Here we are in the Jewish calendar with no holidays. The month of Cheshvan that just ended is at times referred to as Mar Cheshvan, or Bitter Cheshvan, by virtue of the absence of any holidays.
It is precisely during this time period that we have the secular holiday that most Jews feel quite comfortable with: Thanksgiving. It may sound trite, but giving thanks is not meant for once a year. It is an everyday occurrence in Judaism.
Every weekday morning, whether praying alone or in a minyan, we recite Psalm 100 known as Mizmor L’Todah. We stand for this very short and seemingly simple prayer that reminds us of what we need to be thankful for every day of our lives. Even in times of strife, our tradition reminds us that there is always something to be thankful for.
As a young boy, I recall thinking how much I cherished it when people thanked me profusely for doing something nice or good. God is au contraire. God doesn’t want or need our recognition. All God wants is to bring us closer to God via constant spiritual and moral growth, not our superficial “thanks.”
The Pilgrims didn’t plan it this way, but this week’s Torah portion is Toldot. There is sibling rivalry between Jacob and Esau that culminates with Jacob tricking Isaac and outmaneuvering Esau to get “the blessing.” This is right on the heels of the conflict (no pun intended!) between Isaac and Ishmael. Our parsha ends with Jacob having to flee from an enraged Esau. A few chapters later they reconcile, thankful for what they have.
This theme radiates throughout Bereshit (Genesis). Isaac and Ishmael reconcile and bury Abraham together and, eventually, Joseph and his brothers reunite in peace. Just like our ancestors found ways to reconcile, we should also aim to come together with each other in our country after the bitter political season and election we have just witnessed.
Thanksgiving 2020 may not be panim el panim, face-to-face, as we are used to. For many of us, it will be virtual or with a much smaller gathering than usual, with all of the necessary precautions.
My challenge to each of us is to be satisfied with our lot, continue to find those silver linings of what we should be grateful for and, each day, inch a little closer to the Almighty.
Shabbat Shalom and an early Happy Thanksgiving!
Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham serves Congregation B’nai Amoona and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.