Earlier this week, I caught myself asking my child, who had just received a gift from a friend: “That was so nice of him. Did you say ‘thank you’?”
It then dawned on me how we teach our children to say thank you for the love and kindness that others give them. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. Being polite and grateful, are some of the key ingredients to raising a generation of “mensches”. But how often do we, and our children, offer ‘thank you’ for all of the gifts — physical and emotional, material and spiritual — which we already possess?
Alas, in our age of distractions, we are at times so preoccupied
with the outside world and all the benefits that we desire to withdraw from it,
that we forget to peer inside ourselves to discover and say “thank-you” for all
of the blessings that already exist within.
An old tale tells the story of two young fish who were once swimming along in an ocean. One morning, they happened to meet an older fish swimming the other way.
The older fish looks at them and says, “Hello, young fish, how’s the water today?”
The two young fish nod back, continue on swimming for a bit, and after they passed the older fish, one says to the other, “what is water?”
Most of us too ‘swim’ in life’s many blessings – from the good
health that we have, to the loving families that surround us, to the innate
talents and skills that our Creator has instilled in each of us. Yet, how often
do we pause to “smell the roses,” recognize, and appreciate the many
water-like blessings which are constantly enveloping us?
Perhaps, this is why Jewish law teaches that we ought to begin our every day, as soon as we awake and open our eyes in the morning, with the blessing of Modeh Ani: “I give thanks before you, King living and eternal, for You have returned within me my soul with compassion; abundant is Your faithfulness.”
Indeed, as we face a new day, and just before we race to work and
draw the many blessings that may be awaiting us in the outside world, we dare
not forget to open our eyes and first thank God for all of His blessings that
can be found here and now, not just there and later. For, His shining light
also exist from within the walls of our life’s tunnels too – not just at their
end. And His great treasures also blossom forth from the very soil we are
treading – not just on the soils we wish to explore.
This message was also poignantly conveyed by the legendary Chassidic Master, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, when he once saw his student racing through the streets of his town.
“Why are you running so fast?” the Rabbi asked him.
The man responded: “Rabbi, I’m racing in pursuit of my livelihood!”
So the Rabbi responded, brilliantly: “How do you know that your livelihood is somewhere in front of you? Maybe it is behind you, and by racing, you are actually distancing yourself further and further from it?”
And so, on this Thanksgiving, let us stop this race, and all of life’s races, for just a few brief moments, and offer our gratitude for all of the blessings that we are so lucky to have, around us and inside of us, right now, at this time, at this moment, at this place. Like the innocent smile of our children. Or like the love of our family and friends. Or like the fresh air and splendid nature that surrounds us. Or like the blessing of just being able to say “thank-you” on this wonderful Thanksgiving Day.
And let us emit these “modeh ani” prayers and implement these moments of reflection and gratitude, more and more, each and every day, as we open our eyes in the morning, and as we continue on to swim in the many blessed waters of our lives.