Posted by: R Jonathan Gewirtz | November 28, 2014

Celebrate Thanksgiving

(Originally published in 2008, when Chanuka and Thanksgiving overlapped, but the thought remains meaningful.) Thankful-Printable

Before anyone gets their shtreimel in an uproar about the title of this article, give me a little credit. I know what I’m talking about so don’t jump to conclusions.

At the end of November, the United States celebrates the holiday of Thanksgiving. For many it’s a time to take a break, go crazy at Black Friday shopping, or just enjoy a free Turkey from Pathmark or Shoprite. It’s also an opportunity for people to say, “What are you thankful for?”

The journalists go around the streets asking people, and kids in school get asked by their teachers. I’ve heard people say they’re thankful for their jobs, for their houses, some who are more thoughtful say they’re thankful for their family and friends, and of course you always get the fakers saying, “I’m thankful for freedom, and democracy (and two days off from work…)”

My daughter asked me what I’m thankful for. I thought a moment and then said, “I am thankful for my family, for HaShem’s Torah and Mitzvos, and I’m most thankful for being able to be thankful.” She wasn’t quite sure what I meant so I explained.

I told her that having everything we did was wonderful, but if we don’t appreciate it, we can’t be happy. By being able to recognize what we have, we enjoy it more. Therefore, I was thankful to HaShem that he gave me the capacity to thank Him.

When I was in Yeshiva they used to play music over the PA system to wake us up. (Don’t worry about the issur of waking to music, the system was staticy and the tapes often warped. It was far from pleasurable.) During Sefira however, they used to play tapes of R’ Avigdor Miller. I remember one specific lecture he gave talking about thankfulness.

He said, “When you thank Hakadosh Boruch Hu, you should think about all you have to be thankful for. If you have a house, thank Him for the house. And thank Him for the door to the house; and the lock, and the key to the lock. And a pocket to put the key in, and clothing to hold the pocket…” It went on and on. When we start thanking HaShem, really recognizing what He does for us constantly, the list is never-ending. But rather than being a burden, doing that is a real joy. It makes you feel loved and reminds you that as much as you think you’re missing in your life, you really have so much.

Just recently, I woke up in the middle of the night and went down the hall to raise the thermostat. As I did, I said, “Ribono Shel Olam, thank you for giving us heat. And a thermostat to control it. And money to pay the utility bill. And a job to make the money; and (as I looked around the kitchen) all these things we have in the house. And for our house, and the door to our house. And the keys to the door… (you get the idea.)

The Bais Yosef’s famous question for Chanuka is why we celebrate for eight days when there was already enough oil to burn for one day. In that case, the miracle was only seven days.

One of my favorite answers is that the fact that oil burns is itself a miracle. We take it for granted that oil burns but did you ever think about fire? It gives us light, and warmth, and enables us to make tools. Without fire, we couldn’t have glass, steel, or computers. And you can forget cholent or shwarma, even a cup of hot tea. We pretty much couldn’t function without it. And HaShem gave it to us as a gift the first Motsai Shabbos of the world’s existence. Talk about presents; that’s a winner!

So, the fact that oil burns is a miracle, as is the fact that they found it. How about the fact that they had the determination to utilize only pure oil despite an excuse to use impure oil? That divine inspiration is worthy of thanks too, and of course the fact that they won the war, and had the knowledge to fight guerilla warfare which was nearly unheard of in those days.

Chanuka is the time to reflect on everything HaShem does for us; the open miracles and the miracles disguised as natural, everyday occurrences. While there is no real reason to make parties involving food, as we celebrate a spiritual salvation, the ReM”A famously says that one should take these opportunities to recount the miracles HaShem has done for him or her, and this of course turns the “Chanuka Parties” into Seudos Mitzva.

As we do that, we can really begin to celebrate because we will feel how blessed we truly are, and how HaShem showers us with gifts on a daily basis, not just on Chanuka. And of course, the greatest of His presents, is His Presence – in our lives 24 hours a day 354 days a year (or more when there are extra Adars.)

Now when you’ve read all the above, aren’t you grateful that you can be grateful and thankful you can be thankful? Now go out there and celebrate the thanksgiving we should all be doing this Chanuka!



  1. Modim deRabbanan is named that way because it’s constructed from a bunch of different tefillos written by a bunch of different Rabbanim. The original nusach in the Gemara (Sotah 40a) was, “Modim anachnu lach, al she’anu modim lach”. We are grateful that we can express gratitude. That’s all. Expressing gratitude is a happiness and a great blessing! We don’t have enough time to thank Hashem for this alone, the opportunity to thank him! Modim anachnu lach! We are grateful that we can express gratitude!

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