Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Happy Thanksgiving to my Readers

The holiday of Thanksgiving sounds a note that resonates well in Jewish tradition. To me, the Shabbos that follows Thanksgiving is always "Shabbos Thanksgiving". When the entire nation has concluded a holiday devoted to prayerful gratitude, making a blessing over bread and wine , honouring G-d as Creator of all worlds has a special resonance. For me, the custom of eating turkey carries over into the Shabbos meal rather than on Thursday. It is a way of acknowledging the positive aspects of our surroundings that can be incorporated into a Jewish life and participation in the larger society.

What is most important to me is to focus not only on the physical gifts of a benevolent Creator but upon the kindness of revealed law and wisdom. We are not set adrift in a world buffeted by random events. We are given a law and prophecy. We are given the free choice and the means to observe and affirm or to transgress and deny.

It is comforting to reflect on the fact that we are not alone, that there is a Greater Power. We have the choice to bring about an ideal society or something g-d forbid far from it through our actions.

One of my favourite Talmudic stories speaks of a man given a tour of heaven and hell. He is told to look through the window of a dining hall in hell. The diners are lunging at their food, splattering it on their faces and upon the tablecloth. They have no elbows and cannot feed themselves. There is desperation in their faces.

The stunned observer is next shown a dining hall in paradise. The diners are eating and conversing quietly. they are nodding to the food in front of them and conversing amicably. They also have no elbows, but instead of lunging at the table, they are feeding each other.

The difference in this parable between heaven and hell was the attitude of the diners. Ingenuity put to the service of altruism transformed desperate and chaotic hunger into harmonious transcendence of individual limitations.

The parable is a metaphor for our human condition. All of us have critical deficiencies that preclude self sufficiency. Our potential for perfection requires not only the physical world and prophetic guidance but our practical intellect and each other. As a society we can strive for perfection. As individuals we are limited. In this spirit I wish my readers a happy Thanksgiving.

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Following is a traditional arrangement by Fairport Convention called "Now Be Thankful." It sounds a note of gratitude for physical and spiritual gifts. The symbolic language is drawn from a tradition other than my own but resonates some universal themes. It is very well suited to the spirit of today's holiday


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