April 9, 2024
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April 9, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Once a year in America we have a special day set aside when we are asked to pause and give thanks for all the blessings we have experienced. The tradition of a Thanksgiving day feast is often attributed to the Pilgrims celebrating a successful harvest year in 1621. In the times of the Temple in Jerusalem, those who wanted to express gratitude for the good things that happened in their life would bring a sacrifice, a “korban todah,” an offering of thanksgiving. The question is, how often do we say “thank you” or otherwise express our gratitude? Why do we need to wait for one day a year to do so?

The Midrash on Parshat Bereishit states that the world was created for the sake of three things that are called “reishit,” firsts. First, the world was created for the sake of the nation of Israel who is called “reishit.” Second, the world was created for the sake of Torah, which is called “reishit.” Finally, the world was created for the sake of the mitzvah of “bikkurim,” first fruits, which is called “reishit.” What was so significant about “bikkurim” that we would think the world was created on its behalf? The Alshich answers that the mitzvah of bikkurim contains within it something that is fundamental to being a human being—the obligation for people to express their gratitude (hakarat hatov.) This expression of gratitude is so basic and primary that the whole world’s creation was actualized just for this mitzvah. This teaches us an important lesson and trains us to maintain an attitude of gratitude.

The Torah instructs us to express gratitude toward birds and dogs as well. There’s a “minhag” (custom) to feed the birds on Shabbos Shira. This custom is based on a midrash that centers around the rebellious Datan and Aviram regarding the collection of manna on Shabbos. Moshe told the Jews that there would be no manna delivered on Shabbos. They were to collect two portions on Friday, instead. Datan and Aviram secretly put out their own extra manna in an effort to undermine Moshe and make him look like a liar and a false prophet. In order to protect Moshe’s integrity, the birds came and ate up this falsely planted manna. In order to show gratitude to the birds, we reward them to this very day by putting out bread crumbs and food for them on Shabbos Shira.

Similarly, The Torah related that when the new Jewish nation left Egypt, the dogs did not bark (Shemot 11:7). The Mechilta writes that it was for this reason that the Torah specified that the meat of a “tereifa” (a not properly slaughtered animal) should be thrown to the dogs (Shemot 22:30). This teaches that Hashem rewards all creatures. This is another example of gratitude.

If we need to show gratitude to birds and dogs for what they did nearly three thousand years ago, how much more so do we have to show gratitude to individuals in our current lives who do so much for us. This would include our parents, spouses, our family members, our friends, our rebbes/teachers and our mentors, all of whom we may owe a debt of gratitude.

Finally, we need to show gratitude to Hashem for all the big and small miracles in life that we experience. The fact that we can see, hear, taste and smell, that we are in good health, that we have a roof over our heads and that we enjoy so many of the bounties of life should not be taken for granted.

The Ben Ish Chai tells us that, nowadays, we no longer offer sacrifices or offer “bikkurim” in the Temple. Still, when we are grateful for the small miracles in life we should take the opportunity to give back. It is good to give thanks but we should also “pay it forward,” helping others so that they too can appreciate life’s bounties.

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving Day in the States, may we always be grateful for what we have and those who have made our lives so much better. We need to be mindful of the daily miracles in our lives. We need to be thankful to Hashem for all the goodness we experience in life. We cannot take for granted our health, our loved ones, or our standard of living, for example. All it takes is for some day-to-day activity or relationship to stop functioning routinely and our lives can be suddenly thrown off track. We, therefore, need to maintain an attitude of gratitude on Thanksgiving Day and every day throughout the year.


Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist in private practice. He is president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos Gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn, NJ, and is a member of the International Rabbinical Society. He can be reached at [email protected].

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