How can I repay Adonai for all God’s bounties to me?
This year we celebrate a holiday that will never come around again in any of our lifetimes: Thanksgivukkah! Alright, we all know that is no more than a very silly American notion.* Nevertheless, it has led me to think very seriously on how the holidays of Chanukah & Thanksgiving intersect beyond Manischewitz-Brined Turkey!
There are many aspects that both holidays share: the family gathering, the remembrance of historical moments, distinctive food traditions. Most holidays, however, share these basic aspects. Chanukah and Thanksgiving differ in many ways as well: Thanksgiving is a celebration of ecumenicalism; Chanukah recalls our fight against assimilation. Thanksgiving is a late autumn holiday, meant to mark the bounty of our harvest; Chanukah is an early winter holiday, reminding us to appreciate the light that permeates even our darkest days. Thanksgiving comes with handprint turkeys; Chanukah comes with fire. For very good reasons, we tend to parallel Thanksgiving to the Pilgrimage Holidays: Passover, Shavuot, and – in particular – Sukkot, as these three are the “thanks for the harvest” holidays in the Jewish year cycle (and because the founding fathers modeled Thanksgiving after Sukkot!). But Chanukah? How does military victory and an oil miracle and gambling connect to Thanksgiving?
For over 2000 years Chanukah has been marked by more than candles and oily food and rejoicing; Chanukah has been marked by Hallel. The Hallel Psalms (psalms 113-118) are the collection of psalms that express our praise and thanksgiving to God. [Just for the record, Chanukah is the only non-pilgrimage holiday upon which we recite the full Hallel.] Every Chanukah we recite Hallel to thank God for the great miracle that happened in the Land of Israel – a miracle that all of the children of Israel share together.
Adonai is mindful of us. God will bless us.
At most Thanksgiving celebrations—across the nation—there is a moment when the people around the table shift their focus from the bounty of goodness heaped upon their plates to the bounty of goodness that fills their lives. We say “thank you” for family and friends, for health and well-being, for success and plenty. We encourage our children to look beyond what they assume they should have, to truly appreciate all that they are fortunate to have. We take time to count our blessings from the biggest to the smallest. But, to whom do we thank? Sure, we thank the cooks for the love and care that they have taken to bring us this wonderful meal. Perhaps we thank our parents for teaching us, our children for inspiring us, our friends for supporting us. We may thank – in absentia – people who we work with, people who have provided us with something we value, random people that crossed our paths both literally and figuratively. These are all good people to thank. Please, this year, at your Thanksgiving table, say “thank you” to or for all of these people.
Then, in honor of Chanukah, remember Hallel and take a moment to say “thank you” to God. You do not have to believe that God is the source of every blessing in your life. You do not have to believe in any classical notion of God, at all. All I ask is that you be open to a world in which human effort is not the end all. Be open to a universe infused by the divine presence. Be open to your life with the Infinite.
Praise Adonai for God is good, God’s steadfast love is eternal.
~Psalm 118:1 & 29
When, through the act of giving thanks, we connect to something beyond ourselves we become more than merely ourselves. When an individual thanks all of the people that touches his or her life, that individual find that he or she is family, community, society. When we include God in our thanks, we find that we are universal – we are infinite.
This Thanksgivukkah, connect to your family, your community, your society.
Invite God to your Thanksgiving-Chanukah celebration this year.
Connect to all the families, all the communities, all the societies; connect to the infinite.
Praise Adonai, all you nations; extol God, all you peoples, for great is God’s steadfast love toward us; Adonai’s faithfulness endures forever. Halleluyah!
*Just for the record, Thanksgiving and Chanukah overlap every few years; the uniqueness of this year is that the first day of Chanukah is directly on Thanksgiving. Because we begin lighting our candles the evening before, I would argue that, in reality, a more interesting overlap is on years when Chanukah begins on Friday and, therefore, we are lighting the first candle at our Thanksgiving meal!