Thanksgiving And Blessings – OpEd


During  a year of war, plague or drought it is a Mitzvah (a Jewish duty) to spread knowledge of these ancient Jewish and Muslim blessings and a modern fable:

About 120 years ago, there was a poor hard working farmer who had to sell all he owned because for two years in a row, insects ate all his crops. Then, in the third year he went into debt in order to feed his family. 

He once asked his moneylender why it was so hard for poor people to make a living. The moneylender said, ” I do not know. Only God knows.You should ask him.” 

The farmer, who was a good hearted but rather simple person, took the moneylender’s statement literally, and decided to go and ask God directly. But the poor farmer did not know where God lived, so he asked his wife. She told him to go and ask the people in a synagogue. Which one he asked. 

There were several different synagogues in their village and she thought he should go to the most religious one; the one where the men pray for at least four hours every Sabbath, and they read the prayers faster than anywhere else. 

So he went to that synagogue to ask where God lived, but the men there were praying so hard and so fast, that no one had the time to answer the poor farmer’s question. They just ignored him.

The poor farmer then asked a man who was walking by on the road; and he told the farmer to ask the men who spent the whole day studying Talmud in the Yeshivah. 

The farmer went to the Yeshivah, but the students there did not want to interrupt their studies to give an answer to the poor man. The poor farmer felt sad and rejected; so he left the Yeshivah.
Not far from the Yeshivah the farmer met an older woman who was carrying a heavy basket. He offered to help her, took her basket, and carried it all the way to her home. She thanked him and then asked him why he looked so sad. 

He told her that he was looking for God because he had an important question to ask him; but he did not know where God lived. The woman smiled at the poor farmer and told him that God lives right here. “In your house” he asked in surprise. 

“No, not in my house. God lives in the Mitsvah you just did when you carried my heavy basket for me. 

Most people think that God lives in your heart when you do Mitsvot for someone else, and they are right; but I think God lives not just within each person; but more important, God lives between people when they help each other.” 

Then the woman asked him, “What is your question for God?” The poor farmer replied,”A  moneylender told me to go and ask God why is it so hard for poor people like me to make a living. 

I did not know where God lived, so my wife told me to go to a synagogue, but the people there were so busy praying that they had no time to answer my question.”

The woman asked him if he and his wife loved each other. He told her that they loved each other very much. She asked him if he and his wife loved their children and he answered her that everyone in the family loved each other very very much. 

Then she told him, “You are a poor farmer because the insects ate your crops, and because other people did not offer to help you when you were in need, the way you offered to help me, even though I did not ask you. 

Many people are so busy doing things for themselves and their families, or for God, that they do not notice when strangers are in need. 

But, while you are a poor farmer, you are not a poor person, because you love your family and your family loves you. No one who has people who love him is poor. So thank the God who lives within, between, and among loving people who help one another, that you are a rich man.” 

When the farmer went home to his wife and children, he told them how much he loved them and how wealthy he felt because of them. Then the rich man who was a poor farmer went to work planting seeds for his next crop.

Most religions have long stressed the virtue of daily expressions of gratitude to God. The Qur’an states that Prophet Sulaiman said: “. . . ‘This is by the Grace of my Lord to test me whether I am grateful or ungrateful! And whoever is grateful, truly, his gratitude is (good) for his own self, and whoever is ungrateful, (it is his own loss). Certainly! My Lord is Rich, Bountiful.'” (27:40)

And as Prophet David, Prophet Solomon’s father said in his Zabur (Psalms 103:1-4) “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.”

All humans owe God for all the blessings we have received; and thus we must always behave in unselfish ways. This will also benefit ourselves in the long run for ingrates always hurt themselves in the long run.  

As Allah says: “And (remember) when your Lord proclaimed: ‘If you give thanks (by words and good deeds), I will give you more; but if you are ingrates, verily, My punishment is indeed severe'”  (Qur’an 14:7)

One way the Jewish tradition has taught the value of gratitude to Jews is to teach the importance of saying blessings praising God for the many things we experience, both in our ordinary daily and weekly life, and at occasional extraordinary times. 

It is a Mitsvah (Jewish religious duty) to say blessings praising God at every meal over food and drink. Every morning when we awake it is a Mitsvah to say several blessings because various parts of our mind and body still work. During morning and evening prayers 18 blessings are said, and there are blessings for the weekly celebration of the Sabbath. 

There are also blessings to say for special occasions for our sages urged us to thank God for as many blessings as we can, since the more blessings you can say, the more blessed you are. Indeed, Jewish tradition maintains that everyone who is able to say 100 blessings a day is truly blessed. 

Among the special occasion blessings there is a blessing for seeing a non-Jewish sage and another one for seeing a Jewish sage. There is a blessing for hearing good news and another one for hearing bad news in accordance with Rabbi Huna’s view that we need both joy and suffering to increase our mental and spiritual resilience; and experience the varied meanings of life’s tests. 

Here are a few examples of blessings for special occasions:

On beholding fragrant trees: Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, creator of fragrant trees.

On seeing trees in blossom: Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, whose world lacks nothing we need, who has fashioned goodly creatures and lovely trees that enchant the heart.

On seeing an unusual looking person: Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, who makes every person unique.

On the Divine value of pluralism and human variety when seeing a large number of people: Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, the Sage of esoterica, for just as no person’s opinion is like that of another, so their faces are different from one another.

On seeing evidence of charitable efforts: Praised be Adonai our God, ruler of space and time, who clothes the naked.  

On seeing people who have overcome adversity: Praised be Adonai our God, ruler of space and time, who gives strength to the weary.

To show our appreciation of all of God’s gifts is the greatest sign of praising God. To be ungrateful and unappreciative is a great sin that leads to suffering, negativity and anger. The Qur’an teaches all of us clearly that one of the 99 names of Allah is Al Shakur— “The Appreciative One.” There are several verses of the Qur’an which speak of God as “appreciative”:

“If anyone willingly does what is good, God is appreciative and cognizant.” (Quran 2:158)

“Why would God punish you if you are grateful and faithful, since God is most appreciative, most cognizant?” (Quran 4:147)

“As God will pay them their due and more, from the bounty divine, for God is most forgiving, most appreciative.” (Quran 35:30)

“And for anyone who brings about good, We will add goodness to it, for God is forgiving, appreciative.” (Quran 42:23)

So if  the One who has created the universe can appreciate our often inadequate human efforts to do what is good; how much the more so should we give thanks for all we have received, and all the positive things we have produced; as Midrash Leviticus Rabbah (9:7) teaches: 

“In the Messianic Age all food offerings will be abrogated, but the Thanksgiving Offering will not be abrogated. All prayers will be annulled, but prayers of thanksgiving will never be annulled.”

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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