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Thanksgiving: Finding Joy In Difficult Times

Thanksgiving is a holiday that looks at joy from a Jewish perspective. In Judaism, Simcha, joy, is not just a feeling, but an act. Joy and happiness, Simcha, means sharing our bounty with others, and, therefore, when we bring our full selves to the ‘table’, we also bring our sadness with us. We see this idea embedded in the idea of the creation of the Thanksgiving holiday as we know it today in America.

I shared the following words with you last week, the same words I shared at the Boca Raton Interfaith Clergy Association’s annual Interfaith Thanksgiving service:

“The true father of the Thanksgiving holiday that we enjoy today as a national holiday was Abraham Lincoln who declared, on October 3, 1863: “I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

It was a day that expanded what gratitude meant. He said it was a day to ask God to take care of the widows, orphans, and mourners as a result of the Civil War that was still raging. He asked all Americans, on this day, to pray to God to heal our wounds, and bring us together.

On November 19, 1863, just seven days before the new national holiday was to be celebrated, President Abraham Lincoln delivered arguably the greatest, and shortest speech, in American history, the Gettysburg address, where he asked the country to recognize a rebirth of freedom. But more than anything, it was a call to unity and healing, on the blood-soaked grounds where brother fought brother.”

We see here that Thanksgiving was celebrated as Americans were literally mourning their lost relatives during a bloody civil war. In our case, we are celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday in the midst of several mass shootings in our country, including a hate-filled

attack on an LGBTQ+ club in Colorado, a mass shooting at a Walmart, amongst others. In Israel, a 16-year-old boy, Aryeh Schupak, was murdered in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem.

Our tradition believes that we cannot ignore the suffering around us; we cannot ‘pretend’ to feel happy when we are experiencing heartbreak. However, our tradition also teaches that ‘those who sow in tears will reap in joy.’ We believe that the future can be brighter if we work toward a more peaceful future together. Coming to the table, together, and welcoming each other in as whole individuals, is that first step toward ‘reaping in joy’. As we mourn the losses of the past week, let us also remember that the greatest response to these maddening and disgusting acts is to come together to build a brighter future. Our enemies want to divide us; but our tradition teaches us that we can change the world, for the better, together. Simcha, joy, means sharing our bounty.

Our tradition teaches us: there is nothing more whole, than a broken heart. Let us share our sustenance with each other, and heal the broken hearts among us.

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