In our American tradition, Thanksgiving is a time for expressing gratitude. This is a wonderful custom and worth exploring and doing. Acknowledging our blessings, and expressing gratitude for them, provides us with an opportunity to reflect and share. When we give thanks as a group, the impact of the thankfulness becomes amplified.
Our Jewish tradition, too, provides opportunities for giving thanks. On many holidays, we have a special prayer service, called Hallel, the sole purpose of which is to give thanks to God. At special celebrations we say the Shehechyanu blessing, which thanks God for bringing us to a happy moment. But did you know that we are actually required to say One Hundred blessings a day. This consistent expression of gratitude enables us to be present to the good things we experience in real time.
In order to make Thanksgiving as meaningful as possible, I would suggest preparing questions that guests can ask each other either before, or during your Thanksgiving dinner. Place your questions on index cards and hand them out as guests arise. Use my suggestions below, or create your own.
1) What was your best day? Your worst?
2) What book has most influenced you through the years? What movie?
3) What are you most proud of in your life?
4) Can you name one goal that you have for the next few years? Do you have any plans to work towards it? Why or why not?
5) What was the best piece of advice you ever received, and why?
6) What was your scariest moment? Do you wish you'd handled it differently?
7) What skill did you learn that's been most useful?
8) What are you most grateful for? Do you express that gratitude, and how?
9) What would be your perfect day? Have you ever had a day like this?
10) What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you?
11) Where did you buy this turkey?
Before you begin eating your meal, say a prayer. Below is one suggested prayer, but you should feel free to create your own.
by Rabbi Maralee Gordon
In this moment, mindful of our many blessings,
may we form an intent to carry gratitude with us continually.
May we leave fear and jealousy by the wayside,
making room in our hearts for contentment, satisfaction and compassion.
May we start each day counting our blessings:
the blessing of being alive,
the many miracles of the living world we are one with,
the ability we possess to love and to be loved,
the many gifts and talents we have been graced with,
the support we receive and the support we are able to extend.
May our gratitude lead to action.
May we express our gratitude.
May we smile when we encounter each other on the path,
may we seek opportunities to share our talents with others,
may we express our love to one another,
may we give with no expectation of receiving.
May we seek to repair what is broken.
May we end each day counting the day's blessings,
those we have received and those we have bestowed.
May we be a blessing.
From our Thanksgiving table to yours:
May we all continue to go M'Chayil L'Chayil, from strength to strength.
Hodu L'Adonai Ki Tov, Ki L'olam khasdo - Give thanks to God, for God is Good, God's love endures for ever.
Happy Thanksgiving and Shabbat Shalom - Sheri Horowitz-Jay and Rabbi Michael S. Jay