Posted by: Subway Conductor | November 27, 2020

A Derasha fir Parshat Vayetzei

In this week’s Torah portion Jacob marries Rachel and Leah and the birth of the twelve tribes of Israel commences. Leah has four sons one right after the other. When she has her fourth son, she names him Judah, saying, “This time I will give thanks to the Lord.” The name Judah which derives from the Hebrew word for “give thanks” is, of course, the source of the word “Jew.” “Judaism” is obviously also derived from ‘Judah.” Hence, the very definition of a “Jew” is “one who gives thanks.” It is a nice coincidence that this Torah portion fell out on the Shabbos after Thanksgiving because it helps to highlight the  connection between Jews and the holiday of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is, in my opinion, the most distinctive American holiday and it is certainly the most Jewish. The holiday is “Jewish” both in its manner of celebration and in its theme.

Although this year, our Thanksgiving celebrations were curtailed by the pandemic, we can remember past years when we sat around the table with family and friends. Surely it is similar to the Seder on Passover when a meal is the central part of the observance of the holiday. There are even certain prescribed foods that are traditionally served at the Thanksgiving meal, just as there are at the Seder. But more significant then these outward similarities is the concept of giving thanks. To live as a Jew is to live with a sense of gratitude for the world and all its goodness. Judaism has a positive view of the world. In the creation story in Genesis, after each day, it is stated, “G-d saw that it was good.” In the Jewish worldview, the physical world is not evil or opposed in some way to the spiritual life. Rather, it was designed for our sustenance and benefit and we should enjoy it and give thanks for it. Saying a blessing before we eat any food reflects this view. Judaism teaches us to see our lives as a gift that we should treasure and be thankful for. Every morning upon waking we are instructed to say “modeh ani” “I give thanks” for the opportunity to live another day.

As American Jews, we should especially give thanks for the freedom we have been blessed with in this land. There is no example in Jewish history quite like the experience of Jews in America. Here we have been free to practice our religion. It is easier to live as a religious Jew in America than it has been at any point in Jewish history in the Diaspora. We cannot imagine the persecutions and hardships that our forefathers endured over the centuries.

The holiday of Thanksgiving should remind us to express our gratitude for the freedom of religion that we experience in America. Let us give thanks for the prosperity that America has allowed us to enjoy and let us give thanks for the fact that we can take great pride in our identity both as Jews and as Americans.

Good Shabbos!

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