D’var Torah: Thanksgiving = the Most Jewish of Holidays
Hands down, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. True, I’m the kind of person who says that about almost every holiday when it arrives, but really, truly, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Why? Because it’s all about Hakarat HaTov – it’s about expressing gratitude and taking the time to notice the good. It is, perhaps, the most Jewish of all our holidays. And it was made only more so, in recent years, by the pandemic.
Allow me to share a story.
Our tradition teaches that the splitting of the Red Sea was the greatest miracle of all time. In fact, it was so miraculous and consequential that we sing about it multiple times every single day when we pray. Never before, and never since, has humanity experienced anything like God’s defiance of the laws of nature as they did at the Red Sea. And yet, our Midrash (Shemot Rabbah, 24:1) tells the story of two Israelites who were less than impressed by God’s handiwork.
Just as Reuven and Shimon stepped onto the sea bed, the still damp muddy earth of what used to sit at the bottom of the sea, they began to complain. As they walked through the dry sea, with walls of water on either side of them, all they could talk about was the mud beneath their feet. Reuven said: “In Egypt, we had mud, and now here too in the sea we have mud. In Egypt, we had clay for bricks, and here too, we have an abundance of clay to make bricks.” Rather than noticing the water – which was now miraculously (and awesomely) standing straight up to clear a path for them to walk through – they only saw the dirt and the mud.
So too is it with Thanksgiving. We often walk through our daily lives noticing the mud – the kid’s room that is never clean, the dirty dishes in the sink, the traffic jam, the misplaced homework, the stress of a job, the appliance that is always breaking – and ignore the many miracles and blessings around us.
Thanksgiving gives us an opportunity to lift our eyes up from the muddy floor and notice the miracles that, quite literally, surround us. I feel blessed to be able to celebrate this holiday with my extended family in ways that keep us healthy and safe. I am so grateful for our Ramah community, ever-expanding and growing to draw more people in and to bring the Ramah experience to more households. When we notice the good in our lives and direct our gratitude for that good towards God, we elevate an otherwise secular Thanksgiving to a Jewish holiday of Giving Thanks. Chag Sameach!