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Rabbi Goldie Milgram
Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Living Judaism

The Living Judaism feature in each issue focuses on Jewish spirituality, meaning and activism with invited columns written by rabbis belonging to the various movements of Judaism. Jewish clergy interested in writing for Living Judaism are invited to make contact with Rabbi Goldie Milgram at judaism @

Cantor Robert Michael Esformes, Temple Har Zion, Mt. Holly, NJ. 

"Modeh [f. modah] ani," "I am so thankful," the first words we're instructed to utter upon awakening, reveal a spiritual truth so central to our tradition that the very name of our people, "Yehudim," "Jews," is based on the same root and means "the thankful ones." The morning liturgy follows each day with a list of particulars we're invited to give thanks for, including: a functioning body and its various capacities, our mental acuity, the reliable meeting of our needs from the abundance of the Source, and our very connection with the Divine.

There are, in addition, in the course of the day, numerous blessings suggested in recognition of and in thankfulness for various aspects of creation. When I sit at seaside, I recall that this includes a blessing for beholding the sea (from among a wonderful list of traditional "blessings for special occasions"). I offer that blessing, holy words in honor of deep feelings. The "official" rules demand, by the way, that in order to offer the blessing, a month must have elapsed since the previous encounter with what we're blessing. I suppose that we can improvise our soliloquies on other occasions.

In our prayerbook, the morning liturgy moves from prayers of gratitude to prayers of praise as we shift our focus in the perception of our relationship to Creation. In thanks, we recognize the gift we personally receive from the Creator. In praise, we recognize the greatness of the Source that offers such gifts and more to all beings. It is a widening of the aperture of appreciation from a self-referenced response to an impersonal aesthetic contemplation. If thanks is good to open our hearts to G*d's presence in the gifts of our lives, praise is surely good to humble our hearts in recognition of the immensity that everywhere surrounds us.

Continuing in the prayerbook, it's interesting to note that the "modeh ani" (I am thankful) of our waking moments becomes the "modim anachnu" (we are thankful ) in the amidah prayer, the central section of Jewish services which includes silent, personal prayer time. As we move from "I thank " to "we thank," we find ourselves gathered up in to a unified collective organized around the common work of worship. This passage, the penultimate blessing in the Amidah, concludes with the phrase "it is pleasant to give thanks." Indeed. And the following, concluding blessing is a blessing for peace.

"We receive the gifts of life, are thankful for what is given, and give thanks to the Giver." Each blessing uttered completes the circle. The Source gives without reserve from its infinite abundance, befitting us. We offer thanks, acknowledging the Source and strengthening our conscious bond with it. As it says in creative translation of the call to worship: "As we bless the Source of life, so we are blessed."

Recognition of our neediness keeps us from egotism and demands that we recognize not only the Divine Source, but also the interdependence of all creatures. In that recognition we see the necessity for gratefulness also to our fellow creatures, to earth and seasons of change, to the cultivators of soil and civilization and to all who dwell with us on this planet.

At the last moment of existence, I suppose we are invited to give thanks for having been given the gift of life itself, now demanded of us for return to the Source. It might be good on that occasion, whether or not a dictionary is at hand, to recall etymologies and to offer our thanks as "gracias," asking for grace, or "merci," asking for mercy. But we don't have to wait until then to involve ourselves in such a simple but powerful spiritual practice as gratefulness. For each moment of conscious gratitude is itself a kind of grace and a moment of mercy as we let go the dogged demands and narrow confines of our egotism and step, at least for a moment , into an appreciation of our harmonized place in the great circle of life.