From the Desk of Rabbi
Thanksgiving is around the corner. By now, the flood waters have surely receded, but the difficulty of repairing and rebuilding homes and lives continues. For Houstonians, it’s difficult to believe that Thanksgiving is so close after first feeling like we’d never make it. That’s why this Thanksgiving is even more important. Since August, we’ve learned the meaning of gratitude when first-responders came to our rescue, when volunteers helped us at home, and when some semblance of safety and hope was restored. Now, at our Thanksgiving tables or wherever we might be celebrating the holiday, we’ll raise our glasses and give thanks for very real and tangible reasons: a roof, walls, furniture, family, friends, community, and improved well-being.
Notwithstanding all that we’ve shared, this Thanksgiving will be unique to your family. Perhaps loved ones are gone; their earthly days have ended. On Thanksgiving, their memories will be gathered with words of gratitude about the life they lived and their legacy that still abides among us. But, others have joined you. There are new babies, new sons/daughters-in-law, and new friends. Our tables always have room for one more chair and one more person to fill it. Some families will be together in the hospital or where a family member is recuperating. Thanksgiving doesn’t happen only around the dining room table.
So, before the Turkey is carved and eaten, please take time to share words of thanksgiving that speak to you. Let guests share what’s in their hearts. Or, perhaps you might find meaning in one of the texts below. These citations are from original sources and from an anthology of Jewish quotations. Take a look. You’ll recognize many of them. Share them if you wish.
"It is good to give thanks to God.” Psalm 92.2
"Be not like those who honor their gods in prosperity and curse them in adversity. In pleasure or pain, give thanks!” Akiba, Mekilta to Exodus 20.20
"Lord, I thank You for the goodness of growth, I thank you for the slice of bread and the prayerful mood.” Ben Amittai.
"Who directed the first prayer of thanksgiving to God? A woman, Leah, when she cried out in the fullness of joy, ‘Now again will I praise God!’”
"If a Jew breaks a leg, he thanks God he did not break both legs; if he breaks both, he thanks God he did not break his neck.” A Yiddish Proverb
"As long as the soul is within me, I will give thanks unto You, O Lord, my God and God of my fathers.” Talmud, Berachot 60b; Union Prayerbook Book
From my family to yours and from Congregation Beth Israel to you, Happy Thanksgiving.
You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.
From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
Jewish daily worship begins in the morning with a prayer to acknowledge God’s handiwork in the creation of the morning. It includes a prayer for us to identify the wonder of creation in our body and in the perfect soul that is renewed each day. In the evening, a prayer acknowledges God, Who brings on the evening. Sometimes, we add the final words of Adon Olam, which urge us to know, "God is with me; I will not fear.” Between morning and evening are the hours of the day that we fill according to the ways we’re moved by obligation, desire, selflessness, and selfishness. The complexity of the day involves all these motivations and more. But, the ultimate satisfaction might be found in how we reflect on the day that we were given, rather than on the day we assumed would be ours.
Recently, I attended a meeting of rabbis where busy days of meetings began and ended with morning and evening prayers. The rabbi who led one evening worship experience shared a poem with us. It’s by John O’Donohue, not a Jewish poet, but one whose words resonated with us as we reflected on the day. I was moved by it and felt compelled to share it with you so that you might also use it to reflect on the meaning of your days. Here’s the poem, "At the End of the Day: A Mirror of Questions” by John O’Donohue, from his book, "To Bless the Space Between Us”.
"At the End of the Day: A Mirror of Questions”
What dreams did I create last night?
Where did my eyes linger today?
Where was I blind?
Where was I hurt without anyone noticing?
What did I learn today?
What did I read?
What new thoughts visited me?
What differences did I notice in those closest to me?
Whom did I neglect?
Where did I neglect myself?
What did I begin today that might endure?
How were my conversations?
What did I do today for the poor and the excluded?
Did I remember the dead today?
Where could I have exposed myself to the risk of something different?
Where did I allow myself to receive love?
With whom today did I feel most myself?
What reached me today? How deep did it imprint?
Who saw me today?
What visitations had I for the past and from the future?
What did I avoid today?
From the evidence – why was I given this day?
The answer lies within us. Take the time today and each day to consider the answers to the questions, not only before bedtime, but also in the midst of your day. That is, prepare for the quiz that all of us must pass before we can know that we did what we could do, even if it was difficult, and that we made a difference, even if we didn’t know that we would. Life is a blessing. Our days are gifts. From the evidence, why were you and I given these days, and for what can we be grateful?
You may reach Rabbi David Lyon here.
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