The Magic Word — Rabbi Jason Klein

May 2nd, 2017


What’s the magic word? Sometimes our children think that is “please.” I like to believe that the magic word, words are actually “thank you.”

A week an half ago, I visited my nephew’s kindergarten class on his sixth birthday. After all of the students chanted a vigorous “Are you one . . . are you two” series together, his teacher encouraged them all to express their gratitude that he was born.

On Sunday, I was present for a memorial service for someone who died way too young. Even though feelings about his death were still raw, the feeling that prevailed in the room was gratitude that he has been born because he touched so many lives.

Traditionally, the first words that Jews say when we wake up in the morning are modeh ani (the masculine form) or modah ani (the feminine form), which means “I am grateful.” The Amidah prayer that can be said three times every ordinary day of the year, more on Shabbat and holidays, echoes this sentiment with a blessing for thanksgiving which begins with the word “Modim,” we are grateful, and the prayer thanks God for the wonders and miracles of every day life—morning, noon, and night.

Cultivating gratitude is a spiritual practice that can transcend individual moments of prayer and life cycle events. Indeed, we may not know for sure whether God literally hears prayers, but as Rabbi Rami Shapiro has taught, it is not that God needs our praise, but rather it is we who need our prayers; it is good to give thanks, for through thanksgiving comes awakening.

Cultivating gratitude may be more easily said than done. Sometimes, we give the most attention to the things that don’t go right. It seems very human to be guided by our fears and anxieties, rather than our hope and our faith, yet, we may miss an opportunity for something different, for the chance to appreciate what is good in the world, to notice moments of calm, to give thanks for everything that works in our bodies, in our families, and in our communities.

Yet if we make an effort to express thanks daily, we may even discover something magical: if we actively appreciate who and what is extraordinary on days that are seemingly unremarkable, maybe there will no longer be mere ordinary days of the year. And we may also discover that the harder days for us—personally or collectively—become easier because they exist within a context of calm and connection that we did not have before.

I wish all of us a week and month of opportunities both to feel gratitude and to share how we feel.

RABBI-JASONRabbi Jason Klein is the Director of the Center for Jewish Life at JCP. Rabbi Jason grew up in Stuyvesant Town and Montclair, NJ before returning to the City for college at Columbia, where he majored in religion. After receiving rabbinic ordination from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 2002, he became the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Emeth on the South Shore of Long Island. Rabbi Jason completed seven years of service as Executive Director with Hillel at UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) before coming to JCP and recently finished serving for two years as President of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, a volunteer position. He lives on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.