In a few hours my daughter will be home from college for Thanksgiving. As you read this, you may be at home, on the road, or tucking in a bit of work before you get ready to tuck in some Turkey. If you live in the United States, chances are that you’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving in some way or another. It is a truly secular holiday, such that even most Orthodox Jewish Rabbis say that it is ok to celebrate Jewish Thanksgiving.
Our Jewish Thanksgiving I hope will be relatively drama free, with happy reunions, and time with friends. For some of you, it may come in a time of loss, or bring you together with a relative that you don’t get along with. One of my students told me he was dreading going home, fearing hurtful comments by his father about his weight.
Whatever your external circumstances, a Jewish Thanksgiving offers an opportunity for personal growth. You can show up in a way informed and inspired by Mussar practice. When we show up to a Jewish Thanksgiving, we have options.
- Just show up. Community is an inherently Jewish practice. Just being there with others on Thanksgiving is a blessing. As noted above, we don’t naturally connect with everyone, and it is a practice of Honor just to show up and be with other people.
- Greet Others with Peace. The traditional Jewish greeting shalom aleichem means peace unto you. And the traditional response is aleichem shalom, unto you peace. Today in America, few of us greet other Jews with a “shalom” and if we do we probably think of it as a hello. However, Thanksgiving offers a wonderful opportunity to offer peace to others we will see, especially if they are normally people we fight with or are hurt by.
- Up your gratitude. Some people have a Thanksgiving tradition to go around the table and each person says something they are grateful for. Whether this is part of your tradition or not, really focus on the things you are grateful for in this world. You may even want to take the 15 Minutes of Gratitude Challenge.
All of this leads to a Mussar Practice to help you travel the path of the Mensch.
**************Here’s the Mussar Practice*********************
Nonverbally communicate love, acceptance and gratitude. As you encounter people, focus on sending them the nonverbals, especially if they are people you often argue with.
If grandpa has become grumpy, go into the encounter with a loving vision of your best grandpa. If your parent says things that hurt your feelings every year, arm yourself with loving and connecting memories. As you communicate them non-verbally, you’ll see a change in the other person. Be persistent, even if at first they don’t respond. You’ll be showing up differently. Remember, it is impossible for one person to argue.
And if they go on a rant, tune it out and focus on the non-verbal heart space acceptance of who they are. The connection you have to them that is deeper than politics. As it says in the Torah “Distance yourself from a false matter” (Exodus 23:7). Let them have their truth for this day. You can keep emotional distance.
I am so grateful to Brandon Beachum for this Honor practice. I was interviewed by Brandon for his Positive Head Podcast, which will air on December 5th or 12th. As part of our conversation, he shared this practice, which he learned from a former guest. It reminds me of the mantra I wrote for Honor: Find the good in anyone.
Sending nonverbal love, acceptance and gratitude takes “finding the good in anyone” to the next level. Whether you think of this as your Divine Spark connecting to another holy soul, or simply as a recognition that nonverbal communication is real and powerful, this practice can be life changing for you and others.
Each and every one of us has what it takes to be a mensch, all we need is some help. If you’d like to try this practice, but are feeling scared or blocked or cynical, drop me an email and I’ll help you through it.
Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash