Parashat Vayetze Torah Reading: Genesis 28:10-32:3
This past Tuesday evening I had the pleasure of participating in our neighborhood's annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service at the Trinity Episcopal Church on Ocean Avenue. It was a warm, lovely and meaningful service. I thought I would share with you the short sermon I delivered at the end of the service. Even though Thanksgiving Day is over, our tradition encourages us to stop and acknowledge the blessings of our lives every day with a beautiful blessing in the three-times a day prayer the amidah. That blessing is called "Modim" which means "Thanks and Acknowledgement." So in a way, my Thanksgiving sermon works any time!
Thanksgiving 2009 / Trinity Church, Cranston, RI
When my mother was teaching me how to write thank-you letters, she told me that I had to be specific about the gift I had received. It was not sufficient, she taught me, to write "thanks for the gift." I had to write "thanks for the cute fuzzy brown socks, they sure keep my feet warm!" or "thanks for the 800 page book about ducks, that first chapter was a real page-turner."
If it is only proper to praise with specificity even the most dubious of presents we receive from family or friends . . . then it behooves us to wax absolutely poetic about the blessings bestowed upon us by God. We enjoy both collective gifts and personal gifts in these blessings. One of our greatest collective gifts is this very moment. "Thank you, God, for bringing us together with mutual respect for each other and a shared awe of You as we flourish in this exceptional nation of ours."
May we all put aside a few moments at our Thanksgiving tables . . . grand or modest as they may be . . . to thank God for the blessings we enjoy of family and friends, security, nourishing food, laughter and belonging. Our private and our collective blessings.
The roots of the celebration we will enjoy on Thursday are found in the 17th century, but the gift of gratitude, the act of acknowledging that our blessings come from God have been part of our common religious traditions for much longer than 17 centuries: Psalm 100 is called the Psalm of Thanks and serves as an inspiring text for thanking our Creator with joy. Allow me to bring our evening of interfaith thanksgiving to a close with the words of the Psalmist:
A Thanksgiving psalm.
Shout out to the Lord, all the earth, worship the Lord in rejoicing, come before God in glad song.
Know that the Lord is God who made us, we are the Lord's, God's people, the flock the Lord tends.
Come into God's gates in thanksgiving, the Lord's courts in praise.
We acclaim God and bless God's holy name.
For the Lord is good, blessing us with eternal kindness, faithful for all our generations.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.