I always have mixed emotions about Thanksgiving, because on the one hand, at its heart are two of my most favorite things: family and food! But on the other hand, it not only signals the beginning of the commercial winter holiday season (in which we are bombarded by merchandising and inducements to unnecessarily part with our finances), but, to a degree, it’s not really my holiday. I am only a second-generation American-born Jew, so before WWII, my ancestors knew nothing of the American Thanksgiving holiday (though it is indirectly related to our own Autumn Feast, Sukot). So, while I enjoy Thanksgiving on a familial, individual, and American level (because I am very thankful indeed for this country), it also reminds me that I—as my ancestors have been for centuries—am a stranger in a strange land… a man caught between worlds.
So, I have resolved that, as a Messianic Jew, for myself and my family, our Thanksgiving tradition must include at least two vital aspects. First, it may not, in any way, be performed or enjoyed with the gusto and enthusiasm warranted by a Feast for Israel (i.e. Passover, Shavuot, Sukot). That is, we must not permit it to compete in our hearts and memories with the days and seasons appointed by Adonai. I assert this not in passive rebellion against an American holiday, but simply out of respect and in order to elevate the days that define Israel as a people—despite our dispersion amongst foreign lands.
Our second, non-negotiable family tradition is that we remind ourselves of the origins and purpose of the holiday (which, by the way, does not happen to be an excuse to overeat, then fall asleep watching football—as pleasurable as that may be). It is the festive memorial of those who overcame adversity in the hopes of finding freedom, and it serves as a reminder—especially during these uncertain times—to be thankful for the many and bountiful blessings from Adonai… the luxuries we so arrogantly consider as basic necessities (indoor plumbing? refrigeration? central heating and cooling? need I say more?).
“Always rejoice; continually pray; in every thing give thanks…” (1Thessalonians 5:16-18) Much more than merely good advice, this is the outlook we need to have today if we hope to endure what may lie ahead tomorrow. Those first pilgrims did not at first have the basics of food and shelter. Would we stand firm in our hope in God if everything were suddenly (or slowly) taken away? Would we still find cause to rejoice, have faith in prayer, and be thankful to our God if we had nothing? In whom is our hope? In whom is our joy? In whom do we trust when we don’t have enough (or when we think His provision is lacking)?
So, whether you are partaking in, ignoring, dreading, or wishing you had someone with whom to spend this American harvest holiday, I encourage you to keep this foremost in your mind: salvation comes not from the strength of our own hand, the wisdom of our own mind, nor the sweat of our own brow. We live, and eat, and dwell in comfort and safety only by the provision of the One to whom all glory, honor, praise and thanksgiving is due.
Come, [let] us sing to Adonai! [Let] us shout to the rock of our salvation! [Let] us come before His face with thanksgiving! With music [let] us shout to Him! For Adonai is a great God, and a great king over all gods. In His hand are the deep places of earth, and the strong places of hills are His. His is the sea, and He made it. And His hands formed the dry land. (Psalm 95:1-5)