The news of the ceasefire between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip came while I was getting the brussels sprouts ready for our family's Thanksgiving celebration. Odd that this news, for which I am so deeply grateful, comes on the eve of the preeminent American holiday of gratitude. Judaism has its own rites and holidays for giving thanks. Sukkot is the holiday on which we celebrate the harvest by expressing thanks for the food that fills our bellies, the cycle of the seasons, and the roof over our heads.
We give thanks to You, Adonai, for You are our God and God of our ancestors forever and ever. You are the rock of our lives, the shield of our deliverance — You are from generation to generation! We give thanks to You and speak Your praise, for our lives which are safeguarded in Your hands, for Your miracles which we experience every day, for Your wonders and for Your goodness that exist in every moment — evening, morning and afternoon. You are goodness, for Your compassion is endless and You treat us compassionately. Your love is boundless. From eternity, You have been our hope. For all of this You are blessed and Your Name is held high. May You rule over us always and to eternity. All life will thank You and sing praises to Your Name in faith — the God who is our redeemer and our strength. Blessed are You, Adonai, whose Name is good and to whom thanks are due.
The blessing makes it clear to whom our thanks are addressed. This is the gratitude that comes from recognizing that there is a Source of all our blessings—one that is outside of ourselves and outside the realm of human power. Today is a good day to remember that.
In this week's Torah portion, Vayetze, Jacob began his journey by trying to make a deal with God. He says, "If God remains with me, if God protects me on this journey that I am making, and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safe to my father’s house—Adonai shall be my God" (Genesis 28:20-21). It is the prayer of a young man who has not yet learned what gratitude really means. Jacob said to God, in effect, "If You make sure that everything goes well for me, then You will be deserving of my loyalty."
It took Jacob twenty years to learn that there are no such promises in life. There is no assurance that all will be well. It was only after twenty years of antagonism with his uncle Laban, in which Laban swindled Jacob and lied to him, that Jacob finally reached a different conclusion. One night, in the middle of the wilderness, after Jacob and Laban finally got all of their grievances against each other out in the open, Jacob made an offering to God and invited his lying, cheating uncle to join him in the meal (Genesis 31:54).
What was that offering? It was a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Jacob was not grateful for an untroubled life—he had never known one and such a life was not going to be part of his future, either. He was grateful that despite life's turmoil and trouble, he was able to find a way through by keeping true to his values, beliefs and integrity. God had given him a path to find a bit of peace in a difficult life, and Jacob was grateful.
This Thanksgiving, we can try to remember that kind of gratitude. We cannot be grateful for a world at peace and absolute security for our sisters and brothers who have made their lives in Israel. Such a world does not exist. However, we can be grateful for the chance to create some peace in a world full of sorrow. We can be grateful for a God who does not promise us perfect protection or even clothes for our backs, but a God who does show us how to live with boundless love, undying hope, goodness and the promise of something better.
Tonight, I am grateful for a ceasefire and hopeful that it will last. I believe in the possibility that we can sit down together with our enemies and discover a path to peace.