Rabbi’s Message: Nov. 1, 2015

Thanksgiving, Appreciation, and Striving

Ayzehu ashir? Ha’samayach b’chelko, shene’amar: Yagiah kapecha ki tokhel, ashrecha v’ tov lach/
Who is wealthy? A person who rejoices in what he has, as it is written (Tehillim/Psalms 128:2): When you will eat by what you attain through the work of your own hands, you will be happy with it and it will be good for you.
Pirkey Avot 4:1

Look into my eyes and you’ll see what it really takes
To stay in the game and never fall
Knowing when to trust your instinct no matter what they say
Knowing when it’s time to break the mold
I’ll do what I have to do
To make all my dreams come true
“Reaching For the Stars” by Timo Tolkki from the Russell Allen and Jorn Lande album The Great Divide

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. This unique American holiday has attained a special place in the hearts and lives of American Jews. Unlike any other non-specifically Jewish date on the calendar, Thanksgiving is looked forward to as a time when “the family gets together.” People go out of town to parents, children, grandchildren, or close friends to engage along with almost all Americans in chomping down copious quantities of such American culinary iconic staples as turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pies, and much more while a football game broadcast on the TV, usually ignored or half watched, wafts its gasps of excitement into the dining room as a form of ritual background music.

Some of us may say a bracha on the meal before we begin to feast, but even when that is intoned, few use the occasion for discussion of the actual meaning of having a “Thanksgiving feast.” Are we demonstrating our thankfulness by gorging on tasty edible comestibles? What should we be thankful for and thankful to whom?

The rabbis teach us ayn somach al ha nase / don’t rely on a miracle (quoted in the Babylonian Talmud in tractates Pesachim, Megillah, and Kiddushin). In a God-centric religion why are the rabbis so adamant that one should not rely on supernatural intervention?

Those wise rabbis also taught that our special human role in this world is to act as God’s partners and stewards in the creation. Each of us is actually very individual and unique in what we bring to this world in terms of our combinations of talents, abilities, and personality. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to actualize those qualities in an honest and non-exploitative way in making an effort to both better the world and to better ourselves. It’s up to us to accomplish things, and we can enjoy, celebrate, and be thankful for those accomplishments.

Above I referenced from Pirkey Avot a quote about being satisfied with one’s lot in life. However, that doesn’t conflict at all with the lyrics from the rock song I accessed that emotionally communicate an intense striving to ascend in life and fulfill one’s dreams. They are actually complementary concepts: we can be most happy when we celebrate what we have accomplished in life and stay motivated to reach for more, perhaps in new ways, in new situations, and in ways we had not previously imagined.

I bless us all to be thankful for what we have and what we have accomplished and to still chase our dreams.

Happy Thanksgiving, B’Shalom,

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