This week we share these thoughts on Thanksgiving with you hoping that the below insights and blessings help you return the Holy One back to the center of your family festivities and feasting with gratitude and joy for all He has done for you! We send our love and blessings to each of your families!
Some Historical background:
The Thanksgiving feast dates back to 1621, when the newly arrived Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians gathered at Plymouth for an autumn harvest celebration, an event regarded as America’s “first Thanksgiving.” Many people believe that the Pilgrims modeled Thanksgiving after the holiday of Sukkot, as they are both harvest festivals that take place in the fall. As avid readers of the Bible, the Puritans would have known about Sukkot which may have inspired them to celebrate Thanksgiving and originally it was celebrated in October as Sukkot often is and Canada still observes it in. The early settlers consciously drew on a model well-known to them from the Bible they cherished and seeing themselves as descendants of Israelites in a new “promised land,” the Pilgrims surely found inspiration in the Torah, in which God commands the ancient Israelites to observe the Feast of Booths—in Hebrew, Sukkot, “To rejoice before Adonai your God” at the time of the fall harvest.
Thanksgiving Brings Unity for the Whole-House of Israel
The Torah requires a thanksgiving offering for many situations and Thanksgiving is perhaps the perfect celebration to bring Christians and Jews together today without any pagan influence or mixture! Unlike Christmas vs. Chanukah or Easter vs. Passover, where there are clear theological conflicts, Thanksgiving is conflict-free and contains the best of what it means to be an American—gratitude for abundance, inclusivity in our society and around our table, open hands, open arms, open hearts. Thanksgiving is, in many ways, the summation of the heart of both Judaism and Christianity—faith, gratitude, peace and brotherly love.
Too easily, however, it turns into just another meal, another family gathering, another seemingly ordinary day. The religious mission, however, is to elevate the mundane into the sublime, to remind us that the ordinary can and should become the extraordinary. That is one of the reasons we might choose to bring religious readings to the table and something I encourage you to do!
There are so many prayers in both of our traditions that bring to light these themes of gratitude and abundance, welcome and compassion. With that said, I think it’s important to choose some that bring you a sense of integrity. One should never speak words in prayer or in life that don’t reflect your beliefs, your integrity, your soul. One should also take into consideration both the nature of the day and the others around the table. In this case, with your in-laws being Christian, there are plenty of prayers to be drawn from our shared tradition of the Hebrew Bible, specifically the latter part of the Hebrew Bible, known as “the Writings” and “the Prophets.” I encourage you to peruse these sections of the Bible—but most likely you will end up within the Psalms.
The Psalms, attributed to King David, express a soul’s longing for God, gratitude for living, uncertainty about the future and the quest for faith, compassion and goodness. Here below are some Psalms I have combined for you that speak of our thanks and gratitude to the Almighty that you may want to share with your families as you come around the table before you eat…
But first we recite the Shehecheyanu Blessing… as the Shehecheyanu blessing was introduced to encourage Jews to offer thanks for new and special experiences. It it typically recited at the beginning of holidays and to celebrate special occasions:
Blessings and Prayers of Gratitute:
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higiyanu laz’man hazeh.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.
Then read Psalm 111, 100 and 118:2
1 Hallelu Yah! I will wholeheartedly give thanks to ADONAI in the council of the upright and in the assembly. 2 The deeds of ADONAI are great, greatly desired by all who enjoy them. 3 His work is full of majesty and splendor, and his righteousness continues forever. 4 He has gained renown for his wonders. ADONAI is merciful and compassionate. 5 He gives food to those who fear him. He remembers his covenant forever. 6 He shows his people how powerfully he works by giving them the nations as their heritage. 7 The works of his hands are truth and justice; all his precepts can be trusted. 8 They have been established forever and ever, to be carried out truly and honestly. 9 He sent redemption to his people and decreed that his covenant should last forever. His name is holy and fearsome 10 the first and foremost point of wisdom is the fear of ADONAI; all those living by it gain blessings… His praise stands forever!
(Then immediately follow with Psalm 100 without any pause)
1 So, Shout for joy to ADONAI, all the earth! 2 Serve ADONAI with gladness. Enter his presence with joyful songs. 3 Be aware that ADONAI is God; it is he who made us; and we are his, his people, the flock in his pasture. 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, enter his courtyards with praise; give thanks to him, and bless his name. 5 For ADONAI is good, his grace continues forever, and his faithfulness lasts through all generations.
(Then immediately follow with Psalm 118:2 without any pause)
2 Now let Isra’el say, “His grace continues forever.”
(And everybody says;)
“His grace continues forever!” Amen!
Beyond the Psalms:
Here is also “A Thanksgiving Prayer” by Rabbi Naomi Levy for your enjoyment…
For the laughter of the children,
For my own life breath,
For the abundance of food on this table,
For the ones who prepared this sumptuous feast,
For the roof over our heads,
The clothes on our backs,
For our health,
And our wealth of blessings,
For this opportunity to celebrate with family and friends,
For the freedom to pray these words
In any language,
In any faith,
In this great country,
Whose landscape is as vast and beautiful as her inhabitants.
Thank You, God, for giving us all these. Amen.
Above all else, remember that love and peace, and gratitude and celebration, are what this is all about. This holiday is an expression of the great Judeao-Christian ethic upon which this great country has been built! Sending love and blessings to you and your families from the Assembly of Called-Out Believers!
We hope these thoughts, blessings and Psalms bless you and your families at Thanksgiving!
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Torah Parashah teaching with video and audio and illustrations by Rabbi Isaac. © Assembly of Called-Out Believers. Use by Permission.