Life is busy, right? It’s crazy. And frustrating. There is just so much that happens each day that annoys us. Our co-workers, or our in-laws, or our kids… our bills, our obligations, our struggles… all of these factors can add up to a very troublesome existence. It is so easy to let days go by before we take a deep breath, pause, and actually take time to be grateful. To say a blessing. To be satisfied with what we have right now, rather than what we want.
Thankfully, Judaism has a few interesting mechanisms in place to keep us from getting too wrapped up in our tzuris, rather than appreciating all that is going well. First, I always find myself relieved when I reach Shabbat. Yes, certainly, for all the obvious reasons (Day of Rest, Time to Study Torah, etc.), but there is also an important tradition that strikes me in other ways. Six days out of the week, it is customary to say a number of “petitionary” prayers during the Amidah (the central prayer of the worship service). These prayers enable us to ask God for a variety of things: health, safety, abundance, wisdom, and more. These are definitely important requests, and thus they are included during weekday prayer.
Yet on Shabbat, these prayers are removed. Instead, we are discouraged from asking God for anything (perhaps God needs a break from all of that, too?). If we can’t ask for anything, then what kinds of prayers remain? Prayers of praise, and prayers of thanks. We praise God for all that is beautiful in the world around us. We have a weekly chance to pause and appreciate what we already have. In our materialistic society, it is common to want more and more, and to never feel satisfied. But Shabbat allows us to look around and be grateful for the gifts we have.
What’s more, Shabbat is not our only opportunity to express gratitude. We also have a tradition, which encourages us to say a hundred blessings a day, that goes all the way back to the Talmud. The rabbis looked at Deuteronomy 10:12, which says, “Now, Israel, what does God, your God, ask of you? To walk in God’s ways, and to serve God.” The Talmudic rabbis (in Menachot 43b) noticed that the Hebrew word for “what” (mah) was similar to the word for a hundred (meah), so they wondered if the verse could also be read, “Now, Israel, a hundred does God ask of you…” In other words, God might want a hundred blessings from each of us. (Isn’t the rabbinic mind fascinating?)
What would it take to find a hundred different opportunities to say a blessing each and every day? An orthodox Jew could satisfy this requirement easily just by participating in worship three times a day, and by saying the standard blessings before and after each meal or snack. A Jew who is perhaps more secular or less observant might have a harder time. Rather than looking for a strict requirement of a hundred blessings, what if we even started with 10? Or even five? What would our daily lives be like if we thanked God at least 10 times a day for something that we experienced?
I personally hope to be able to find more chances to be thankful each and every day: for the food on my table, for my wonderful family and friends, for the world into which I’ve been born, for the breath in my lungs, for the heritage I’ve inherited, for the community I have the privilege of leading. For what might you be grateful, today? I hope you, too, can find these precious daily moments of gratitude and joy.
Rabbi Marci Bellows is a spiritual leader at Temple B’nai Torah community in Wantagh, Long Island. A native of Skokie, Illinois, she earned a B.A. in Psychology from Brandeis University and a Masters in Hebrew Literature in 2003 from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She was ordained in 2004.