“Dear God, thanks for the grub.“ I laughed when I read this title of a commentary on this week‘s Torah portion. Perhaps not very erudite, but it is an accurate summary of one of the portion’s salient points.
To put it in more polite terms, the verse enjoins us to give thanks after we eat (Deut 8:10). But why? Usually we acknowledge the Divine before doing something, such as washing our hands, or while doing something, such as admiring a rainbow, but not both before and after.
Rabbi Cheryl Peretz has a simple answer: “…the lesson is as simple is that which our mothers drilled into us as children — don’t forget to say thank you.”
Awareness through gratitude is one of the gifts our religious traditions give us. When we pause to acknowledge that which is greater than ourselves, it becomes virtually impossible to sail through life without paying attention to its many blessings, or to the One who bestows blessings upon us.
Both the world’s natural wonders and the minutiae of life take on deeper meaning when we say a blessing to God in gratitude and acknowledgment.
The act of giving thanks both elevates and humbles. By thanking God, we lift ourselves from the mundane to a higher level of awareness. And that very awareness brings humility. I am neither as grand, nor as special as I imagine. The lens through which I view myself and the world is widened. Perspective changes, and suddenly I am not the center of my universe.
There are many people who think there’s nothing wrong with seeing themselves as the center of the universe. This is the hubris of the so-called “self-made man” and the Torah warns us against it: “Watch yourself in case you forget your God… and you may say to yourself, my power and the strength of my hand made this wealth for me.” (The full passage is Deut. 8:11-17).
Judaism asks us to say 100 blessings a day, and our tradition offers many blessings for us to use in various situations. But perhaps among the most powerful is the one that we can use when we don’t have a specific blessing at hand: “Blessed are you God, through whose word everything came to be.”
Or, in the words of the birkat hamazon, the blessing after eating: “We thank You God for the gift of life, for the food we have eaten, for the nourishment you provide us all of our days, whatever the season, whatever the time.”
Today’s drash is shared in honor and memory of Betty Schoenbaum, who died this week. She was a remarkable person who shared her gifts with countless others. She was always humble, always full of joy and love. She touched my life in ways that cannot be measured. I am grateful to have known her and sad that I will never again be the recipient of one of her heart-to-heart hugs.