After having read “Night” by Elie Wiesel when I was considerably younger, about the time I was practicing for my Bar Mitzvah, I wished to re-read it now as an adult. So much time had passed as to give me a new, more mature perspective of the tale. The edition I bought included an appendix with Wiesel’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.
He references, right from the beginning, a prayer, a benediction. Ashamedly, I was not familiar with it but it has grown in importance since I discovered it and its meaning:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה.
Transliteration: Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higiyanu laz’man hazeh.
Translation: Blessed are You, Adonai our G-d, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this moment.
The simplicity of the words overshadows the magnitude of their greatness. It starts by acknowledging, for the Jews, one of the Seven Names of God. This is followed by three simple sets of appreciation.
Some translations say “for giving us life” while others (as in this case) noting how we have been kept alive by the Almighty. This is no small measure. In a world of illness and disease, anger and violence, and grave uncertainty, being kept alive is miraculous.
This is different from being sustained. It is not merely the life preserver we wear to allow us to bob up and down in unchartered waters while waiting for rescue. It might be, in the case of those far more unfortunate. To me, it is keeping the illness and disease and anger and violence and uncertainty at bay so that we may find our true way.
Finally, we praise being brought to this day. As Wiesel indicates, so many did not survive the Holocaust. So many lives were needlessly and insensibly lost. To be here, today, now, is indeed a blessing as it provides us with Hope for being able to continue on to tomorrow.
For so many years, Thanksgiving (as with many holidays) has strayed from the original intention that Abraham Lincoln had intended. Thinking of natives to this land sharing their bounty with struggling pilgrims and bonding over a meal seems so quaint and far removed from the insensitivity so many exhibit these days toward those unlike them.
Commercialization, product brands, shopping, Black Friday, economic forecasts – none of those have anything to do with a day of thanks, whether it be for the harvest or the simple blessings we have experienced during the year.
So, I re-read “Night”, I read Wiesel’s acceptance speech, and I recited the Shehecheyanu. And I have continued to recite it. Certainly, I am grateful for having a job and saving toward retirement; being in relatively good health; being able to create and think and produce works of entertainment if not completely art; to know a wide variety of people from a wide range of backgrounds whose stories and experiences embolden me. These are all blessings.
But to be given life, to be sustained, and to be here right now, on this day, is where everything starts. This is my day of thanks. Should I be fortunate to wake up tomorrow, that will be my next day of thanks.
Whatever you do, wherever you are, find something to be grateful for. Celebrate even one small blessing in your life. From there, take one small step forward.
I wish you all peace, joy, and happiness – today and every day.