Cantor’s Column – November 2021

Shir Hadash – Hoda-ah – Giving Thanks

Cantor Ilan Davidson

Admittedly, I have never been a great grammar buff in the Hebrew language. In English, I can take even the most complex sentence and diagram its pieces, thanks to Mrs. Kretzinger in 9th grade. However, in Hebrew, I have never done a great deal of formal grammar studies and, while I’m always intrigued by the grammatical idiosyncrasies of the language, I look to grammar buffs for explanation. That being said, I have always been attracted by the fact that in the Hoda-ah part of the the T’filah, where we give thanks to God with the words, “modim anachnu lach,” we refer to God with the feminine tense pronoun, “lach.” Now, my grammar guru, Debi Rowe, informed me that this is purely a grammatical choice, but I prefer to think that nothing is an accident.

Full disclosure, I am about to share a very binary examination of God, in our world, which thankfully is becoming more and more non-binary. That being said, if nothing is an accident, what does this grammatical anomaly teach us about giving thanks? Is giving thanks a more feminine trait? Or is it the gracious and humble receipt of thanks that is more of a feminine trait? Or is it really just a grammar thing and I’m reading way too much into this one word? I choose to believe that there is definitely something to be said for masculine and feminine traits in all of our actions. I believe that ego tends to be a more masculine trait, whereas humility a more feminine trait. Whenever God is being all powerful, the descriptive words that are used in Hebrew are exclusively masculine words, or ego words. However, when we look to God’s gentler traits, such as God’s ability to receive our thanks, our Rabbi’s teach that God is portraying more of the feminine traits.

Indeed, just as the Holy One portrays both masculine and feminine traits, we, too, in God’s image, portray all of these traits. It is up to us to honor and cultivate, or to repress each of these traits, creating our own emotional imprint, which is unique to each individual. We have the ability to make and change those choices throughout our lives, changing the very nature of our being, the core of our output on the world, by just understanding these parts of our soul and honoring all of them. A great spiritual guide of mine once taught me that we can realize all aspects of our soul, if we open ourselves to understanding the signs. Then it is up to us whether or not to honor that knowledge and cultivate it. In short, if we are really going to act in the Divine Image, our personalities should be non-binary, and fully inclusive.

As Thanksgiving approaches, may we all be thankful for the many faceted aspects of our personalities, which are the gifts, crafted in the image of the Divine. May we thank those around us, and may we graciously accept others’ thanks, becoming more attached to our gentler, humbler selves.