Of Forests and Trees…Saying Thank You in Hard Times

This particular Thanksgiving, my mind keeps wondering to the title of Nobel-laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel

Love in the Time of Cholera

. What is going through my brain on a continuous loop is “gratitude in a time of economic crisis…”

All around me, I see and hear people of all stripes and types being impacted- sometimes harshly- by the financial crisis that grips our country. For very good reasons, many have tried to keep the emphasis on the pain being felt on “Main Street,” where the less affluent members of our society are struggling mightily. But there are also many people who have been cruelly humbled by the collapse of the same boom market that made them rich. Their pain is no less real, and it is at best simplistic to allow oneself to think that everyone who had money and lost it is just getting what was coming to them. Business as we know it is changing, and the collapse of the old order came on many people like a tsunami, hitting them before they even had a chance to respond.

Like most congregational rabbis, particularly here in New York, I see this crisis is playing out in my congregational family in all kinds of ways, touching people of every socio-economic cohort. It is painful to watch. And I, like my colleagues, find myself challenged to help people in some way deal with new and difficult realities that they never dared to contemplate.

What I try to remind them of is something that I personally regard as a spiritual desideratum: to remember each and every day that most of us, regardless of immediate circumstance, have more, much more than what we need, and live lives of great blessing.

I came to that realization some years ago when I was hospitalized with a serious illness, and found myself questioning some of the fundamentals on which I had based my own belief system. It was then that I discovered the profound truth behind the rabbinic dictum that one is obligated to recite one hundred blessings each and every day- not to gratify some divine ego, but rather to remind ourselves of the blessings that we take for granted, and that we could not live without. Food, shelter, health, the love of family, the embrace of community… this is why I daven every day. I want to make sure that I never become so spiritually complacent that I forget to be grateful for the myriad blessings that are a part of even the most difficult and challenging days.

Saying “thank you” is a primal religious impulse, one of the primary religious impulses that leads to prayer. For many people, particularly this year, saying thank you does not come easily, and one can certainly appreciate the reasons why. But the spiritually sensitive person lives in a world of thank-you, each and every day. It’s a good year to remember that.

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.