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November 27, 2019
29 Cheshvan 5780

Parashat Toldot
Rosh Chodesh Kislev
Genesis 25:19 - 28:9

Dear Friends,

There is a tradition in my family that if we are in the car at noon on Thanksgiving Day, we turn on the radio and listen to and sing along with Arlo Guthrie as he sings and talks through Alice’s Restaurant. In truth, I am not entirely sure what my adult children make of this song at this point in their lives. But this ritual, of listening to and singing along with the song, has been part of our Thanksgiving ritual. Now, when listening to the song this Thanksgiving, I will be thinking of them and those days gone by and not of the time when the song first came into my life.

That’s how ritual works. We do it over and over again, and its power comes through repetition and familiarity and, of course, memory. Ritual is habitual; therein lies much of its power, as it becomes associated with particular moments in time and space.

What do you do if the practice is new and unfamiliar? How do we incorporate the practice into our daily lives? Some of us have a very ritualized way of beginning our day, while others do not. If you have an animal that needs to be walked, that is part of your daily practice -- your daily routine.

But what of those practices or rituals that imbue our lives with meaning? This past week, I was away at a retreat. As part of one of the early morning services (the shacharit service), we ventured outside for a focused meditative walk. Our leader for the service was a rabbi who has been studying Qigong for the past five years. He brought elements of his own spiritual practice into our walk. Qigong necessitates focused breathing as a key element. He shared with us that he is still in the process of internalizing this spiritual practice and aligning it with his Jewish practice. Developing a spiritual practice does not come out of nowhere; it takes work, intention and time.

Part of our morning liturgy is the Modeh Ani prayer, which loosely translates to "I am grateful." It is traditionally recited while still in bed as one wakes up: “I give thanks before you, my ruler living and eternal, for You have returned within me my soul with compassion; abundant is Your faithfulness.”

Waking up in the morning is something we take less and less for granted the older we get. Yet, this is one of the first prayers taught to children in traditional settings. What does it mean to wake up ready to meet the challenges of the day ahead? Why should gratitude be the first thing on our mind?

Much of this depends on one's point of view. If we believe that each new day is an opportunity to begin again, then gratitude has a role. After hearing Marti Michael speak recently about her interactions with refugees, children in particular, I was struck by their capacity for awe, wonder, and gratitude. That capacity is a strong reminder of the gifts of our lives and our roles in sending it forward. But before we send anything out, we need to acknowledge what we have -- the power that we have simply by being alive and having the ability to connect with others.

My wish for all of us is to recognize the gifts of our lives, large and small, and to make gratitude part of our regular practice, not just at certain times of the year. When we do this, it becomes part of who we are, so that we are able to recognize the wonder and the majesty even in the midst of chaos. A practice of gratitude gives us the tools to keep moving forward, sharing our gifts with others.

A prayer of gratitude by my teacher, Rabbi Jill Hammer:

Modim Anachnu Lach
We are grateful to You
for being God to us
and to our ancestors forever,
throughout time.

You are the root of our being
and the shelter around us.
In every generation we sing gratitude,
we sing your praise

for our lives which are given into Your hand
for our spirits, kept in Your treasury,
for your wonders which are daily with us

for the miracles and favors we discover at all moments:
morning, noon, and night.

O overflowing one, your compassion never runs dry.
O matrix of mercy, your love is infinitely present.
Since our primordial origins, we have hoped in you.

For all this, we bless your holy name, o guide to life,
always, forever, throughout all the worlds.

All that lives calls out in gratitude,
Praising Your name that sings itself through reality,
Divine one, well of help and new beginnings.

Blessed are You, Source of Life,
for gratitude is good
in the presence of Your abundant name.

The practice of gratitude is embedded in our tradition. Modeh Ani: I am grateful each and every day for the ability to begin again and for our incredible caring community.

Have a good Thanksgiving and a Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Sat, September 19 2020 1 Tishrei 5781