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Giving thanks when thanks doesn’t seem enough

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This year, as the festively familial holiday known as Thanksgiving comes closer, I know I’ll have a Turkey Day unlike any other I’ve known. I know this because I will be spending it with my baby daughter, Emma.

Now, while she does manage to spit up all over the place and make weird noises – I mean, alien-type weird – I can’t help but think about how unbelievably blessed I am. The nice thing about being Jewish is that I’m used to thinking about all the things I am thankful for nearly all the time. It’s mostly because of all the prayer hours I’ve logged, but it’s also because my parents chose to raise me to show gratitude, that there’s always something to share with those that are less fortunate than us.

When I look at my baby daughter’s beautiful blue eyes, I can’t help but think about the staggering multitude of events and experiences that led to her miraculous deliverance into this world. Suddenly, being thankful for a plasma HDTV or a brand new car doesn’t cut it, nor does it even seem right to hold these things in such esteem. People are right about the world changing around you once you have a child, or is it your view of the world that changes? Or both, simultaneously? Everything is put into perspective once you become a parent, not because you’re getting older (which is true), but because it’s tough to see the world with just you at the center.

Now bear with me while I get a little philosophical and existential: A little while ago, I was teaching a group of students about Maimonides’ Eight Levels of Charitable Giving. I know, I know, I am not a rabbi and I’m not about to give a d’var, but hear me out. One of the lessons the students learned was that the highest level of charitable giving was, “... to support a fellow Jew by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others ...” One of the students thought for a bit, then asked me, “if this were to happen to me, how could I ever reciprocate this thankful act? And if I wanted to give charitably like we are commanded, how could I ever repay this person for what they’ve done for me? It’s almost impossible to measure.”

I thought to myself, Wow, he’s got a point. That’s when even I began to understand how the impact of giving and of gratitude can profoundly affect us and the lives of those around us – strangers, brothers, sisters and more. In that moment, I truly learned that we are all connected to each other in such a special way, that when we do good deeds for others without expecting a “reciprocal act” we begin to realize the beauty that we’ve just delivered into the world.

This is what I truly believe G-d did for me when Emma was born. My wife and I were given this precious, beautiful, sacred miracle that we could never fathom to repay or reciprocate. How could we ever repay our very lives to our parents? I know I’ve tried to show them how much I have appreciated everything they’ve ever done for me, how much they’ve sacrificed of themselves. For me, it’s amazing to think that we have the power within us to not only be thankful in a meaningful way, but to profoundly affect others in such a way, they feel the gratitude that we ourselves have acquired. I cannot begin to put into words how grateful I am for Emma; I only hope to pass this very idea along to her someday.

So, wherever you may be carving the big turkey, shoveling stuffing, sweet potatoes and pies past those pearly whites, and getting those cheeks pinched, remember what brought you there in the first place. Look around the table and I’ll bet you can feel the thankfulness in the air. Now, I dare you to take that good feeling with you when the inevitable food coma has past, and pay it forward to someone else. Who knows what might happen?

L’Chaim and Happy Thanksgiving!

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