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I hope that you are too busy preparing for a grateful Thanksgiving with relatives and friends to have time to read a long Musing. We are looking forward to welcoming two of our grandchildren (5 and 8) from out-of-town who will remain with us for the weekend after joining us for a Thanksgiving feast at the home of gracious friends.
Like many Jews around the globe, I utter a formal prayer of thanks for the privilege of living another day as soon as I open my eyes every morning. Additionally, I have also been trying to highlight one aspect of my day for which I am grateful before going to bed at night.
I would like to share three events in my life from the past week that illuminate why I am so grateful and humbled to live in this wonderful country. My Musings often focus on problems, but I do believe that the number of Americans whose values I share is still larger than the number whose values I see as dangerous. That’s why I am optimistic about this country continuing to flourish as a beacon of goodness around the world.
My trusty computer didn’t come up with an answer when I asked it who H.W. Westermayer was. Perhaps someone reading this knows. I do know that when I read this quote of his, it resonated with me.
“The pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts… nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.”
I have often wondered at the celebrations on V-E Day when the Allies accepted Germany’s surrender or the song the Israelites sang at the Red Sea. In both cases, immense suffering led up to the day of victory and there were still bloody battles ahead.
The triumph at hand did not bring back anyone who had been killed or restore the health of the wounded. It didn’t fill the holes in people’s hearts and more sorrow was imminent.
Yet, like the Pilgrims, the people of those generations expressed words and feelings of gratitude to God. What is it about human nature that responds to ease and comfort with ingratitude, yet recognizes the need for thanks after passing through tough times? Each year, Thanksgiving gets erased a little more with revisionist history changing the meaning of the day and dreams of scoring low prices on wanted items pushing to the front of our consciousnesses. Let’s take a moment to picture those graves and the courage of those who came searching for a better life and willing to pay a dear, and often final, price to acquire it.
I was watching Susan and yourself on TCT and you stated that the U.S.A. was the only country in the world to celebrate Thanksgiving. I was wondering if your neighbour to the north, Canada, celebrates Thanksgiving.
I enjoy your program immensely! Keep up the good work.
Barry, Kingsville, Ontario, Canada
May we compliment you on your good manners? Rather than chiding us for being wrong, you gently asked a question. When we saw how you spelled ‘neighbour’ we began to suspect our mistake and when we saw that your signature included your location of Ontario, Canada, we knew we were in trouble.
Our television show on the TCT network, Ancient Jewish Wisdom, is not scripted. We sometimes surprise ourselves with what comes out of our mouths! Clearly, we spoke off-the-cuff and incorrectly here.
No, that isn’t a typo; its a deliberate misspelling. We are heading out soon to share a Thanksgiving feast with friends. Since we had a family celebration last weekend, most of our out-of-towners are unable to come back this week and, unfortunately, our in-towners are under the weather. Friends graciously invited us to join them.
A quick thought before I get ready to go. As a mother, one of the earliest words I taught my children was thank-you. Even before they could possible repeat the words, I voiced the syllables when I handed them toys or food. I don’t think I am unique; millions of mothers do the same.
Wishing everyone a day of gratitude for our many blessings. May it remind us to give thanks every single day of the year.
My wife and I love receiving the thank-you notes a friend sends whenever she is a guest at one of our Shabbat meals. Unlike typical thank-you cards, hers detail the experiences at our table. She mentions the delicious food, the scintillating conversation, and the stimulating company. (I am quoting from a recent note she sent!)
My late father, the great rabbi, A. H. Lapin often said that saying, “thank-you for everything,” really means thank-you for nothing. What he was getting at was that merely mouthing the words ‘thank-you’ is an inadequate response to the good we have received. As the beneficiaries of good we ought to reciprocate with something more substantive than just disturbing a few air molecules as we vibrate our vocal chords into projecting two routine syllables.
A small gift or hand-written card is wonderful. At the very least, we ought to detail the precise benefits we derived and for which we are expressing appreciation.
Ancient Jewish wisdom points out something rather remarkable. In the entire Torah, nobody says thank-you. Adam doesn’t thank God for Eve; Abraham never thanks God for his son, Isaac, and Noah neglects to thank God for saving him from the flood. While the Israelites do sing a song of praise to God after their deliverance from Egypt, they never actually say the words, ‘thank-you’.
The word used in modern Israeli Hebrew for thank-you, todah, does not appear in the five books of Moses other than as the name of a specific gratitude offering:
And when you offer a Thank-you offering to the Lord…
This constitutes a valuable clue in our attempt to unravel the deeper meaning of thank-you. It turns out that merely mouthing ‘thank-you’ is not part of God’s Biblical blueprint. It is preferable to do an action reflecting your gratitude.
Or, at the very least, specify the details about which you are grateful, as we see demonstrated in Psalm 136. King David says thank you to God but he doesn’t stop there. He goes on for 26 verses specifying what acts of God he so deeply appreciates. Here are some of the verses.
Give thanks to God; for he is good;
for His loving kindness endures forever. (Verse 1)
To Him who with wisdom made the heavens;
for His loving kindness endures forever. (Verse 5)
To Him who made great lights;
for His loving kindness endures forever… (Verse 7)
The Jewish holyday most associated with giving thanks is Chanukah for which the liturgy explicitly prescribes expressions of gratitude to God. I don’t consider it a coincidence that Chanukah and Thanksgiving often fall out within days from each other, as they do this year.
Appreciating the people around us is one way of appreciating God as well. After all, imagine the terrible loneliness if God didn’t provide us with a world full of potential friends, partners and companions.
This Thanksgiving, let’s not only give thanks to God but also to our family and friends, to our spouses and siblings. Maybe even to our employers and fellow workers who all help to make it possible for us to live abundantly. What a marvelous time to practice King David’s lesson by joyfully specifying the benefits we derive from these relationships. Let’s give thanks for those things we easily take for granted and only notice when they are missing.
I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by people’s reactions. You’ll be even more surprised to discover how uplifting it feels to appropriately deliver appreciation.
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