Every year, on the fourth Thursday of November, friends and families all gather as one to celebrate Thanksgiving. We think back onto the previous year and give thanks for all the good that has happened and for the positive people in our lives. It is also a day where people go out and do good deeds for the less fortunate and open their doors to others. We also sit down and have a massive meal together. These actions and traditions of Thanksgiving strongly relate to the ideals of Judaism and what Jewish people should be doing in their daily lives.
On Thanksgiving people decide to go into their community and give back more than any other day of the year. Usually it is by donating their time to the local food pantry trying to feed people. So many people decide to do this that many places must turn away volunteers because it is too crowded. In Judaism, charity is not just a one day a year task, it is a commandment given to us by the Torah. In fact, tzedakah (charity) is such a highly-coveted value in Judaism that it is said to be the equivalent of all the 613 commandments given to us by the Torah combined. “Tzedakah and acts of kindness are the equivalent of all the mitzvot of the Torah” – Jerusalem Talmud, Pe'ah1:1.
Another wonderful aspect of Thanksgiving is the meal. When the Thanksgiving feast is served, everyone gathers around the table together to sit and eat as one unit. Many Jewish families do this every Friday night for Shabbat. On both Thanksgiving and Shabbat there are traditional foods that are always at the table. More important than the food though is the atmosphere of the room. Friends and family gather so everyone can see and talk with each other. On Thanksgiving people open their doors to just about anyone because nobody deserves to celebrate alone. It does not matter who you are and what background you come from. It is the same on Shabbat. We open our doors for a festive night because we want everyone to come in and experience the joyous occasion and learn our roots even if we do not share the same roots.
Thanksgiving has another interesting relation to Judaism that people may not realize. That is the Jewish holiday Sukkot and the original roots of Thanksgiving. The Jewish holiday of Sukkot is where Jews celebrate the harvest each year. They do this by building structures called Sukkah’s that usually have three to four walls and a roof that can let you see the sky above. Sukkah’s are traditionally decorated with homemade trinkets that are inspired by the harvest. If this sounds familiar it’s because the Puritans may have been inspired by the Jewish people in creating Thanksgiving. Before leaving for the New World, there was about a ten-year period where the Puritans were in Holland that overlapped with a group of Sephardic Jews. This was due to both groups at the time facing religious persecution. Although the two groups do not follow the same bible, the Puritans were exposed to the Jews celebrating Sukkot and the people thanking G-d for the year’s harvest, which the Puritans did agree with. From witnessing those Sukkot festivals came the idea of the Puritan’s first Thanksgiving in Plymouth.
This Thanksgiving remember the golden rule, treat people the same way that you want to be treated. This is more than just a Jewish value. It applies to life. It is always good to be reminded to treat everyone correctly because in the end we are all human and nobody is better than one another. It is wonderful that everyone has their set own of beliefs and values and we should respect them. So, come this Thanksgiving love your families, talk to your friends, and open your doors to someone new. You will be doing a great mitzvah, making a new friend and they will be thankful for you this Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!