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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  (rabbi@adathisraelsf.org) has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.


 

We tend to think of Thanksgiving as a happy day. People are off from work and school; families get together and we get bombarded with emails about major sales coming our way. Yet when we look at the original Thanksgiving from 1621, we see a different picture. All the colonial participants in that famous event were passengers aboard the Mayflower. More accurately, they survived the Mayflower experience. Of the 102 colonists aboard the Mayflower, only fifty-three survived the harsh winter and disease that they met upon arriving in America. Why then were they having a thanksgiving event? Wasn’t it a little premature knowing that another winter was soon on its way that could potentially have devastating effects?

In last week’s parasha, when Rivkah first meets Eliezer and offers water for him and his camels, the verse states “And the man [Eliezer] kneeled and prostrated himself to the Lord.” The Midrash Rabbah learns from this that we are to express gratitude for every good tiding. Why does the Midrash make this point at the beginning of the story, when it wasn’t clear what was going to happen? How does this become the source that we have to give thanks? Do we really need a source for this?

R. Yisrael Benveniste (17th century Turkey) notes that the Midrash is making an important point. Of course, we must give thanks when good things happen. However, the Midrash is telling us that we have to give thanks even before we know the end result. We have to give thanks when things are starting to look good. We thank HaShem not just for the tova – the good, but for the besorah tova – good tidings, the indication that things will be good.

We find another example of this idea in an earlier comment of the Midrash on Parashat Chayei Sarah when Avraham bows twice when trying to buy the cave of Machpela. Commenting on the first time he bowed, the Midrash states “from here we see that we are to express gratitude for every good tiding.” There too, the same idea applies. Avraham was certainly thankful when the deal was sealed, but he was also thankful when things started to look good.

Our lives are always full of uncertainty. Even when things are looking good, there is always something missing or something challenging that we could point to and say “I will give the proper hoda’ah-thanks as soon as we clear that hurdle.” Yes, we should give the proper hoda’ah when that hurdle is cleared, but Avraham and Eliezer taught us that we should also give hoda’ah when we are on the way to clearing that hurdle. 

The Pilgrims of 1621 understood that message and it is a message that can help us attain a greater appreciation for all the good in our lives.

Hope you have an enjoyable Thanksgiving!