Ray Frank on Gratitude and Repentance - Lesson Plan for High School and Adults
This lesson plan is part of a larger Go & Learn guide entitled “Ray Frank’s Yom Kippur Sermon, 1890.”
Read Ray Frank’s biography or describe her life and achievements.
Read Ray Frank’s sermon or the following quotation from the sermon:
“You who have received divine protection through centuries of danger and oppression, you whom the prophets say are to survive for the grandest destiny of man, you to whom has been vouchsafed [promised] every blessing,—because you cannot agree as to how you will do this or that, how you will say thank you, Almighty, therefore you do not say it at all. O, you intend saying it all in good time! There may be repentance at the eleventh hour, but who can say which hour may not be the eleventh one? This is the time for action—right now, and our solemn Yom Kippur is the right now of our existence.”
Use these guiding questions for a group discussion:
- What is Frank urging the Spokane Jewish congregation to do? Do you find her reasons compelling?
- What are the excuses that keep us from praying, expressing our gratitude to God, and repenting?
Blessings and Repentence
Ask your students to make a list of all the things for which they are grateful, or of all the blessings in their lives. Frank’s sermon makes an implicit connection between expressing gratitude and repentance. When your students have had a moment to consider their blessings, ask if this connection feels true to them:
- When you think about all of the blessings in your lives, does it open you up to feeling repentant?
- What does repentance mean to you?
- Is there a connection between gratefulness and atonement?
A Story from the Talmud
Read or tell the following Talmudic story:
Rabbi Eliezer taught, “Repent, even if only one day before your death.”
His disciples asked, “Does anyone know what day he will die?
Rabbi Eliezer responded, “Then all the more reason to repent today.”
Then ask: What is Rabbi Eliezer’s message? How would we live differently if we knew our time was limited?
Hand out a siddur (Jewish prayer book) or a copy of the Amidah section of the service, and look at the prayer that begins “Modim anachnu lach” (“We thank You”). This prayer acknowledges that our lives are in God’s hands and thanks God for daily miracles and kindnesses. After this prayer of gratitude, one says a blessing for peace, and then, at the end of the formal Amidah, one adds a personal prayer—most traditional siddurim (prayer books) suggest beginning the personal prayer with the words “Elohai, n'tzor lishoni me’ra” (“My God, keep my tongue from evil”). In other words, the prayers move from gratitude to humility, first thanking God for our lives, and then asking God for firmer resolve to be better people.
Ask your students to write their own blessings of gratitude and repentance, beginning with “Modim anachnu lach...” and “Elohai...” Ask for volunteers to share a few with the rest of the group.
A Closing Story
Conclude by discussing this story:
The teacher asks the students, “What’s the most important moment in Jewish history?” Students respond, “Receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai? Freeing the Jews from slavery in Egypt? The creation of the State of Israel?” And the teacher replies, “No. The most important moment in Jewish history is right now.”
Ray Frank agrees when she writes: “This is the time for action—right now.”
- What does Ray Frank mean when she says this?
- What does this idea mean to you?