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November 20, 2015  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Food for thought

By RABBI DANIELLE UPBIN Cong Beth Shalom, Clearwater

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we pause to consider the many ways in which Judaism celebrates the virtue of gratitude. While kvetching may come easier than kvelling, our tradition encourages us to be grateful for the many blessings of our lives, especially with regard to consumption. Whether we eat to live or live to eat, we have many opportunities each day to express our gratitude for the fuel that drives our bodies and souls.

Consider this story from Frances Moore Lappe´ in Gratitude, Mindfulness and Blessing our Food: Hazon’s Sourcebook on Jews, Food and Contemporary Jewish Life: “A teacher from Berkeley told me about a time when her students washed and trimmed and cut up ingredients and made a big salad. ‘Now wait,’ she said, ‘before we start eating, let’s stop and think about the people who tilled the ground, planted the seeds, and harvested the vegetables.’ The kids stood up at their desks and gave the salad a standing ovation.”

What a colorful way to remind us of the “attitude of gratitude.” What moves us to celebrate the energy and resources that go into the food on our plates? Every time we utter a blessing of thanks before and after we eat, we have an opportunity to give thanks for the journey our food has taken. Thanksgiving, in particular, is a wonderful time to pause and reflect on the making of the celebratory meal; acknowledging those who prepared the food as well as the people and factors who are hidden in each bite.

Without blessing, sacrilege

Expressing gratitude for all of our blessings, especially for food, is an ancient Jewish principle. As we learn in the Talmud, “Rabbi Meir used to say: A person must say one hundred blessings a day.” (Babylonian Talmud Menachot 43b) One hundred blessings may seem like a lot, but considering how much we have to be grateful for, 100 might not actually cover it. A blessing is simply a declaration of thanks to God for the opportunity to share the bounty of the earth.

I love the idea of engaging with guests at the Thanksgiving table to consciously appreciate the scrumptious smells, textures, variety, and color palate of the meal. Appreciating every bite is a mindful way of expressing gratitude for the amazing blessing of nourishment. We could probably come up with 100 blessings at the Thanksgiving meal alone.

The wise words of the modern poet and philosopher, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, also resonate: “It is gratefulness which makes the soul great.” (Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity, 341)

In his well known text, God in Search of Man, Heschel also writes: “As civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines. Such decline is an alarming symptom of our state of mind. Mankind will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation.” (p.46)

Heschel prods us to notice, enjoy and connect ourselves to the blessings around us.

After all, this holiday isn’t only about the food (or the game), right? We are reminded to strengthen our spirits, look up from our mobile devices for an afternoon and appreciate the spectacular unfolding of the world around us. What a wonderful time of year to consider the beauty of friendship and family as well as the natural world; to attach ourselves to the blessings of our lives with a sense of wonder and amazement.

May the spirit of gratitude fuel your holiday meal as well as the delicious leftovers in the days to come.

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned on a rotating basis by the board. The views expressed in the column are those of the rabbi and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Jewish Press nor the Board of Rabbis.

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