Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
I’m thinking about the turkey. I’m worrying about the family dynamics. I’m eager for the apple pie. Thanksgiving is coming. But the one thought that hadn’t crossed my mind until today was a reminder to focus on the meaning behind the holiday: giving thanks.
I find this with so many holidays, Jewish and secular. Well in advance, I think about the day off, or the menu, or who I’ll be spending the day with. And then later, I remember to focus on the meaning of the holiday.
In our fast-paced world, it’s hard to take time to step back, pause and think about what we are grateful for. More often, we think about what we are lacking or what we perceive others have that we do not. This is especially true in a world of social media where people post their “highlight reels,” or best selves, on Facebook. We just want to be more like the ideal put out there by others.
But Jewish tradition reminds us that being happy with what we have is so important. The ancient rabbis asked “who is rich?” They answered, “a person who is content with his lot” (Pirkei Avot 4:1). The rabbis also understood this to be hard. They wrote that “one who has one hundred, wants two hundred” (Kohelet Rabbah, 1:34).
Holidays like Thanksgiving remind us that we should pause and focus on what we have. Our lives may not be perfect. In fact, at times, they may be really hard. But, even then, there’s usually a silver lining – something positive that is worthy of our focus as well.
I recently asked a group of people what they are thankful for. Many of the answers were unsurprising (and heart-warming): friends, family, health. Others shared that they were thankful for sunshine, for the opportunity to give back, for ideas that challenge them.
I’ll be thinking hard this Thursday about what I’m thankful for, beyond the obvious. I’ll think about my riches coming not from what I have – but from contentment with what I have. And then, I hope, I’ll remember to say “thank you” before I say “please pass the apple pie.”