עַל הַנִּסִּים בִּימֵי הוֹדָיָה לְאֻמִּיִּים | Al Hanissim prayer for thanksgiving on all Secular/National Days of Gratitude, by Aharon Varady

Opportunities to express gratitude on secular, nationalist days of thanksgiving demand acknowledgement of an almost unfathomably deep history of trauma — not only the suffering and striving of my immigrant ancestors, but the sacrifice of all those who endured suffering dealt by their struggle to survive, and often failure to survive, the oppression dealt by colonization, conquest, hegemony, natural disaster, etc. Only the Earth (from which we, earthlings, were born Bnei Adam from Adamah) has witnessed the constancy of the violent traumas we inflict upon each other. The privilege bequeathed to me from this suffering is inherited along with a responsibility to be aware at just what cost this privilege was attained. This must be honestly acknowledged, especially on secular/national days of thanksgiving, independence, and freedom.

This prayer places the Earth at the center of a relationship usually subverted by nationalist aspirations and chauvinist ethnic pride. I want moments like those enshrined by secular/national holidays to reaffirm my commitment to building a world with fairness and compassion for all living creatures, and for establishing a universal, human identity that makes this commitment its central project. Even if (or especially when) my life necessitates my settlement upon the historic lands of indigenous peoples and all those who came before me, the least I can do is honor and recognize this history, and respect this land as it sustains me and the communities I rely upon. There is no land on Earth that doesn’t have such a history, and there is no person whose genealogy spanning thousands and millions of years isn’t ultimately interwoven with the complications of the conquests and survival of their progenitors.

This al hanissim prayer was written for insertion into the Modim (we are thankful) blessing of the weekday Amidah and of the Birkat haMazon after the festive meal on any other secular/national day of Thanksgiving. Although it is intentionally written with a diasporic and universalist frame of reference, I hope it may apply just as well for Yom Ha’Atsmaut (Independence Day) in Medinat Yisrael (the State of Israel) as it does in the United States, Canada, and other countries on their special days.

Hebrew English

אָנֹכִ֤י יְהוָה֙ עֹ֣שֶׂה כֹּ֔ל נֹטֶ֤ה שָׁמַ֙יִם֙ לְבַדִּ֔י רֹקַ֥ע הָאָ֖רֶץ מֵאִתִּֽי (כתיב של ישעיהו מד:כד חלק)
אני הוא שנטעתי אילן זה להשתעשע בו כל העולם
ורקעתי בו כל וקראתי שמו כל שהכל תלוי בו והכל יוצא ממנו, והכל צריכים לו,
ובו צופים ולו מחכין, ומשם פורחים הנשמות בשמחה,
לבדי הייתי כשעשיתי אותו, ולא יגדל עליו מלאך לאמר אני קדמתי לך,
כי גם בעת שרקעתי ארצי שבה נטעתי ושרשתי אילן זה
ושמחתי ביחד ושמחתי בהם׃ (ספר הבהיר כב)
“I am YHVH, I make all, I stretch out the heavens alone, the Earth is spread out before me.”[1]Isaiah 44:24, pronounced, roka ha’arets may-iti (the earth is spread out before me), but written roka ha’arets mi-iti מי אתי? (the earth is spread out. Who was with me?) 
I am the one who planted this Tree [of Life] in order that all the world should delight in it.
And in it, I spread all (kōl). I called it “all” because all depend on it, all emanate from it, and all need it.
To it they look, for it they wait, and from it, souls fly in joy.
Alone was I when I made it. Let no angel rise above it and say, “I was before you.”[2]Each nation of the Earth has its respective angel called a Sar, literally “prince.” Let no national pride or spirit assume predominance. 
I was also alone in the time when I spread out my Earth, in which I planted and rooted this Tree [of Life].
I made them rejoice together, and I rejoiced in them.[3]Sefer HaBahir §22. Per §21, this exposition is from Rebbi Yoḥanan. 

וְעַל הַנִּסִּים
וְעַל הַפֻּרְקָן
וְעַל הַגְּבוּרוֹת
וְעַל הַתְּשׁוּעוֹת
וְעַל הַנִפְלָאוֹת
שֶׁעָשִׂיתָ לְאֲרְצֵינוּ
בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בִּזְּמַן הַזֶּה:‏[4]Here, we adopt the tradition of saying בִּזְּמַן הַזֶּה (in this season, at this time, now) rather than בָּזְּמַן הַזֶּה (at that time). The grammatical variant helpfully emphasizes a conception of time that is not so much linear as it is revisited by us, actively, through imaginative memory, theurgical ritual, and prayer, and perhaps also by cosmic Time itself.
And for the miracles,
and for the redemptions,
and for the mighty acts,
and the rescues,
and the fantastic wonder works,
that you made for our country
in those days, in this season.

‏לְמִי הָאָרֶץ לָרֶשֶׁת וּלִכְבּוֹשׁ?
שִׂ֣יחַ לָאָ֣רֶץ וְתֹרֶ֑ךָּ!‏ (איוב יב:ח)
לְךָ וְלֹא לָנוּ
הָאָרֶץ וּמְלֹואָהּ תֵּבֵל וְיֹשְׁבֵי בָֽהּ (תהלים כד:א).
אָדָם וְחַוָּה נוֹצְרוּ בְּבֶטֶן,
בָּרֶחֶם בְּתַחְתִּיּוֹת הָאֲדָמָה, (תהלים קלט:יא-טו)
וְרַק נוֺלָדְנוּ בְּנֵי אָדָמָה
לְעׇבְדָהּ וּלְשׇׁמֵר אֶת גַנָּהּ (בראשית ב:טו)
עִם רַחָמִים לְכׇל הַבַּעֲלֵי חַיִּים שֶׁלָּהּ. (רמ״ק – תומר דבורה פרק ג׳ על חכמה)
For whom is the Earth’s land to seize and to occupy‽!
Speak to the Earth and she will teach you![5]Job 12:8 
For you (YHVH) and not for us,
is the Earth and the fullness thereof.[6]cf. Psalms 24:1, cf. Psalm 50:11, and Deuteronomy 10:14. This land is not yours, and it is not mine. The land is the Garden of HaShem. 
Adam and Ḥava were knit together in the womb,
within the innermost depths of Adamah (the Earth),[7]cf. Psalms 139:11-15 
and we were only born as children of the Earth
to cultivate and preserve her Garden[8]cf. Genesis 2:15, l’ovdah ul’shomrah. We are commanded to be responsible stewards of this Garden, the earth’s biosphere. 
with compassion for all of her living creatures.[9]cf. R’ Moshe Cordovero, Tomer Devorah, chapter three “On Ḥokmah (Supernal Wisdom)“.

אמר ר’ אמוראי גן עדן היכן הוא?
אמר ליה — בארץ: (ספר הבהיר לא)
“The Garden of Eden, where is it (now)?
Rabbi Amorai explained to them: ba-Arets (In the Earth).”[10]Sefer haBahir §31. Surprisingly, the idea that the Garden of Eden was literally hidden in the Earth, can be found in the fairy tale recounted by Hans Christian Andersen, “The Garden of Eden.” 

כִּמְהַגְּרִים בְּאֶרֶץ נָכְרִיָּה
נְהִי בְעֵינֵינוּ
כַּחֲגָבִים בְּעֵינֵי בְּנֵי עֲנָק (במדבר יג:לג). —
לֹא בְחַרְבָּם יָרְשׁוּ אָרֶץ
וּזְרוֹעָם לֹא־הוֹשִׁיעָה לָּמוֹ (תהלים מד:ד חלק),
אַתָּה יָדְךָ
גּוֹיִם הוֹרַשְׁתָּ וַתִּטָּעֵם
תָּרַע לְאֻמִּים וַתְּשַׁלְּחֵם (תהלים מד:ג).
וּכְטוֹרֵף וְטָרַף
אָכַלְנוּ זֶה אֶת זֶה. (כמו משלי ל:יד)
As immigrants in a foreign land,
we saw ourselves
as grasshoppers in the eyes of predatory overlords.[11]Numbers 13:33. Seeing oneself as an underling should not validate excuses for conquest or privilege. By grasshoppers, the verse suggests that the Bnei Anak, the giant children of the Nephilim, see newcomers as fast food, i.e., easy pickings. The Nephilim first referenced in Genesis ch. 6, are the bnei elohim — children of G‽D — who descend to Earth, take what they wish, and with their children, introduce predation into nature. Thematically, the Nephilim and their children are archetypal of any group or person who makes themselves into an oppressive bigshot.
“Not by their own sword did they seize land and possess it,
nor did their own arm save them,”[12]Psalms 44:4 (partial), 
“through your own hand (HaShem),
were the nations driven out and planted in;
you separated the peoples and spread them abroad.”[13]Psalms 44:3. My central point here is that a humanity that is not acting as a proper steward of the Earth (as the Garden of Hashem) cedes the role of “gardener” to G‽Δ who, as the one god of both suffering and joy, drives out, spreads, and plants humanity in a manner that might seem just as arbitrary and capricious to us as a human farmer ploughing and planting might seem to the wild creatures of the fields and forests. 
And so as predator and prey
we were fed upon one another.[14]Cf. Proverbs 30:14. 

הָאֲדָמָה אֵפוֹא זוֹעֶקֶת בְּשֶׁקֶט
מִדְּמֵי אָחִינוּ אֲשֶׁר הִיא סוֹפֶגֶת (בראשית ד:י‏)
וְאִלּוּ אֲנוּ בּוֹכִים חֲרִישִׁית דְּמָעוֹת שֶׁל תּוֹדָה
עַל הַשֶּׁפַע וְהַמִּקְלָט שֶׁמָּצָאנוּ בָּהּ (תהלים קכו).‏
אֵינֶנּוּ מִסְתַּכְּלִים הָאֶחָד בְּפָנָיו שֶׁל הַשֵּׁנִי —
עַד־אָנָה נַסְתִּירֶנוּ אֶת־פָּנֶיךָ אֶחָד מֵהַשֵּׁנִי? (תהלים יג:ב חלק)
Consequently, the Earth screams silently
from the blood of humanity which it cannot help but soak up,[15]from Genesis 4:10. Either the dahm (blood) of Kayin’s brother Abel cries out from Adamah (the earth) or the Adamah itself cries out. HaShem loves the Earth, and the Earth is ever burdened with the sins that humans cannot bear — and HaShem takes note. 
while we cry with gratitude
for the bounty and sanctuary we have found in her.[16]cf. Psalms 126. As we should, but we need to reciprocate for our gratefulness by taking responsibility for our actions and the errors of the generations who came before us that acted with callous ignorance and neglect of the systems supporting life on earth and the welfare of the creatures we share this world with.
Meanwhile, we dare not look at each other’s faces —
how long will we hide our face from one another?[17]Cf. Psalms 13:2 part.

בָּרוּךְ הַמִּשְׁמָר אֶת הָאָרֶץ עֲבוּר הָחוֹלְקִים בְּשֶּׁפְעַהּ.‏
Blessed is the One who preserves the Earth for those who share in her bounty.

I wrote the prayer above in English and translated it into Hebrew. The latter was subsequently corrected thanks to Rabbi Simcha Daniel Burstyn at Kibbutz Lotan. In 2015, I revised this prayer, adding several verses in order to better emphasize my key points. In 2016, I switched the order of the two sections and polished the Hebrew grammar with the help of Tom Pessah. In 2019, I added the question preceding the ḥatimah.

Notes   [ + ]

  1. Isaiah 44:24, pronounced, roka ha’arets may-iti (the earth is spread out before me), but written roka ha’arets mi-iti מי אתי? (the earth is spread out. Who was with me?)
  2. Each nation of the Earth has its respective angel called a Sar, literally “prince.” Let no national pride or spirit assume predominance.
  3. Sefer HaBahir §22. Per §21, this exposition is from Rebbi Yoḥanan.
  4. Here, we adopt the tradition of saying בִּזְּמַן הַזֶּה (in this season, at this time, now) rather than בָּזְּמַן הַזֶּה (at that time). The grammatical variant helpfully emphasizes a conception of time that is not so much linear as it is revisited by us, actively, through imaginative memory, theurgical ritual, and prayer, and perhaps also by cosmic Time itself.
  5. Job 12:8
  6. cf. Psalms 24:1, cf. Psalm 50:11, and Deuteronomy 10:14. This land is not yours, and it is not mine. The land is the Garden of HaShem.
  7. cf. Psalms 139:11-15
  8. cf. Genesis 2:15, l’ovdah ul’shomrah. We are commanded to be responsible stewards of this Garden, the earth’s biosphere.
  9. cf. R’ Moshe Cordovero, Tomer Devorah, chapter three “On Ḥokmah (Supernal Wisdom)“.
  10. Sefer haBahir §31. Surprisingly, the idea that the Garden of Eden was literally hidden in the Earth, can be found in the fairy tale recounted by Hans Christian Andersen, “The Garden of Eden.”
  11. Numbers 13:33. Seeing oneself as an underling should not validate excuses for conquest or privilege. By grasshoppers, the verse suggests that the Bnei Anak, the giant children of the Nephilim, see newcomers as fast food, i.e., easy pickings. The Nephilim first referenced in Genesis ch. 6, are the bnei elohim — children of G‽D — who descend to Earth, take what they wish, and with their children, introduce predation into nature. Thematically, the Nephilim and their children are archetypal of any group or person who makes themselves into an oppressive bigshot.
  12. Psalms 44:4 (partial),
  13. Psalms 44:3. My central point here is that a humanity that is not acting as a proper steward of the Earth (as the Garden of Hashem) cedes the role of “gardener” to G‽Δ who, as the one god of both suffering and joy, drives out, spreads, and plants humanity in a manner that might seem just as arbitrary and capricious to us as a human farmer ploughing and planting might seem to the wild creatures of the fields and forests.
  14. Cf. Proverbs 30:14.
  15. from Genesis 4:10. Either the dahm (blood) of Kayin’s brother Abel cries out from Adamah (the earth) or the Adamah itself cries out. HaShem loves the Earth, and the Earth is ever burdened with the sins that humans cannot bear — and HaShem takes note.
  16. cf. Psalms 126. As we should, but we need to reciprocate for our gratefulness by taking responsibility for our actions and the errors of the generations who came before us that acted with callous ignorance and neglect of the systems supporting life on earth and the welfare of the creatures we share this world with.
  17. Cf. Psalms 13:2 part.

3 comments to עַל הַנִּסִּים בִּימֵי הוֹדָיָה לְאֻמִּיִּים | Al Hanissim prayer for thanksgiving on all Secular/National Days of Gratitude, by Aharon Varady

  • Over on the Open Siddur Project Facebook discussion group, Rabbi Simcha Burstyn offered this adaptation:

    דאגנו שנהיה לחגבים בעיני ענקים. אבל אם לך הָאָרֶץ וּמְלֹואָהּ תֵּבֵל וְיֹשְׁבֵי בָֽהּ, ואם זכות היא לנו להיוולד מהארץ עם האחריות לְעׇבְדָהּ וּלְשׇׁמְרָֽהּ, ואם קול דמי אחינו זועקת מארץ רווית ריב ומדון, אזי מה לנו לבכות חרישית דמעות של תודה על השפע והמקלט שמצאנו בה?! ברוך השופע על הארץ לקיימנו מטובו.‏

    Our fear was that we would be grasshoppers in the eyes of Giants. But if the earth is Yours and the fullness thereof, the world and all that dwell in it, and if we are lucky to be born from the earth with the responsibility to till it and tend it, and if the voice of our siblings cries out from soil that is soaked in enmity and violence, then what are we doing crying quiet tears of thanks for the bounty and sanctuary we find in it?! Blessed is the one who pours out goodness on the earth to sustain us.

  • Avatar E

    I like the expression of gratitude regarding the earth with its universal implications, but only as a symbol. Preservation of the earth is an important Jewish value, though the central project of Judaism has been the redemption of the world, and I think, that should be the continued central project. I do not think a universal human identity is desirable. Humans are born into relationship with other humans in very particular ways, that are human. This diversity is a beautiful thing. All good societies recognize the humanity in those outside the tribe. A human identity outside of a particular cultural context is an abstraction. .

  • The purpose of the Birkat Hamazon –and all of the blessings after foods– is to sanctify the experience of feeling satiated and therefore necessitates some mindful practice that might ward-off a great danger: the self-satisfying delusion that the bounty one has enjoyed was brought into being through one’s own effort, and wasn’t rather the result of a complex tapestry of interrelationships interwoven with the spirit of all life. We bless after we eat lest we forget this.

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