Thanksgiving 2020: In Gratitude for Knowledge and Understanding

Posted on November 18, 2020

By Hazzan Barbara Barnett

We Jews, are, by tradition, a thankful group. It doesn’t take a specially planned day to offer thanks for the blessings in our lives. Thanksgiving is part of the Jewish infrastructure.

When we sit down to a meal, we thank G-d who “brings forth the bread from the earth.” Eat a peach or an orange, we than G-d for the fruit of the trees. After we dine, we offer Birkat Hamazon, based on the commandment to eat, be satisfied and bless G-d for the food we are given. (Or as my kids used to put it, “rubba-dub-dub, thanks for the grub!”)

Thanksgiving? We’re pros.

But our upcoming American holiday of Thanksgiving gives us a special opportunity to offer thanks for what we have. Especially when, like it has been for much of 2020, difficult to count our blessings as we look forward to Zoom gatherings rather than dining room tables brimming with Turkey and “the trimmins’” and full houses of family and friends.

Lately, especially during morning services, I’ve been finding myself drawn deeply into the Amidah, stopping to immerse myself in one or another in its nineteen brachot, each of them acknowledging the role of G-d in our daily lives, our hopes and aspirations. Sometimes it’s the blessing that asks for healing as I think of those affected by COVID or the deep divisions that mark our country these days. Sometimes it’s the brachah that thanks G-d for the small, sometimes barely perceptible miracles that mark our days and begins with “Modim anachnu Lach,” literally, “Thank You.”

During the last two weeks, we’ve learned that not one, but at least two, COVID vaccines are in the final stages of development, and their availability is, if not “right around the corner” at least now visible in the not-too-distant future. My thoughts dwelled this morning upon the Amidah blessing that thanks G-d for the gifts of intelligence, innovation, creativity—and pray for the wisdom and understanding with which to employ them:

“You graciously endow mortals with intelligence, teaching us wisdom and understanding. Grant us knowledge discernment and wisdom. Praised are You Hashem, who graciously grants us intelligence.” 

This Thanksgiving, during these times, these Divine gifts deserve special acknowledgement: gratitude for the scientists inspired by the spark of genius, driven by curiosity and the pursuit of innovation and understanding of this novel virus to bring us a light at the end of this long tunnel so that once again we might gather together as extended families and community safely and in health.

With gratitude for the Beth El Community,

Happy Thanksgiving!