Happy day after Thanksgiving! I hope the turkey was delicious, the pies were tasty and your time with family and friends was meaningful. Most of all, I hope yesterday was an opportunity to slow down and take the time to express gratitude for all of life’s blessings. While Thanksgiving is a truly American holiday, it embodies one of the core Jewish values- gratitude. The rabbis of old encouraged us to recite 100 blessings a day. Within our tradition, a blessing is an opportunity to pause from what we are doing, recognize the good that surrounds us, and express our thanks for it. Thanksgiving may be just one day of the year, but Judaism encourages us to make each and every day a day filled with gratitude.
At its most basic, gratitude is the result of our recognizing the ways in which we impact one another for good. But as Thanksgiving 2018 becomes a memory, we are reminded that that impact is not limited to the people around us.
A beautiful rabbinic teaching states,
“When God created Adam, God led him around all of the trees in the Garden of Eden. God told him, ‘See how beautiful and praiseworthy are all of my works. Everything I have created has been created for your sake. Think of this and do not corrupt the world; for if you corrupt it, there will be no one to set it right after you.'” (Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13)
From the beginning, Jewish tradition understood that what we do affects everything around us. An article in Business Insider UK drove that point home to me this week. In the last few years, it notes, elephants in Mozambique have changed in significant and unexpected ways. In the past, it observes, just 2-4% of adult female elephants lacked large, impressive tusks. A recent study, however, found that number has soared past 30% in recent years. The reason, researchers note, is that poachers have hastened natural selection. Elephants with large tusks have been killed in record number while those with small or no tusks have been left to breed, giving them a genetic advantage.
The article brought tears to my eyes. After all, recognizing the the wholesale slaughter of these majestic animals to simply acquire their tusks is horrifying. But, digging a bit deeper, it is a reminder of a basic Jewish understanding- we are connected to everyone and everything around us. For better or for worse, what we do, Judaism teaches, impacts and changes the world around us.
As 2019 approaches, may we each be aware of our power to impact one another and to shape the world. And may our actions reflect our gratitude for one another and all that surrounds us.
Rabbi Daniel Cohen
PS: In light of the recent decision by AirBNB to delist rentals in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and the ongoing debate about Linda Sarsour and the Women’s March, a number of you have asked my opinion on where the line between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism should be drawn. There is no simple answer and the political and moral debate over construction in the West Bank certainly makes the conversation more complex, but my teacher Yossi Klein Halevi offers one answer.
I agree with Yossi but recognize that others might not. I’m curious what you all think about Yossi’s explanation.
**Shabbat Services this evening will take place at 6pm in the Gellis-Green Chapel.
**Minyan will begin at 9:15am tomorrow in the Gross Beit Tefillah