Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 87

November 19, 2021 (15 Kislev 5782)

America's Favorite Yuntif

Dear Friends,

I hope this week’s Reflection finds you doing well and in good cheer.

We look forward to you joining us for our hybrid services, this Sabbat at 10:30AM, either in the sanctuary or over our regular Zoom prayer link.

This upcoming week, we will celebrate many people’s favorite American-Jewish Yuntif, namely, Thanksgiving. For many of us, we will likely be blessed to have the chance to gather with family and friends, enjoy culinary delights, reengage in ancient family feuds, and cheer for our favorite NFL teams!

Interestingly, there are strong historical connections between Judaism and Thanksgiving. As you know, most of the Pilgrims, who celebrated the first Thanksgiving, were Puritans, a branch of the Protestant faith. The Puritans strongly identified with the historical traditions and customs of the ancient Israelites.

In their quest for religious freedom, the Puritans viewed their journey to America as exactly analogous to the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. England was their Egypt, the king was their Pharaoh, and the Atlantic Ocean was their Red Sea. The Puritans saw themselves as the Israelites, entering into a new covenant with God, in a new Promised Land. In fact, historians point out that the initial pilgrims had Hebrew/English worksheets, had Hebrew names, and even considered a proposal to make Hebrew the language of the new colony!

All of this lends credence to the argument that the Pilgrims modeled Thanksgiving on the holiday of Sukkot, which celebrates the harvest.

Of course, the main theme of the holiday of Thanksgiving comes from the name itself, reminding us of the importance of giving thanks. Saying “thank you” and recognizing “the good” is a primary Jewish value, called Hakarat HaTov. When a Jew sits down to eat, he or she says, “Blessed are you God, for bringing bread from the earth.” To say a blessing over bread affirms that God played a role in creating the Universe, where the sun rises each day, the rain falls, and the growth of food is possible.

Along those lines, the rabbis taught in the Shulchan Aruch 48:3 that we can adopt an attitude of gratitude by following the injunction to recite 100 blessings a day. This teaching reminds us that no matter how difficult life can be (and it has not been simple during the pandemic), we all have many blessings for which to be grateful. In fact, there are many liturgical pathways to reach this number of blessings. All we have to do is say, “Baruch Ata Adonai,” (Blessed are You Adonai) and then complete the sentence however you wish. This is also how we can each personalize our religious experience, while adopting a greater sense of gratitude in our lives.

Friends, I pray that the peacefulness of this Shabbat and the joy of the upcoming National Holiday will give us all the opportunity to pause for Hakarat Hatov and genuinely thank God for all the blessings in our lives.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD
201 562 5277

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