When I was a child and my family would attend services, I would often find my attention diverted from the service by the prayer book. I would explore every page, enthralled by each dog-eared page. I was usually drawn to a section headed “Blessings of Praise and Gratitude.” I loved seeking out the most obscure blessings I could find. I loved that there were different prayers for eating a meal than eating a snack, or for seeing a mountain rather than a very large hill. I became obsessed with prayers, making up a prayer for everything from seeing the insides of a bug I stepped on, to passing a test.
I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude recently, and the place it exists within my life. For instance, despite what various yoga instructors tell me, I do not find overwhelming gratitude at rising every morning, and I don’t generally feel a ton of gratitude for being able to draw each new breath (unless I’ve recently been punched in the stomach). The overwhelmingly mundane nature of the acts generally prevents me from feeling the passionate gratitude that such a monumental triumph of nature and spirit demands. Does that make me a bad person?
I don’t think it does. Being grateful for a chocolate cake does not preclude my gratitude for the flour that goes into it; it is simply built in to being grateful for the cake. In a similar way, I think that when I’m grateful for my friends, my family, my community, there is a foot note attached that says “and my mouth for breathing and being able to talk and my feet for walking, and my…” and so on. I simply don’t say it because if I had to list out every ingredient that goes into making my life awesome I’d never have time to do any of the awesome things that comprise my life. I fear that this means I have lost some of the wonder I had as a child for the plethora of prayers that our tradition holds as a way to remind us to be grateful for each new thing that greets us. There is some sadness in that.
However, during times like this past weekend, when I consider the things I am most thankful for and I consider my health, the job I love, and the friends and family that support and love me, something happens to all of those prayers. They meld together and grow until I almost need to shout:
Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Haolam she-ecḥeyanu ve’qiye’manu va’higiy’anu laz’man hazeh.
Blessed are you, lord our god, ruler of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.
What are the things that make you shout prayers of thanks? Did you have a “Shehecheyanu moment” this Thanksgiving? Tweet with us at #iTorah and #attitudeofgratitude!
About the Author
Eli Cohn-Wein is the Kutz and NFTY Program Associate. He spent the past 4 summers on the URJ Crane Lake Camp senior staff, and grew up in NFTY-NEL. He attended the University of Rochester and lives in Astoria, New York.