The Union for Progressive Judaism is pleased to provide a series of articles about our soon-to-be-published prayer book. Rabbi Richard Sarason, Professor of Rabbinic Literature and Thought, and Associate Editor for the Hebrew Union College Annual, writes about prayers and readings in Mishkan T’filah relating to thanksgiving.
Some years ago I participated in a worship retreat where each of us was asked to identify our favourite prayer in Jewish liturgy, the one with which we resonated most deeply.
It didn’t take me very long to realise that I resonate most deeply with the Hoda’ah benediction, and specifically with its attention to the miracles that we experience every day. Whatever theological doubts any of us might have, whatever reservations about petitionary prayer and its efficacy, there should be no doubt at all about the need to say, ?Thank you,? and to acknowledge the small (read, ?big?) miracles that surround us at all times, if only we open our eyes to see them.
It is human nature to take for granted health, relationships, work—in short, everything about our lives that is going well—until they are lost or impaired. It is only when we have been hurt, or suffered a loss or a setback that we cry out and confront ultimate questions. Life inevitably teaches us those lessons. Better then, I think, to be ever thankful for our daily blessings while we have them and can enjoy them; better to be aware and appreciative of the miracles that surround us at all times.
The texts that accompany and interpret the Hoda’ah benediction in Mishkan T’filah all express the same sense of wonder and gratitude as the Hebrew original, often made more specific and more contemporary. The Hebrew refrain, Modim anachnu lach (?We give You thanks?), juxtaposing with the English elaboration of those aspects of life that we should not take for granted, appropriately brings together traditional and current sensibilities. Mishkan T’filah provides an apt creative paraphrase of the original by Rabbi Judith Z. Abrams and an excerpt from Psalm 8, where the psalmist marvels at God’s creations and the place of humans in
the universe. Also included is e.e. cummings’ ?i thank You God for most this amazing day? (the Western Wind vocal ensemble baritone and composer Elliot Z. Levine set this to music.
A rabbinic tradition notes that, in the World to Come, prayers and sacrifices will be rendered obsolete – except for the prayer of gratitude and its sacrificial counterpart, the offering of thanksgiving (Midrash on Psalms, 56:4).
This is an exceptionally wise tradition: envisioning an ideal era without want; there will be no need for petitionary prayers, but there will always be a need to express our gratitude
Dr. Sarason was ordained at HUC-JIR. His specialties are classical rabbinic literature, history of Judaism in late antiquity, Midrash and Liturgy