By Date

Dear Friends,

Based on a teaching by Rabbi Meir, Jewish Law teaches that every member of the Jewish community is obligated to recite 100 blessings a day. And while the word “blessing” is fairly universal, it means different things in different communities.

Early in my rabbinate I was meeting with a couple whose wedding I would be officiating. “When,” asked the groom, “do you bless the rings?”

I thought I misheard him and asked him to repeat the question. He did. I had not. And I was still perplexed.

“What do you mean bless the rings?” I asked.

“You know,” he replied, “when do you bless the rings and make them holy.”

(“Oh, if only I had such power,” I thought.)

It became clear to me that we might be using the same word but we were not speaking the same language.

To him, blessing something fundamentally changed its nature. This is what occurs when a Catholic Priest blesses the wafer and the wine during communion. The blessing transforms the items and either elevates them or turns them into something new.

Not so in Judaism.

Rather than “bless” something, in Judaism we say a blessing OVER something. The items or moment remain unchanged when a blessing is recited. Our perception of it, however, is transformed as we pause for a moment and focus our attention.

For example, when we say the blessing over the wine and challah on Friday night, the wine remains wine and the challah remains delicious. But by pausing to say the blessing over each item we intentionally shift our focus and enter into the realm of what Eastern meditative traditions refer to as mindfulness.

So for us, a blessing isn’t about the object of the blessing. It is about us. And when the rabbis of old instructed us to recite one hundred blessings each day they were urging us to pay closer attention to the world around us and to express gratitude for it.

“I once taught this to a class of kids,” writes Rabbi Ed Feinstein. “They protested, who has time for that? Who has time for a hundred thank yous a day? And one little girl in the back of the room answered back, how many times do you say ‘I want’ each day? Try saying thank you each time. She’s right.”

He continues,

“Gratitude shifts our attention from the bottomless desires for all we want to the cultivation of appreciation for all we have. It changes the way we see the world.”

This Thanksgiving, let’s try to “change the way we see the world.”

At a time when the news seeks to amplify the negative, let’s focus more on the good.

In an age when debates on social media quickly fall to their lowest, basest form, let’s respectfully elevate our discussions even when we disagree.

In an era that is evermore focused on the self, let’s take the time to focus on the needs of others.

And in an age of entitlement, let’s recognize that all we have is merely on loan and express gratitude for it.

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, gratitude-filled Thanksgiving.

Rabbi Daniel Cohen