By Laura Seymour
The beginning of the Jewish year is filled with holidays and often we get caught up in the preparation and the “doing” of the holiday. Sukkot is really the time to relax in our sukkah and rejoice, but sometimes there is so much to do that again we forget one of the most important values in our lives — gratitude! We must focus on being thankful, showing gratitude and really looking at all we have in this world to appreciate and not wait for a holiday or especially remember after a holiday. The Jewish value of hoda’ah — appreciation or gratitude — should be part of every day. Being thankful is a life-affirming quality; it should be practiced when things are good and when they are more difficult. A poll from a few years back found that Americans think their own gratitude is increasing, while everyone else’s is going down (survey commissioned by the John Templeton Foundation). What does that say about us? Here are some of the findings and as you read them, think whether this has changed in recent times:
How important is gratitude? More than 90% agreed that grateful people are more fulfilled, lead richer lives and are more likely to have friends.
When do we feel grateful? Given a list of categories, people were most grateful for their immediate families, followed closely by freedom.
How do we say “thanks”? Less than 50% said they would be “very likely” to thank salespeople that helped them, as well the postman, the cleaning staff, etc.
Who is grateful? Women were more grateful than men; 18- to 24-year-olds express gratitude less often than any other age group; people were least likely to express gratitude in workplaces…despite wishing to be thanked more often themselves at work.
Lots of interesting facts and thoughts for us to work on in our daily lives! Judaism has a way to express thanks — saying blessings! The rabbis tell us to say 100 blessings every day; however, the only Torah-based blessing is the Birkat Hamazon, the blessing after the meal. It is written in Deuteronomy 8:10, “And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless Adonai your G-d for the good land which G-d has given you.” There are four blessings in the traditional Birkat Hamazon:
Birkat hazan: praises G-d for sustaining life and providing food for all creatures.
Birkat ha’aretz: thanks G-d for being compassionate and nourishing the Jewish people, both with food and with Torah.
Birkat Yerushalayim: begs G-d to be merciful and continue to support the Jewish people and to rebuild Jerusalem.
Birkat hatov v’hameitiv: This blessing ends by voicing the hope that “G-d will never deny us anything good.”
It is an interesting idea that a blessing after you eat is commanded. Perhaps that is when we are feeling most thankful or perhaps that is the time when, because we are full, we forget to say thank you. Saying blessings before makes us stop and think about how fortunate we are and lets us take a moment to appreciate it before moving on. Saying a blessing after tells us that we should not take for granted what we have been given. We must stop and look around us and then be thankful (and express those thanks) every moment of every day!
Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.