For those of us who are American, November means one thing.  Thanksgiving.  While it is entirely an American holiday, it was inspired by the Jewish festival of Sukkot—the autumn harvest festival.  For those who like a little Hebrew word play, the word “hodu” can be translated either as “thanksgiving” or “turkey,” without which, there could not be a Thanksgiving meal!  Speaking of turkey, some people believe that it comes from the Hebrew word “tuki” which in modern Hebrew is translated as “parrot,” but that understanding is pretty recent.

Personally, I love Thanksgiving.  It’s a chance to be with those who we care about, have a good time and a good meal.  More importantly, though, it encourages us to pause and focus all of the things that we have to be thankful for and that is something that goes to the core of Jewish living.  In Hebrew, the phrase for gratitude is hakarat hatov, “recognition of the good.”  Hakarat hatov is not just a mindset though.  It is an enacted emotion.  Judaism doesn’t just ask us to feel grateful; it asks us to express gratitude.  Sometimes gratitude is nothing more than acknowledgement, but sometimes the best sort of gratitude is reciprocation.   Rabbi Joseph Telushkin recounts a story of a man who had run into financial difficulties.  A friend of his father offered him a loan to get through the tough time.  It took a long time before he could pay the loan back, but one day he approached the lender with the money and the lender refused to be repaid.  The man objected and said, “I’m not a charity case.  I always intended to pay you back.”  The lender responded by saying that the same thing had happened to him years ago.  He was given a loan and when he tried to pay it back, the lender refused.  He was upset, also thinking that he was being treated as a charity case.  That original lender explained, though, “It was indeed a loan, and you do have to pay it back…but not to me.  I want you to pay back the loan in the following manner.  One day in the future, when you come across a person or a family who needs the money, pass it along…as a loan.  And when they come to pay it back, explain the terms of the loan to them, as I just explained them to you.  The money I gave you was indeed a loan to me, and now it’s your turn and obligation to pay it back in the very same manner I paid back my loan.  I chose to pay it to you, someday you will pass the money on to someone else.”[1]  This month, whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or not, may we both recount the many blessings that we have and also commit to blessing others in return.


L’shalom, to peace,


Rabbi Jason Holtz

[1] Telushkin, J. (2006). A Code of Jewish Ethics (Vol. I). New York: Bell Tower.