Thursday, November 28, 2019

Thanking God and Country

"The First Thanksgiving” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (Wikimedia Commons)
How many people know that Thanksgiving is based on Sukkos? The fact is that the Pilgrims were very ‘old’ testament oriented and knew that the Torah had a holiday to celebrate the fall harvest by thanking God for his abundance. They felt an obligation to do the same and decided to observe such a day themselves.  

Although he was not a religious figure by any definition, it was George Washington who in 1789 made it official with a proclamation which read in part: 
Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor…
I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country… 
I said Hallel today. Yes, I know it’s Rosh Chodesh. Every Jew is supposed to say Hallel today. But it’s also Thanksgiving. Which in my view makes saying Hallel even more significant.

There are those among us that would at best laugh at the idea. Or worse, condemn it. They might agree with Rav Moshe Feinstein’s Teshuva that celebrating this day by eating a festive meal with family featuring turkey as the main course is Chukas HaGoy. But the fact is that he does not forbid doing so. 

Some will cite Rav Moshe’s Teshuiva to disparage those that do. But they are wrong.  First of all Rav Moshe would never have disparaged – or approve of others disparaging - anyone who might disagree with his perspective and act accordingly. While I obviously respect the views of R’ Moshe and cite his Teshuos quite often, I disagree with him here.

Who am I to disagree? I am not in his league. Obviously. But I am not the only one that disagrees. My own Rebbe, R’ Ahron Soloveichik had turkey on Thanksgiving.  And so did his illustrious brother, the Rav. Who famously cut short a Shiur he was giving in order to be on time to a family Thanksgiving dinner. I too will be having a Thanksgiving Day dinner with family members later today.

As I repeatedly indicate (as recently as yesterday)  we are privileged to be living in a country like the United States of America.  There is no other country like it. Not today. Not ever at any time in history. America has truly made us feel at home. We live freely here without fear that the government will ever persecute us or tolerate others doing so. The exact opposite is true.

In those rare instances when we are attacked for being who we are (…and yes attacks are still rare although – sadly – they have been on the rise) local and/or federal authorities are quick to act. And Americans in all walks of life have shown solidarity with us time and again when it happens. There are so many examples of that, it would fill a multi volume book.

As I have also said many times, we are not only accepted, we are admired. Deservedly so. To take one example of why that is the case, the number of Jewish Nobel Prize winners is disproportionately large compared to our percentage of the population. That is something to admire.

Why is the case?  We are a people that contributes to society in a multitude of ways. From academia, to science, to medicine, to commerce, to government, to the military, to entertainment… You name it. There are Jews involved at high levels in every human endeavor.

Freedom. That is what America is about. No where are we given the freedom and opportunity to succeed at such high levels than right here.

We are free to practice our faith unencumbered by any social or government interference.

We are able to live well and achieve the highest material standard of living based limited only by our ability to afford it. We have the ability to work hard and make a lot of money. Just like everyone else.
Any obstacle that may have been placed in our way by anyone in order to hamper us has been removed. And still is when it happens.

It for that reason that we owe a tremendous amount of Hakoras HaTov - gratitude to God and country for making this a reality.

So if anyone had a thought about Thanksgiving while saying Hallel this morning, do not feel guilty about that. Feel good that you recognize what you have here and that thanking God for it is more than appropriate. And that is what Thanksgiving is really all about.