer and reflection, soul-searching than during the year. However, which was the most significant of these canonized prayers for us?
Our sages provide us with a curious answer. It is not the Kol Nidre, the Un’taneh Tokef, not the Al Chet or Ashamnu, nor the grandeur of the Malchuyot. Rather it is a paragraph of gratitude within the Amidah recited daily. The Talmud records that “at the end of time all prayers will be expendable, but the prayer of Gratitude will not be eliminated.” Modim anachnu lach, We thank you (f.) Adonai for our lives entrusted into thy care; for miracles, and wonders, kindness, that are with us daily evening, morning and noon.
A sense of gratitude in our everyday lives encourages us to cope with anxieties, conquer frustrations, and build better communities, and lives. Gratitude is a prerequisite for happiness, stability, self-fulfillment and maturity. It is from the source of life, that the staff of life is made creative, by being of grateful countenance, and working to achieve a goal.
Thackeray wrote, “Life is akin to a mirror; if you frown at it, it returns the frown; if you smile, it returns the greeting.” Psychiatrists agree that with proper action motivated by gratitude, happiness is possible. Self-realization often confused with “me” is noble. Yet, we tend toward being pathological complainers and focus on ourselves, our technology and toys; we often fail to realize anything of significance.
Animals cannot articulate prolonged complaint (except at feeding time); they bark and bite and scratch, but do not “complain” continually as people tend.
In Yiddish, the graphic expression says it best: “er burchet-one grumbles and complains” about family, spouse, partner, children, employers, schule and its leaders. So many today it seems adorn a “frekrempte punim-a sour face”. If it is day, they will say night; black is white. A tragedy really, that many do not appreciate the blessings of life until often, it is too late, as we say viddui together.
We Jews did not invent gratitude, but we claim authorship to magnificent daily poetry, which evinces it. The national holiday of Thanksgiving (more akin to Chanukkah, than Sukklot) combines the senses of nature and bounty, with religious freedoms—all the result of gracious thanks to life-sources in partnership with us.
How often have we been asked, “Can you listen to my troubles for just a half -hour?” A reply might yield “surely, if you will spare me 5 minutes to listen to your blessings.” Jews in history never took life and its blessings for granted; we believe in miraculous occurrences. We say a miracle is the extraordinary in the ordinary: waking up, eating with friends and family, a word of affection, pride from children, new births and partnerships. A genius of Judaism is discovery of the momentous in the momentary.
Abraham Heschel stated, “What the world needs is not more information, but more appreciation.” With money and donations, we buy services and performances. With gratitude, we earn affection and loyalty, and humility.
In the final analysis, it is not sufficient to be grateful or offer mere text on command. We are encouraged to acknowledge the Divine spark-the source of those daily gifts. That was the authentic purpose of these past Holy Days, of our new year—the day the pregnancy of eternity beckoned. It is the thread within the holiday of Thanksgiving for which we prepare.
Why not daily reflect “Modim, your loving kindnesses never cease; we ever hope in Thee.”
Hazzan David Silverstein, JD
Congregation Israel of San Antonio
Conservative, Covenantal Judaism in Prayer and Practice