Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Once a year 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. While they surely observed this feast hundreds of years ago, we as Jews had the custom of observing a thanksgiving offering first.

Rashi explains that a Korban Todah offering, a thanksgiving offering, was brought in Temple times by “someone who experienced a personal miracle” (Vayikra 7:12). Rashi gives as examples of such: one who successfully traveled over the ocean, one who traveled through the desert and safely reached his destination, one who was imprisoned in jail and was then released, and one who was very sick and later recovered.

Rav Frand makes the observation that true, each of these situations might involve risk or danger to some extent, but can they truly be categorized as “miracles”? What does this mean?

The truth of the matter is that while these situations may not be in the same category as the splitting of the Red Sea or other open miracles, they certainly reflect Divine providence, the hand of God watching over us, and do at least fall into the category of “hidden miracles” (nes nistar).

Today, for example, due to advances in medicine, we routinely hear that a person can have heart bypass surgery and be back on his feet a short time later. For several hours this person was not breathing on his own, his heart actually stopped beating—and yet we take his recovery for granted! Despite our growing accustomed to the “miraculous” it nevertheless remains miraculous.

The obligation to offer thanksgiving to the Almighty is to even offer it upon experiencing a so-called “natural miracle.” The Talmud tells us (Brachos 7b) that when Leah had her fourth child and called him Yehuda, saying, “This time I will thank the Almighty” (hapa’am odeh et Hashem) (Bereishit 29:35), it was the first time in the history of the world that someone expressed gratitude to the Almighty.

This statement puzzles many of the commentators. Do we really not find other places where people expressed gratitude prior to Leah? Was Noach’s offering of sacrifices to God upon exiting the ark not a form of thanksgiving to Him? The answer is that until Leah, the people who brought sacrifices or expressed thanks to the Almighty were expressing thanks for open miracles. Leah was the first to express thanks to him for even a hidden miracle.

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving Day in the States, may we always be mindful of the daily miracles in our lives, open and hidden. We need to be thankful to Hashem for all the good 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 need to appreciate even the seemingly mundane events of our day-to-day existence. That is why we start our morning Shacharit prayers by reciting 15 brachot (blessings). This is based on the teaching of the Gemara (Brachot 60b) where the sages instructed us that, as we experience the phenomena of each new day, we need to bless God for providing them. We need to appreciate each and every day that we can get up, have clothing on our back, see and hear the world around us and be able to take in all that surrounds us. That is why we even say the blessing Asher Yatzar after relieving ourselves.

We may no longer be bringing thanksgiving offerings to the Temple as in the past. However, we need to be mindful of the small, positive occurrences that take place in our lives on Thanksgiving Day and every day. Once we do that we can appreciate and be grateful for our daily miracles, both open and hidden.

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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