Our Jewish calendar during the month of Cheshvan is pretty quiet. While there are no festivals and holy days, I am drawn to our civic religious holiday of Thanksgiving. As the weather is getting colder and the wind is getting stronger, I am thinking more and more of those who are hungry and cold. It has always been such a disconnect that so many struggle most during these autumn/winter months, right in the midst of Thanksgiving and December holiday celebrations. It makes me ask if we are truly thankful for what we have.

Abraham Joshua Heschel once said: “Humankind will not perish for want of information, but only for want of appreciation.” That must be why our tradition says that we ought to say 100 blessings each and every day. (Babylonian Talmud, Menahot 43b)  Our sages recognized how easy it is to get consumed by “everyday” living. We are caught up in carpools and commutes, work and extra-curicullar activities, often yearning for a little free time. So it makes sense that our tradition has at its core lots daily messages to remind us to be grateful.

Even the very term for our tradition, Judaism, is connected to Gratitude. Yehudah is the Hebrew term for Judah, the fourth son of Leah and Jacob: “She became pregnant again and bore a son, and said: ‘This time I will give thanks to God.’” Therefore she called his name Yehudah, “giving thanks.” (Genesis 29:35)  The name Yehudah leads us to Yehudim — Jews, which leads us to Yehadut — Judaism.

Giving thanks acknowledges that we are not alone; that we are thankful for the help or presence of another. If you think about it, that is a powerful statement. Gratitude also leads me to acknowledge the other (whether it is a person or God) by saying “thank you,” but then I am driven to “be there” for someone else the way another was there for me. Gratitude, then, is the intertwining between appreciation, thanks, and responsibility to bring healing to another corner of our world. When we respond to our sense of being thankful, we show our gratitude.

Our Torah teaches: “If there is among you a poor person, one of your kin, in any of your towns within your land which God gives you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against them, but you shall open your hand to them….” (Deuteronomy 15: 7-8)

Surely, we would agree that to harden our hearts is the antithesis of gratitude — shutting ourselves off from meaningful interactions with others. But an open hand and an outstretched arm is exactly what God did for us through the redemption of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. 

Today, we have many in our community who feel like they are trapped in their own Egypts. Egypt in Hebrew is Mitzrayim. The root word in Mitzrayim is tzar — narrow. If we think about it some more…we often finding ourselves in narrow or confined places. We don’t have to be homeless to have a feeling of being held back or even trapped. But during the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I can’t help myself but to think of those who are held in chains of poverty or long term unemployment. These people feel trapped. They aren’t able to take care of themselves and their families as they would like.

This is why each and every year Temple Beth Tikvah asks this community to contribute to our annual Turkey Drive. I know, I know…we ask for a lot. But this is not for us.  To to have a sense of gratitude means that we acknowledge how fortunate we are…even if times are tough. In fact, it is because we find that times are so tough for us that we go the extra mile and open our hands to those in need.

Albert Einstein said: “A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depends on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the measure as I have received and am still receiving.”

Take the 5 minutes to contribute to our Turkey Drive. We request gifts in increments of $10. All of our gifts will go to support North Fulton Community Charities and Jewish Family & Career Services’ Kosher Food Pantry.

Send your check today to Temple Beth Tikvah: 9955 Coleman Road, Roswell, GA 30075.

The question has been asked of us again…Ayekah — Where are you?

Let’s help make others a little more thankful this season and show our gratitude for the blessings we have received.

And… Thank YOU for joining me in this effort.