This post will not be about the Halachic intricacies involving Jews celebrating Thanksgiving. I identify with Jews in this country that feel gratitude to G-d and to the United States where we are currently able to live freely and pursue the study of Torah and the performance of Mitzvoth without fear or disturbance. I also agree with and appreciate the opinion that divine ritual, custom and law are markedly different than cultural celebrations and therefore observing “Thanksgiving customs” (lehavdil) is a very different matter than reading the Megillah on Purim, lighting candles on Chanukah or celebrating Shabbos each week. I trust that everyone will follow the lead of their rabbis and families for their Thanksgiving celebrations. A final note – I do find ironic that the Hebrew word for Thanksgiving is Todah or Hodu which actually means turkey J.
This past Sunday was Rosh Chodesh Kislev and part of the Rosh Chodesh celebration each month is to recite Hallel –(psalms 113-118). The climax of the Hallel is the expressing of thanksgiving: “Hodu LaHashem Ki Tov Ki Leolam Chasdo – Give thanks to Hashem because His kindness endures forever.” Although we certainly do not recite Hallel on Thanksgiving, learning from the Hallel could be instructive towards marking this Thanksgiving Day.
While we are encouraged both in Jewish thought and observance to always feel thankful for all we have in our lives, it is not easy to focus on our blessings after the Har Nof massacre that occurred just over a week ago. The heinous and viscous killing of holy Jews cloaked in Tallith and Tefillin stains our hearts and memories during this season of gratitude. Besides avoidance and distraction, how else can we advance forward while honoring the memories of our Kedoshim/ martyrs and still experience feelings of thanksgiving?
While reviewing the Hallel paragraphs I noticed that the passages beforehand as well as verses afterwards actually mention the potential death of King David.
Psalm 116:15 Yakar Be-eyney Hashem Hamavsah Lachaseedav – Precious in the eyes of G-d are the death of His pious ones.”
Psalm 118: 17 Lo Amus Ki Achyeh Vaasaper Maaseh Kah – I will not die, rather I will live and tell all of the deeds of G-d.”
Between these two statements we recite, Hodu LaHashem Ki Tov Ki Leolam Chasdo – Give thanks to Hashem because His kindness endures forever.
The Radak explains that the Hodu-Thanksgiving is referring to the Days of Moshiach and redemption when the entire world will see G-d’s divine kindness clearly and understand all the inexplicable tragedies that have transpired that simply cannot grasp yet. We will also then see all the Divine Kindness that protected us throughout the millennia and allowed us to survive until today.
So the message of these verses in Hallel that we can incorporate in our Thanksgiving is to consider and understand that the pain, chaos and suffering we have experienced both personally and nationally are part of the journey towards the ultimate days of Thanksgiving when we will be able to pronounce together in unison with tears of joy, “Hodu LaHashem Ki Tov Ki Leolam Chasdo – Give thanks to Hashem because His kindness endures forever.”