Over these past few months, it has quickly become a daily ritual in cities around the world to step outside and applaud the essential workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a small but meaningful way to honor those who are risking their lives for the health, safety and well-being of others. Countless YouTube videos show people cheering, singing, clapping, honking and singing in appreciation, and it is truly beautiful to watch.
Of course, there are many ways to express gratitude. For the Jewish people, gratitude goes way back to our biblical ancestors. When our matriarch Leah gave birth to her fourth son, she called him Yehudah, or, Judah, meaning ‘grateful’ because, she says, “Hapa’am odeh,” “This time I shall thank God.” Our Talmudic sages expound on this statement by teaching that “From the day God created the world no one had thanked God until Leah came and expressed thanks upon giving birth to Judah.” And in fact, Judah’s name carried such great significance that it eventually became the name for our people—Yehudim, Jews, literally, the grateful ones. How profound that at the root of what it means to be Jewish is the very idea of gratitude! Our tradition expresses this in so many ways, from the prayer we recite when we wake up in the morning (modeh/modah ani)-- a prayer that expresses thanks to God for restoring our souls to us for yet another day--to all the blessings we utter daily that recognize the sanctity of life even in its seemingly mundane moments.
Next week, Jews around the world will observe the holiday of Shavuot. On this holiday, there is another expression of gratitude we practice, called mikra bikkurim. Mikra bikkurim is the narrative recited by the Israelites when they brought the first fruits (bikkurim) of their harvest to the Temple in Jerusalem as an offering of thanks to God. This narrative begins with the story of Jacob, continues through Joseph's descent to Egypt, the slavery of the Hebrews in Egypt, the Exodus and wandering in the desert, and finally, arrival in the Promised Land and offering of the first fruit. In other words, on Shavuot we are obligated to reflect upon our story as a people, and, just like those who step outside every evening to cheer essential workers, we too are obligated to physically express gratitude for the blessings in our own lives.
So, in the spirit of gratitude, the J invites you to participate in an international initiative, Days of Gratitude. Starting Friday, May 22, and leading up to the holiday of Shavuot, we will post daily gratitude prompts and encourage you to share your responses on social media with #gratitude5780. You can also sign up to receive your own daily dose of gratitude via email.
Irving Berlin wrote: "I've got plenty to be thankful for/I haven't got a great big yacht, to sail from shore to shore/Still I've got plenty be thankful for." What are YOU thankful for? Join us in the Days of Gratitude.