Yesterday, I was in Massachusetts for my great aunt's funeral. My Aunt Dorothy, a"h, was 99- a fiesty lady, with a love for Judaism, Tefilla, and music. After the funeral, we had the opportunity to stop at the home of the family of Ezra Schwartz, a”h, to pay a shiva call. There were no words that could sufficiently express what we felt nor could we truly comfort the parents and siblings. When we arrived, the governor of Massachusetts was there. Ezra's mother shared with him a bit of the story of Ezra's last day, as she had heard from his friends. She shared that he initially did not intend to go on the chesed trip that day. He then found out that there would only be six boys available to go, and therefore felt he should go. He was very tired, and said, “I'll sleep on the bus.” He said to his friend, “Who knows if we'll have the same chance tomorrow?”|
Upon hearing this story, the Mishna in Avot 2:4 came to mind. The mishna states, “ Do not believe in yourself until the day of your death.” How does one know the day of one's death? One must live each day as if it is one's last.
One leaves as shiva visit like this one with great sadness, but also with the realization that one must be thankful for all one has. We often don't appreciate what we have until it is no longer there. We leave inspired to remind ourselves to be thankful, grateful and make the most of each moment of each day.
What better message to relay and with which to enter on Thanksgiving? How can we remind ourselves each day to be thankful?
In this past Shabbat's parashat hashavua, in Bereishit 28:16, Yaakov awakens from his dream and says, “|Indeed, Hashem is in this place, yet I did not know!" Yaakov did not notice that Hashem was with him until that moment. I maintain that that is what Thanksgiving is all about - noticing that Hashem is in our lives. What does that have to do with Thanksgiving, and how can we relay that message to our teens? I say, the answer is berachot. “Berachot?” you might ask.
Eytan Kobre in his article "The Thanksgiving Project" speaks of the incredible opportunity that our daily berachot provide in our focusing on being "thankful" each day. The Kuzari notes that making berachot on the physical act of eating can "greatly heighten the pleasure we derive and our appreciation for simply being alive." It's an opportunity to have a bit of Thanksgiving in our daily lives.
As parents of teens, we always struggle with how to inculcate this realization in our children. In fact, Rabbi Jay Goldmintz shares that these “middle years” are a normal time for children to question. “At this stage of religious development, some have begun to feel the tug of alternatives to the way that they were brought up.” Rabbi Goldmintz has shared how difficult Tefillah is often for children in middle school.
Tefilla might be hard for some of our teens, but how about berachot? Each month I meet with students right before Rosh Chodesh to help them write the inscriptions that will be placed in the Chumashim that they will receive from Yavneh Academy in honor of their bar/bat mitzvah. I ask the students to consider, now that they are obligated in mitzvot, which mitzvah would they choose to work on and improve? Very often children choose "berachot" as the mitzvah. It's easy to do, and takes no time, and it warms my heart when students think that is an important mitzvah. As parents, we can stress these simple daily berachot in our homes, and thereby stress daily thanksgiving and focus on “Hashem is in this place.”
How about inculcating some "Hashem is in in this place" into Thanksgiving itself?
Rabbi Benjamin Yudin quotes a pasuk in Tehillim "Zoveiach todah yachabdoneni" "One who offers an thanksiving offering honors Me." Rashi understands the word "todah" as "admission" or "confession" instead of "thanksgiving." The word l'hodot means both to admit and to offer thanks. Rav Hutner, z"l, in discussing the beracha of Modim in the Shmoneh Esrai, feels that the two definitions complement each other. When one says "modim" one admits that he cannot do it alone and needs the assistance of Hashem. Once one admits that, one can truly express appreciation and thanks for what one has. That is what Hakarat HaTov, “recognizing the good,” is. First one must recognize that one is dependent, and then one can truly say "thanks."
|Although Thanksgiving was not established by “the rabbis” it is a wonderful opportunity to help our children know that there is indeed Hashem in this place. We can be thankful each day as we say our berachot/blessings for all the blessings we have received. And, as Ezra, a”h, has taught us, to be thankful for each day and live it to the fullest.
Sixth Grade Advisory- Students began a unit called "Hey Dude, That's Rude" - a unit on Manners and etiquette when it comes to interacting with others.
Seventh Grade Advisory- As part of their empathy unit and Project Respect students focused on, Why do people become homeless? How do we usually treat or feel about the homeless?
Eighth Grade Advisory-
Students began a unit on Parent-Child Relationship.