Ever since Governor Bradford of Plymouth Colony initiated the festival of Thanksgiving in 1621, it has been part of the American experience, belonging to this nation and to all “The inhabitants thereof.” It is envied by cultures around the globe, many who do not have as much to be thankful for as do we. While President Washington declared a national holiday on Thursday, November 26, 1789, the holiday was observed intermittently. Finally, President Lincoln made it an annual event on the last Thursday of November, and then President Roosevelt put it on the fourth Thursday, as an American holiday for people of all faiths or of no faith, and the property of none of them.

“Only the sensitive, the civilized give thanks. The brutish, the barbarous, take for granted. They take. They take from God. They take from nature. They take from humankind. They give nothing. There are people slightly less sensitive who give token thanks, verbal begrudging. There are people half-sensitive who give formal thanks, lest others doubt their breeding. And there are people, the sensitive, the civilized, who give whole thanks: with tongue, with mind, with heart, and with hand.” (Rabbi Ely Pilchik)

When Mark Twain was at the height of his career, he was paid five dollars a word for his essays. An admirer wrote a letter explaining his career plans and requested that Twain share with him his choicest word, and of course included five dollars with the note. Twain responded, “Thanks.”

Tradition teaches that we are obligated to say the word: “Thank you!” (Talmud, Berachot 54b)

An old Jewish proverb teaches “K’she-yehudi shover regel, hu modeh L’Adonai…When a Jew breaks a leg, he should thank God that he did not break both; and when he breaks both legs, he should thank, God that he didn’t break his neck.”

In the time to come all prayers of petition will be annulled, but the prayer of gratitude will not be annulled. (Midrash Rabbah Vayikra 9:7)

A chasid once was asked: “What is stealing?” He thought for a moment and then replied, “A person steals when s/he enjoys the benefits of the earth without giving thanks to God.” (Bechol Levavcha by Rabbi Harvey Fields, p. 94)

“How strange we are in the world, and how presumptuous our doings! Only one response can maintain us: gratefulness for witnessing the wonder, for the gift of unearned right to serve, to adore, and to fulfill. It is gratefulness which makes the soul great.” (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel)

“Ingratitude to a human being is ingratitude to God.” (Rabbi Samuel Hanagid, Ben Mishle)

When you arise in the morning give thanks for the morning light, for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food and the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies in yourself. (Native American Prayer – Techumseh Tribe)

“I offer thanks to You, Sovereign Source and Sustainer of life, Who returns to me my soul each morning faithfully and with gracious love.” (The daily morning service)