November 22, 2023 /9 Kislev 5784
As we delve into this week’s Torah portion, Vayeitzei, and also embrace the spirit of this week’s Thanksgiving holiday, it is impossible not to notice the beautiful interweaving threads of gratitude and harmony that connect these two seemingly disparate occasions. In the intricate tapestry of life, Vayeitzei provides us with a roadmap for navigating the journey of gratitude, while Thanksgiving offers a unique opportunity to pause and express our thanks.
In Vayeitzei, Jacob embarks on a transformative journey, both physically and spiritually. As he dreams of a ladder connecting heaven and earth, angels ascending and descending (Genesis 28:12), he awakens to the realization that he is in a sacred space, a place where the Divine is palpable. In the midst of his uncertainty and fear, Jacob discovers the presence of Gd, and this encounter becomes a source of profound gratitude.
Similarly, Thanksgiving is a time when we gather with loved ones, share meals, and reflect on the blessings that enrich our lives. It’s an occasion to recognize the Divine presence amongst our everyday experiences, just as Jacob did in his dream. As we count our blessings, let us recall the words of Psalm 100:4, “Enter into Gd’s gates with thanksgiving, and into Gd’s courts with praise. Give thanks to Gd and bless Gd’s name.”
The tapestry of gratitude is woven through our history and traditions. Our Jewish heritage teaches us to express thanks not only for the good times but also during challenges, as reflected in the traditional blessing recited upon hearing both good and bad news: “Baruch Dayan HaEmet – Blessed is the True Judge.” This acknowledgment encourages us to appreciate the bigger picture, trusting that even in difficult moments, our perspective is limited by our unique and personal lens.
As we sit down for our Thanksgiving feast, let us take a moment to offer a special blessing for peace. In Judaism, the concept of peace is a building block upon which other values are sustained, and the word “shalom” carries a profound and encompassing meaning. In Numbers 6:24-26, we find the priestly blessing:
May Gd bless you and protect you;
May Gd shine upon you and be gracious to you;
May Gd find favor upon you and grant you peace.
This blessing is not merely a wish for the absence of conflict but a prayer for complete well-being, harmony, and wholeness. It reminds us that true peace is a holistic experience that encompasses the physical, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of our lives.
Since October 7, I have been asked on multiple occasions how is my family in Israel. At first, the question felt like code for did my family live in the south, and were they physically harmed by the initial acts of terror. Then this same question morphed into whether my family was under the immediate threat of rocket fire and/or the dangers of military service. Today when I am asked this same question, it rarely relates to my family’s physical well-being as much as it does their mental and emotional state. This is the power of the priestly blessing above; it seeks peace and protection for one’s wholeness and total well-being.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving, let us embrace this opportunity to embody the spirit of peace. In our homes, let there be peace. In our communities, let there be peace. In our world, let there be peace. May the threads of gratitude and harmony bind us together in a tapestry that transcends borders and differences, echoing the teachings of the Talmud: “Great is peace, as even Gd’s name is not complete without it.”
In these challenging times, let us remember that we are stronger together. Just as Jacob found strength in his encounter with the Divine, and as our ancestors persevered through trials, so too can we find resilience and hope in our shared journey. The diversity of our backgrounds and experiences enriches the fabric of our communities, creating a mosaic that reflects the beauty of unity amid diversity.
As we give thanks and celebrate the blessings in our lives, may we also cultivate an awareness of the interconnectedness that binds us to one another. In the words of Psalm 133:1, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” This Thanksgiving, let us be mindful of the beauty that emerges when we embrace our shared humanity and walk the path of gratitude and harmony together.
Wishing the mourners of Zion profound peace, the hostages and their families a speedy, safe, and unconditional return, and to all of us a blessed Thanksgiving filled with love, gratitude, and the sanctity of peace. Because we are…