Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thinking About Being Thankful and What This Means

It is Erev Thanksgiving and as an American Jew, I am truly aware of what I am thankful for in living in the United States of America. I, along with so many others, am now worried about our future on many levels and I think in the midst of this worry, we should reevaluate what exactly we are thankful for.

In my daily Gemara learning, I have read 66b among the pages I learned today from Masechet Ketuboth. I want to share this statement that really made an impression. I am reading about the daughter of Nakdimon Ben Guryon, said to be a rather well known and wealthy patrician of his time. Unfortunately as time goes on, misfortune befalls his family and his daughter is unrecognizable in her pauper clothes working in a disgraceful setting. Within their conversation about what happened to their reputed wealth, we read the following statement: “Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai wept and said, ‘Fortunate are you, Israel, when [you] do the will of G-dno nation or tongue will rule over [you] but when you do not do G-d’s will, G-d will deliver you into the hands … of the animals of a lowly nation.” Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai actually finds this daughter of wealth gathering kernels of barley among the excrement of animals and is shocked at how low she had fallen. As this is further explained, the question is posed regarding what exactly Nakdimon Ben Guryon did with his wealth – did he only use it for himself or did he share with others and provide for those less fortunate? What did his daughter learn in his household?

For those of us who live comfortable and well-padded lives, it is so important that we think of and remember others. This is required of us whether we are speaking of material belongings and basic needs, or about the safety that others can expect in the environs we call home. In the past few weeks there has been so much talk about our need to look beyond ourselves and consider the needs of others – those who do not have what they need and now, clearly those who may have their needs threatened. In the Gemara it is suggested that Nakdimon Ben Guryon would have expensive garments that would be spread on the ground upon which he walked and afterwards the poor would gather them up. What did he do for those less fortunate than he? It is further suggested that perhaps he did do for others but not enough.

What does it mean to do enough for others? I have always taught my students and children that when we give something, it needs to be what the other person needs not what we want to give them. At this point, we are acutely aware of the needs of food and shelter and clothing for so many. Hopefully we are all doing our part. That being said, there is another more imminent need that we must also attend to, namely are we safeguarding the well being of all those who are part of the American fabric of life who would hopefully be able to have much to be thankful for in this country?

I know that we as Jews have often brought these issues to our holiday tables, specifically through extra prayers for Soviet Jews, refugees in lands of distress, etc. as readings at our Pesach/Passover Seders. I am asking that all of us now bring prayers for the well-being of ALL WHO ARE PART OF OUR FAMILY AS AMERICANS – Hispanics, Muslims, people of color, refugees seeking asylum, those with various physical and other challenges, and every group who has been maligned in the past months by statements made publicly and who are presently living with fear – to our Thanksgiving tables and further that we continue to build important bridges and work together for the rights of freedom and liberty for all in this country we so love. For, we must remember that we are to share our goods with those who need them so that our daughters and sons will not meet the fate I learned about today in Talmud and further and more important, that all of us will remember that when any one group of us is threatened, it is a threat to all of us.

Happy Thanksgiving to All.


  1. Amen! I always appreciate when gemara can help us think more deeply about our American Holidays. And now definitely seems like a good time to search our traditional texts for words of hope and guidance. so thank you, Mom.

  2. I do think that history has so much to teach us and subscribe to the notion that to forget history is to repeat history. There are indeed timeless lessons in our legacy literature of our faith as there are in other such bodies of wisdom. It would do all well to pull them out and consider them at this time in our trajectory. Love you guys.