As we prepare to gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving, allow me to focus on the eighteenth blessing in the Amidah, which begins, “Modim Anachnu Lach”, “We proclaim that You are Adonai, our God and God of our ancestors throughout all time …We thank You for our lives that are in Your hand…for Your miracles that attend us, and for Your wonders and gifts that accompany us, evening, morning, and noon….”After petitioning God, in the previous blessings, we now express our gratefulness for our lives and for the wonders that we experience each and every day.
You might wonder why it is that this prayer, considering the period of time in which it was written, uses the feminine form, “Lach”, rather than the masculine equivalent, “Lecha”. It is because it is a biblical quote and follows the grammatical rules of Biblical Hebrew. Another example would be the word, “Shechinah’, or God’s presence.
One of the basic virtues that Judaism has always encouraged in people is to be grateful, to be appreciative, and to say “thank you.” It is interesting to me that the very word, “Modim” could be translated as “acknowledge”. We first acknowledge the Almighty and then proceed to show our gratitude.
When the Prophets show displeasure with Israel for its sins against God, they expressed it as a condemnation of Israel’s ingratitude to Him. Our tradition holds that it is a very serious flaw to not show gratitude to God and our fellow man. The psalmist, in Psalm 92, regarded the ability to be thankful as being good for man: “It is good to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises unto Your Name, O Most High”. A blessing of thanksgiving was also once part of the ancient Temple service. The Talmud tells us that avodah v’hodaah (the Temple service and the prayers of thanksgiving) are two sides of the same coin. There is another version of “Modim”. It is the Modim d’Rababbanan, the “Thanksgiving Prayer of the Rabbis,” so named because it is a collection of several short thanksgiving prayers said by various rabbis in the Talmud. This prayer is not said either by the congregation or Hazzan during the quiet recitation of the Amidah. Instead it is recited only by the congregation while the Hazzan recites the standard Thanksgiving blessing.
The reason for this rather confusing directive is that while it is appropriate to petition God through an emissary, it is not deemed appropriate to thank Him through one. Everyone needs to express thankfulness for himself. So, therefore, when the prayer leader recites the standard text of this blessing, each person quietly adds the Modim d’Rabbanan.
I hope that this short explanation will motivate you to further study the sources and meanings of other prayers.
Lisa and I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving, shared with family and friends, as each and every one of us, thank the Almighty for all the many blessings in our lives.
With warmest regards,
Hazzan Martin Leubitz