At first glance, the text of the blessings reveals a paradigmatic Jewish humility: an acknowledgement that the manifold gifts we enjoy are not of our own making, but rather can be traced back to the Divine. Thus we recite:
Praised is the Holy One of Old, pokeach ivrim – the One who gives sight to the blind.
Praised is the Holy One of Old, malbish arumim – the One who clothes the naked.
Praised is the Holy One of Old, zokeif kifufim – the One who raises those who are bowed down.
Particularly at a gathering like this one, I imagine that there is not much that we would find to be controversial about such blessings. We interfaith colleagues are in the business, after all, of directing such thanks to God during this Thanksgiving season.
Unfortunately, closer study of these birkot ha-shachar…these blessings to be recited each morning…reveal a murkier situation.
On this night, I wish to focus on the blessing: Praised is the Holy One of Old, she’lo asani goi – Who has not made me a non-Jew. That’s the rendition in the traditional Orthodox prayerbook. During the last 50 years or so, the American Conservative and Reform movements tried reformulating it into a positive expression: Praised is the Holy One of Old, she’asani yisrael – Who has made me a member of the Jewish People.
The question I would pose to you this evening: Is it offensive for me, as a liberal, progressive individual…who highly values the many relationships I have in my life with those who are not Jewish…is it offensive for me to offer up praise to God for making me a Jew?
The question is not asked lightly.
All Jews in post-modernity must confront the Biblical baggage we inherited about being a so-called Chosen People. I’ll try to dispense with that as quickly as possible: personally, I’m not sure that I believe in a god who chooses, or who can choose. As a result, however glad I might be each morning to count myself as part of the Jewish People, it is not at all because I believe that to be a Jew is to be privileged above others.
And even if I did believe in a God who chooses, I wouldn’t believe in a god who was so choosy that He or She would choose only one people. Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg describes such an inclusive theology beautifully when he imagines that the world’s great religions are in interdependent relationship, or partnership, with one another. He writes that:
“Each partner affirms that its truth/faith/system alone cannot fulfill God’s dreams. The world needs the contribution that the other religion can make for the sake of achieving wholeness and perfection for all. A partner affirms that God assigns different roles and different contributions to different groups.”
Greenberg’s statement speaks to the inherent value of diversity in the world we live in today.
It might sound paradoxical, but I think that we sometimes foolishly ignore our diversity when we gather in interfaith settings.
In the seven years of my rabbinate before coming to New York, I served in the northern coastal suburbs of San Diego. And we, too, would gather in the days before Thanksgiving as an interfaith community. And it was the custom in that place that service participants were sometimes limited to sharing readings that fit into a larger universal construct. For example, one year all of the passages read during the service made reference to the Golden Rule.
The commonality of our traditions is, indeed, worth lifting up. But the rich diversity, and difference, amongst us, is also worth celebrating.
The cultural moment that we live in is one that seeks to suck the life out of diversity. All across this great country, we are cajoled by the media to shop at the same chain clothing stores, eat in the same chain restaurants, and listen to the same Top 40 music. There is a dull sameness to American life today.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks warns us against allowing that tide to envelop religion in his aptly named book The Dignity of Difference, when he writes that:
“If we are to live in close proximity to difference, as in a global age we do, we will need more than a code of rights, more even than mere tolerance. We will need to understand that just as the natural environment depends on biodiversity, so the human environment depends on cultural diversity, because no one civilization encompasses all the spiritual, ethical and artistic expressions of mankind.”
And so it is that on this Thanksgiving, I am proud to pray before you: Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech HaOlam, She’asani Yisraeil. Praised are You, Holy One of Old, for making me a member of the Jewish People.
And Praised are You, Holy One of Old, for calling forth Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and all of the other seekers that are searching You out.
Praised are You, God of the Generations, and God of our Ancestors, for having compassion on us, as You had compassion on Adam, whom some of us consider to be the first person in all Creation. Just as you blessed Adam with a partner, so too have you blessed us with one another. With partners who might call You by a different name, but who are equal in our shared commitment to bringing Your name into this world, by working for peace and justice for all.
For this blessing, and for all of the blessings of our lives, we offer up thanks and praise…on this day, and every day. And let us say…Amein.
 Jonathan Sacks, Commentator, The Koren Siddur, p. 27.
 Yitz Greenberg, For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: The New Encounter Between Judaism and Christianity, p. 43.
 The Dignity of Difference, pp. 61-62.