Adar II 5776
The Jewish Thanksgiving
Written by the rabbi
The moment we wake up ("before we put on our makeup") – sorry, I'm writing this on Purim, couldn’t resist that! – we say a little prayer called Modeh Ani: "I am thankful (or admit) to you, Hashem…..." There is no more important word in Hebrew than Toda, or in English than "Thank You."
And so the Midrash tells us that in the end of days, when sin will be removed from the world, all the offerings will be obsolete except for one, the Korban Toda, the Thanks Offering. Giving thanks will never become outdated.
This message is also communicated in our Tefilot, which replaced the korbanot when the Bet HaMikdash was destroyed. In the most important prayer, the Amida, one can merely listen & answer Amen to the Chazan's repetition. Except, that is, when it comes to the Modim, or thanksgiving prayer. That must be said by each person individually, for thanks must never, ever be taken for granted.
Today, while all other offerings have been suspended, we still have a remnant of the Korban Toda, represented in the Birkat Ha-Gomel blessing that we say on 4 different occasions:
- When one has crossed an ocean or desert;
- When he has been released from prison;
- When he has recovered from a serious illness;
- Or any time one has encountered a life-threatening situation - & survived it.
He then gives thanks to Hashem via this unique bracha.
Now, while the Ha-Gomel blessing must certainly be taken literally, & applied in these specific instances, I suggest that there is another way of approaching it, as well. You see, each of us contains a precious soul, a Neshama that gives us our own special character, that links us to G-d & that must be carefully safeguarded from the many dangers which threaten it. And these dangers to the soul are all encapsulated in the various categories of the Ha-Gomel.
At times our Neshama drifts far away from us; we over-concentrate on the physical side of life, & our pure soul seems to be across some distant ocean, or wandering aimlessly in a desert. At other times, we consciously reject the spiritual responsibilities incumbent upon us, locking our Neshama, as it were, in a self-made prison. And at other times, nebuch, our Neshamot are just plain sick. They need nurturing & healing, a healthy dose of Torah & Mitzvot & acts of Chesed to repair & rejuvenate them.
If we care for our Neshamot - as least as much as we worry about our bodies - we will undoubtedly reach a truly elevated place, & create a life that is truly to be thankful for.
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