I am not an American, so as an outsider it is interesting to view how Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. For most, it is not about the pilgrims but rather about food, friends and family, and oh yes, perhaps giving thanks for what one has. That sounds pretty Jewish to me.
Which Jewish holiday doesn’t have food associated with it? Just as turkey and pumpkin pie help one associate with the original Thanksgiving, food is also used in Judaism to help us connect with our past.
It is not just on Passover that we use food to help our senses bring us to another time and place. On Shabbat we use two loaves of bread (traditionally challahs) to remember that in the wilderness God provided manna while we wandered in the desert (between the time when we were slaves and entered our own land) which our ancestors were to collect according to the need of their family. They were not to collect any extra manna and as a result any manna which was not eaten that day would go rotten. However, on Friday they were to collect a double portion in honor of Shabbat. On Saturday, the extra food would stay fresh. Collecting just the right amount was a test from God and the beginning of our taking on the commandments. On Shabbat and holidays we use wine as a sign of joy. On Tu B’shevat we use fruit which grows in Israel to help connect us to the land, even if we live across the ocean. On Hanukkah, which is coming up, we will eat either latkes (fried potato pancakes), or sufganiyot (donuts with jam inside), or for those like me that like to merge cultures – both. These, and other fried foods, may not help our waist line or our cholesterol, but they do help us remember the story of oil which was found in the Temple when it was being cleaned up for its rededication. I could go on and on about food and Judaism, but as the name suggests, Thanksgiving is about more than eating.
Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for friends and family and for all that we have. Even if there is so much more that we want, we still should/need to be thankful for what we do have. In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers), which is a book in the Mishna, it is written, “Who is rich? He who rejoices in his portion.” It is not money which makes us wealthy but rather love of family and friends and a frame of mind that we are content with what we have.
Each morning, it is traditional for Jews to wake up and give thanks. “I thank you, living and eternal King, for You have graciously restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.” Each day is a new beginning. It is important to see what is good and positive in life and what better way to start the day than to give thanks.
During the stone age people had to be aware of anything that could go wrong. Today, we usually don’t have wild animals about to attack us or destroy our food source. Yet, many of us are stuck looking at the negative that surrounds us. Prayer is one way to overcome this bias. Prayer gets us looking at the good around us. There is a lot to be thankful for. That we woke up in the morning and can start a new day is a blessing many of us take for granted. That the crops were good enough to provide us with the food in front of us is often a hard concept for city dwellers. That we are together with family and friends to celebrate a simcha (joyous occasion) or any ordinary day should also not be overlooked. All of these things are worth noting and being thankful for.
It used to be that children had very few toys yet they played happily all day. Now, many children have an abundance of toys and complain that they are bored. Have children changed? Are they mimicking their parents who over the years have started to want more and more?
Blessings abound around us. They always have been and always will be. But, somehow they can be invisible. We need to open our eyes and look for them. So, whether it is Thanksgiving which opens your eyes, a Jewish holiday, or beautiful sunset, or even this article, take the opportunity to see how blessed you are. If you have enough food on the table to quiet your stomach, enough clothes to cover your body to keep you clean and warm, if you have friends and family to help you feel safe, loved and cherished then you really are blessed.
Whether this Thursday you are going all out with a homemade Turkey with stuffing and pumpkin pie or you ignore Thanksgiving totally, take the time to look around at all of your blessings: family, friends, food, clothing, general abundance, health, and your feeling of security. Be thankful for all that you have. Remember that being wealthy is a state of mind not a line in your bank statement.
Marcia Goldlist is a regular contributor of blog postings on Jewish Values Online. She was the author of one of the blog postings selected for the Second Quarter 5779 Jewish Values Online Best Blogs.
Please note: All opinions expressed in Blog Postings and comments on the Jewish Values Online site and through Jewish Values Online are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views, thoughts, beliefs, or position of Jewish Values Online, or those associated with it.
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