How does Gratitude Deepen Expressions of Thanksgiving?
In the calendars, we have two months of Thanksgiving. The Jewish calendar has recently brought to a close Jewish Thanksgiving, Sukkot, and now the secular calendar offers Thanksgiving Day awaiting us later in November.
Apart from observances that are distinctly different, the focuses and expressions are also different. Sukkot emphasizes gratitude for a harvest that goes beyond and deeper than the material things of life. Sukkot accentuates what we find in the daily prayer experience, as in the Birchot HaShachar, early morning prayers of appreciation for what we take for granted in the course of each day. Life in the Sukkah in the autumn includes reminders of chilliness and vulnerability and fragility which are all conducive to appreciating God’s protection however we define it and open ourselves to it. Gratitude reflects attitudes of appreciation and positivity as we avoid letting the negatives weigh us down.
With Thanksgiving Day, the focus is on using the capacity of gratitude and turning it into expressions of thankfulness, and uttering thanks for our blessings.
With all the turmoil in the world, and in our country, as we finally come to the close of a tumultuous election period, Thanksgiving comes just in time to express gratitude for the miraculous nature of this country, as the only one in history that changes its leadership, from its inception 240 years ago, in peaceful ways. Such transition of leadership is indicative of so many other blessings for which to be thankful about this country, that we can easily overlook or forget; it is a country of immigrants that joined the indigenous population. It is built on a foundation that is rooted in the best of biblical, i.e. Jewish, traditions, that each person is a child of God and worthy of respect and proper behavior in how we treat one another.
Jewishly, our gratitude, throughout the ages for God’s protection, even when it seemed illusory and questionable, has sustained us through good times and bad. As a people we have adapted to living conditions in different parts of the world over 2000 years of Diaspora. Today, we have so much to feel gratitude for and for which to express thanks: we are the generation that is alive with the reemergence of Israel that apart from its challenges of survival and continuity, contributes to the wellbeing of the world with extraordinary medical and technological advances and making a point of being first responders, around the world, when tragedy strikes.
We add to that gratitude with the realization that we live in a country founded on principles of justice for individuals as well as the collective body, and governed by democratic rules where majority and minority are to live peacefully and respectfully within such conditions. That is an amazing reality that is hard to fully appreciate when times are stressful.
Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionist Judaism observed that, outside Israel, Jews live in 2 civilizations, the Jewish context and whatever is the culture of that nation we are in. In our country, we celebrate two Harvest holidays that complement each other, the gratitude of Sukkot, reminding us that the greatest harvest is the best we find in human relationships and dear ones with whom we are connected and American Thanksgiving which provides the opportunity to marvel over all the positive aspects of American life and government, enabling people of all backgrounds to be free and blessed with opportunities.
May our Jewish grounding inspire and enrich our deeper appreciation for the blessings of life in America, even in such complicated times, and may the gratitude associated with Sukkot translate as deep and broad thankfulness on Thanksgiving Day for our opportunity to be a part of the amazing experience of life and citizenship in the U.S.A.