Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg
November 24, 2003
Number 5764-8 Thanksgiving
We like to think of Thanksgiving as an American holiday. Its history goes back to Christian pilgrims to our shore, and to the Native Americans who helped them through a bitter winter and who taught them the skills to survive in this new land. It was this spirit of co-operation and gratitude that inspired later generations to make the last Thursday of November a national holiday of thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving, however, is built on Jewish roots. The Pilgrims, fundamentalist Christians all, knew their Bible well. They knew all about a festival in the fall to thank G-d for the blessings of the harvest. They understood that Sukkot was a time to thank G-d for the miracle of growing crops, for the balance of sunshine and rain, and the strength they needed to tend the gardens and hunt for food. Their holiday was modeled after the Biblical Sukkot, the traditional time of thanksgiving for Jews.
While I advise Jews to stay away from celebrating Christmas, St. Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s day and Halloween, I make no such claim against Thanksgiving. There is a very Jewish dimension to Thanksgiving. The final sections in the book of Deuteronomy are concerned with showing gratitude to G-d for our many blessings and the curses and dooms that will come if we forget to acknowledge our debt to our creator. The Sages of the Talmud decreed that the proper way to show our thanks and appreciation is to say a blessing before we take advantage of any part of our life. There are blessings for the foods we eat, fruits, vegetables, bread, and all other kinds of food. After we eat our fill, we once again thank our Creator for not only the food we eat, but for all the many kind things that G-d showers down upon us every day. In the presence of the wonders of nature, storms, mountains, rainbows, oceans, in the presence of great wisdom, beauty or even unusual shapes for human beings, there is a blessing to recite. At all the different seasons of the year, holidays, special days, happy times, and sad times, and the first time we do something new, there is a blessing to recite. The Ancient Rabbis taught that there are no less than 100 reasons each day to bless and thank G-d. With a list of blessings, they tried to make sure that we never neglect the things in life that are really important.
All too often today we forget to be grateful. We pass people on the street who help us in so many ways, and we never say a word to them. Most of our time on Thanksgiving is dedicated to eating and football. We give little thought to what Thanksgiving stands for and think only of shopping and sports. So many people are there to help us every day, and we ignore their actions. The telephone repairmen, the grocery clerks, the hairdresser, the delivery boy, police officers, firefighters and paramedics, we need to acknowledge how much we rely on them and thank them for their diligent efforts on our behalf. Life would be so much more difficult if they were not working on our behalf.
Sometime this Thanksgiving day, pause with your family and make a list of 100 things for which we are thankful. Make sure to write it all down. Post it on your refrigerator to remind you, every day, the 100 ways we have to thanking G-d. Take nothing for granted, and take no one for granted. Spread around your feelings of thankfulness and you will be surprised at the response you get back. Just saying a Thank you to the server who fills your water glass in a restaurant, will insure that your glass will never be empty. You can make a difference in someone’s life, even save a life, just by expressing our gratitude to G-d for all the many blessings in our life.
Let us all be thankful on this Thanksgiving day. It is the American and the Jewish thing to do.