I am in a new community having just begun serving as interim rabbi at Temple Israel. As the High Holy Days approach, we reflect on the days and years past. I remember how I felt at this time several years ago and want to share what I wrote then.
It is a new place for me, a place where I have not been and will never be again. My mother is dying. By the time you read this, she may very well be dead, or she may live a few days or weeks longer. However it goes, the end of the road is visible. Hospice has come to my mother’s home, and she is being cared for in the bosom of our family, and with the caring concern of our congregation, several members having graciously visited Florence, 93 years old, whose fine mind has not deserted her yet, as her body falls apart.
I have begun to re-evaluate our Jewish prayers in the light of how much they comfort me regarding my mother’s imminent demise. Of course, as thoughts wander over many an emotional moment, not every word or every prayer speaks to me in my current state of mind. But many do, and much is comforting and a stimulus to further celebrate my mother’s life in her few remaining days.
In the opinion of our ancient sages, the most important prayer in Jewish tradition is not a Sabbath or High Holy Day prayer, but rather the prayer of gratitude, Modim, found in the Amidah.
In Modim we say, “We thank you, O Lord, our God, for the lives which are entrusted in your Hand, for the miracles and the wonders and the loving kindness that are daily with us, evening, morning and noon.” The Talmud says, “At the end of time all prayers will be expendable, but the prayer of gratitude will never be eliminated.”
A sense of gratitude is a prerequisite for happiness, stability, maturity and self-fulfilment, perhaps even for the continued existence of humanity. Yet, our minds tend to linger on the dark corners of our existence: our wants, fears and anxieties and things that we perceive have been denied us. Perhaps we only begin to truly understand all that God has given us in times of crisis. We fail to appreciate our good health or take care of ourselves until we become sick. We feel we don’t give enough love to our parents, but don’t realize it until it is too late and they are taken away from us.
During the High Holy Days, we repeat the refrain, “Remember us unto life.” How grateful we should be that we are alive! Interestingly, though there are prayers of petition, most Jewish prayers, instead of asking God for something, thank Him for all of His gracious benevolence to us.
Though God is not in need of our thanks, we are in need of practising gratitude. Just like a child who learns to say thank you, so are we all are better off for acknowledging our gratitude that we enjoy health and family, friends and freedom, and, when we face the end of these, the memory that we did experience them. For this and more, Modim anachnu Lach, O Lord, we are eternally grateful.”
L’Shana Tova Tikatayvu. May you be written in the Book of Life for a good year.