We’ve all been there. Someone we know and love is having a Bar Mitzvah, getting married, graduating, or celebrating some similar milestone that warrants a present. We think carefully about what we’d like to give him and spend time shopping for the perfect present. At last we find it, write a loving note to enclose with it, and wrap it as prettily as possible. The gift is delivered. We wait a week, two weeks, three and there’s no acknowledgement. Finally a month or so later his mother tells us how much her son likes the present and thanks us for him. It doesn’t quite cut it.
In Judaism we learn that thanking cannot be done by an intermediary. When we recite the Amidah, the central prayer of praise and blessing for HaShem, we include a prayer of thanks. Then the cantor repeats the Amidah out loud, the congregation listens, and responds Amen to each of the blessings, until they arrive at the thank you. At that point the cantor recites his thanks and the congregation members each recite their own thanks, reinforcing how important it is to personally express our own appreciation.
In last week’s Torah portion, Vayetze, we read how our forefather, Yaacov, married and had eleven of his twelve sons from four different mothers. His wives knew that they were building the twelve tribes of Israel. When Leah’s fourth son was born, she realized she had received a fuller portion than the others. Therefore she named this son Yehudah, from the Hebrew word, l’hodot to thank. As Jews, we are called Yehudim after Yehudah, and not any of Yaacov’s other sons, because Jews are supposed to constantly thank HaShem.
When I lived in America I loved Thanksgiving. There were those who turned up their noses at the holiday stating that every day we should give thanks, not just once a year. That’s indeed true, but I see nothing wrong with having a special day to focus on our gratitude. Now that I live in Israel there are those who ridicule me for celebrating an American holiday. Again, I see nothing wrong with it. In fact, the root of the aforementioned Hebrew word l’hodot is hodu. Hodu is also the Hebrew word for turkey. Nothing in life is a coincidence. It seems to me that HaShem is telling us to celebrate Hodu Day, with hodu.
Of course, Thanksgiving Day is Israel is a normal workday but the following day is erev Shabbat. Through the years we’ve compromised our Thanksgiving celebration and now have our turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce at our Friday night Shabbat meal. Some years we have it a week or two before Thanksgiving and sometimes a week or two after. Thankfully we live in Israel and can be flexible. Our Thanksgiving is when it’s the best time for us.
Whenever we do sit down to eat it, though, we are mindful of all the blessings HaShem has given us. And we thank Him, wholeheartedly. No one else can do it for us.