At this time of the year, when walking in the mall or other shopping areas, it is common to hear the jingle, “Tis the season to be jolly, Tra-la-la la-la, la-la, la-la.” We are so inundated by this song that sometimes it involuntary plays around in our heads. This happened to me once, and it got me thinking, “Hmmm, as we approach Chanukah, if we would sing, “Tis the season to be something,” how would we fill in the blank? ‘Tis the season to be to be what?
The answer to our question is clearly stated in the Gemara in Masechtas Shabbos which defines the holiday of Chanukah. There, it states clearly that the holiday of Chanukah was designated as a time for “Hallel v’Hodo’ah – Praise and Thanks” to Hashem. As we say in the Al Hanisim, which is inserted in every Shemoneh Esrei and every time we bentch, “Vikov’u shemonas yemei Chanukah eilu lehodos u’lihalel l’Shimcha haGadol – And they fixed these eight days of Chanukah to thank and to praise Your (Hashem’s) Great Name.” So, if we would have a jingle, it would say, “Tis the season to be thankful!”
Someone once asked me when the Jews celebrate thanksgiving. First, I answered that we celebrate thanksgiving at least three times a day. Then, upon reflection, I answered that if there were a Jewish “Thanksgiving,” it would be Chanukah.
It therefore behooves us, at this time of the year, to reevaluate how appreciative we are of Hashem’s blessings to us. After all, our national name is Yehudim, which means “People who give thanks.” Indeed, Hashem expressed outright that the reason why He created us was in order that we excel at the talent of thankfulness. Thus the pasuk says, “Am zu yatzarti Li, tehillasi yesapeiru – This nation I created for Me, to relate My praise.” This is why every good Jew wakes up in the morning with the statement Modeh Ani on his or her lips as the very first daily expression. Every day of our lives is meant to be thankful to Hashem in fulfillment of the very reason for our creation and continued existence.
In the Shemoneh Esrei, we say the prayer of Modim bowing down and thanking Hashem for all the good that He does for us, “Shebichol eis, erev, vavoker, vetzaharayim – All the time, whether evening, morning or afternoon.” Rav Avigdor Miller, zt”l, zy”a, used to recommend that in every Shemoneh Esrei one should prepare in their mind at least one specific item to thank Hashem for. It doesn’t always need to be grandiose. It could be that the baby slept through the night, that it’s a sunny day, that we found a parking spot, or that the cleaning lady said she was coming today. We can say Modim for our health. What about for our car and for our phone? Most of us would be crippled, so to speak, if we were missing just one of these. We could also incorporate into our Modim prayer that we are able to pay the mortgage or pay the rent. It is a good idea occasionally to acknowledge during our Modim that we have the freedom to practice our religion, that we have a roof over our heads, that we have modern plumbing and electricity. Baruch Hashem, the list is vast and by working on our Modim, we ensure that we will not take our many benefits for granted. This will in turn make us happier people when we realize how many blessings we really have.
This should be the way we say the great bracha of Asher Yatzar when we come out from the lavatory. We should extend our thanks, at times praising Hashem for the healthy functioning of our lungs or for the stability of our hearts. At other times we should have in mind praises to Hashem for the effectiveness of our kidneys, our lungs, our knees, our blood vessels. This bracha gives us an opportunity to reflect upon the miracles of our eyes, our ears, and the complex multiple marvels of our brains.
Yes, for us the message of Chanukah is ‘Tis the Season to be Thankful!’ May it be time of training for us that we should continue throughout the entire year. If we get into the habit of saying meaningful thanks to Hashem, we are guaranteed to become happier people since we will not take for granted so many of our blessings.
This message of being thankful, when lived deeply, not only ensures that we fulfill our purpose in life, and it is not only a way for us to count our blessings, it is also a fine reason to pray to Hashem to continue to give us life. As Dovid HaMelech says so eloquently in Tehillim, “Ma betza bidami berid’ti el shachas – What profit would there be from my blood if I go down to the pit? Hayodcha ofor, hayagid amitecha – Would the earth thank you; would it relate your praise?” Dovid concludes that we earn the right to continue to live, “Lema’an yezamercha chavod vilo yidom, Hashem Elokai le’olam odeka – In order to sing about Your glory and not be silent, Hashem my G-d, I will always thank You.”
There are many ways for the thinking Torah Jew to express thankfulness on a regular, ongoing basis. When we are at the table and getting ready to bentch with our family, we should point out occasionally that the most important part of the meal is the bentching segment. This is not just from a spiritual standpoint, but from the standpoint of our physical health as well, for nothing promotes our life and well-being as successfully as proper expressions of appreciation to Hashem. It takes some getting used to that the main part of the meal is always at then end when we take out the bentchers, but bentching is, in a very real sense, the crowning achievement of any Jewish meal. Our bentching should include thanks not just for the tasty food but also for the Gift of taste. Add to that the conveniences of silverware, cups and bowl, disposable tablecloths and the ability to digest our foods without getting painful gas attacks, ulcers, constipation and diarrhea.
Our morning blessings should be said with renewed passion. If one wears glasses, the blessing Pokei’ach Ivrim should include a meaningful Thank You to Hashem for lenses perfectly prescribed to fit the needs of your vision. Extra thanks should be given for contact lenses, bifocals, sunglasses and the like. In the bracha Zokeif Kefufim, thank Hashem that you don’t have back pain. As we all know, millions of people suffer from slipped discs and many have a hard time just getting out of bed or merely getting in and out of the car. As winter approaches, when we say Malbish Arumim, we should thank Hashem for wool and cashmere, gloves and scarves. Rav Miller would add that we should be certain to thank Hashem for the conveniences of zippers and buttons. In Hanosein L’ayaeif koach, let’s constantly thank Hashem for removing yesterday’s fatigue from us, the feeling that we felt like a washed-out dish towel. How marvelous, that after a good night’s sleep, we’re ready once again to take-on life with the vigor and enthusiasm!
The Chanukah message, ‘Tis the Season to be Thankful!’ should be incorporated into our daily fiber and should continue throughout the entire year. Let’s pursue actively the habit of saying meaningful thanks to Hashem. If we are able to do this, we are guaranteed to become happier people since we will not take for granted so many of our blessings. In the merit of our renewed praises to Hashem, may He bless us all with long life, good health, happiness and everything wonderful.
Transcribed and edited by Shelley Zeitlin.