November 25, 2020
We are introduced in this week’s Torah portion, Vayetze, to our religious namesake, Judah. Jacob’s first wife, Leah, names her fourth son Judah, meaning, “I will thank Gd”. It is from this name that the Hebrews become known as the “Jewish” people. From there, we eventually are to be known as Jews, or Yehudim in Hebrew, translated as “the people who give thanks”.
Giving thanks is part of our origin story. We have for centuries shared our gratefulness for the many blessings we receive. Whether essential – life, sustenance, shelter, love – or the mundane – sunshine, a birthday gift, free time, and more – these are all external to our control and we share our thanks because that is simply the right thing to do. Our tradition of reciting at least 100 blessings per day highlights our enthusiastic commitment to share our gratitude!
This Thanksgiving, with all the challenge and suffering taking place around us, in a world where loneliness and an unnatural separation from our neighbors has become the new norm, I am reminded of the Yiddish folktale stressing the message that things could always be worse. Perspective is essential and it is critical for us to concentrate on the positives that we see, the moments of happiness we experience, and even the most minimal joys we can celebrate. So, although we might be gathering for the holiday in smaller groups (“together from afar”), let us each still find our way to show and acknowledge our personal thanks.
Lastly, one more special “thanks” goes to our special holiday bird, the turkey. Because the turkey was an animal unique to the New World, there is no mention of this bird in the Torah, and therefore it has no biblical Hebrew name. It wasn’t until the New World was discovered that this bird received its Hebrew name, the tarnegol hodu, which literally means the “rooster of thanks”. Hodu is another way of saying thanks in Hebrew, which the Puritans chose to use in honor of celebrating their religious freedom in the New World.
So, this Thanksgiving, whether you are with your extended family or not, socially distanced with your friends and neighbors or not, or whether you are one of the many celebrating the holiday virtually in front of a screen, the Jewish Federation staff, board, and volunteers encourage you to still make that list of thank yous for the things for which you can be thankful, and know that no matter what, The Jewish Federation is: