Thanksgiving: Description of the Jewish Nation
By Ariella Bracha Waldinger
This Thursday, America will be celebrating their festival of thanksgiving at the same time we read the Torah portion of Vayeitzay, which contains the first mention of thanksgiving. Leah, the wife of Jacob was the first one to thank G-d for the blessing of children and thus expressed her thankfulness by naming her fourth son, Yehuda, which means thank G-d. Since we are descendants of Yehuda, we are called Yehudim or Jews and thanking G-d is one of the most frequent expressions of our nation.
Every prayer that a Jew utters begins or ends with a blessing. The word blessing, Bracha in Hebrew, means wellspring. This powerful descriptive word indicates that every word of blessing that is spoken by a Jew creates powerful channels or wellsprings of Divine energy and light. In fact, a Blessing is a formula of thanksgiving that draws down spiritual energy. The function of a blessing is to acknowledge G-d as the source of all things. When you ask a Jew, “How are you?” “How are things?” You will typically hear the response of Baruch HaShem, which means thank G-d. It may seem like a habitual phrase but in truth it reflects an abiding faith in a benevolent G-d and expresses the unwavering hope and optimism of the Jewish people.
The American Thanksgiving holiday became a national holiday in 1863 during the Civil War when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it as a “National Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to Our Beneficent Father in the Heavens.” Americans commonly trace the holiday to 1621 when the settlers in Plymouth held a harvest Festival. Interestingly, however, historical books of that time period record thanksgiving services as early as 1607. Historic treatises indicate that America was founded on G-dly principles and values and President Lincoln attempted to enhance that reality by setting aside a day to praise G-d for His bounty.
Fortunately, the Jewish outlook on life is one of constant gratitude, as we greet each day, before leaving our bed, with a prayer thanking G-d for returning our soul to us for another day of life. In fact it was the Jewish nation that brought into the world the belief of the sacredness of life and the need to express gratitude to the one G-d for all the good He bestows upon us. Imbued with a deep sense of idealism, the Jew, born as Yehuda, recognizes that life offers a chance to perfect the world and establish G-d’s kingdom on earth. Throughout our long, extraordinary yet painful history, when darkness cast its giant shadow, we found the courage to accept the challenges that came our way while continuing to forge a deep relationship of gratitude to the Creator. And through our continued prayers and blessings, we lit candles of thankfulness, thereby drawing down blessings to aid us in renewing our courage and faith. For the Jewish nation, Thanksgiving is more than an annual festival, it is a way of living and interacting with the world with gratitude and thankfulness as pillars of our connection to G-d, the world and mankind.
Rabbi Shalom Arush in his book, “The Garden of Gratitude” states, “We can attain a lofty measure of proximity to the Almighty by constantly expressing our gratitude. Gratitude, more than anything else, brings the world to a state of perfection. Even in the world’s present state, giving thanks is the master key that unlocks the door of every blessing imaginable. Gratefulness enables you to make a quantum leap in your personal and spiritual growth. It is a prerequisite to true happiness and success in interpersonal relations, especially marriage. It invokes miracles and opens closed gates of salvation.”
May G-d bless each of us and the world with comprehending the enormity of the power that gratitude and thankfulness can bring. May it become habitual not just one day a year but everyday with recognition of the source of all good: THE HOLY ONE, BLESSED BE HE.
With love, Ariella Bracha