Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day is based on a long tradition of harvest festivals.  We give thanks for harvest because harvest means we may eat, and eating is basic for life.

The first reading for Thanksgiving Day includes this reflection on the sacredness of eating:

Deuteronomy 8:2-3 (NRSV)

2Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments.3He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

I enjoyed reading the following Jewish perspectives on this text.

Elisha Greenbaum writes:

A family friend once told me that she would notice a peculiar quirk whenever her father-in-law, a Holocaust survivor, would stay at her house.

Every night before retiring to bed, Zeide would wander into the kitchen and unobtrusively check out the contents of her pantry. He could not go to sleep unless there was bread in the house If there was bread on the shelf, he’d relax and head off to his bedroom. But if there was none, he would invariably leave the house to buy a loaf.

He never made a big fuss about it, and she does not remember whether he ever explicitly said that he could not go to sleep unless there was bread in the house, but that was his custom.

Obviously, his war experience influenced this behavior. We who have never been really hungry cannot possibly fathom the effect of the years of privation that he and his generation suffered in the ghettos and camps. But I can imagine, in an abstract sense, the anxiety of never really knowing where one’s next meal is coming from.

To read more about how Zeide's behavior is understandable, and about how all of this can lead us to reflect on food as a divine gift, read the rest here.

I also pass on to you this reflection on this same Torah portion from a Hasidic rabbi:

Man does not live by bread alone, but by the utterance of G-d's mouth does man live (Deuteronomy 8:3) 

This explains a most puzzling fact of life: how is it that man, the highest form of life, derives vitality and sustenance from the lower tiers of creation -- the animal, vegetable and mineral?
But the true source of nourishment is the "Divine utterance" in every creation, and, as the Kabbalists teach, the "lowlier" the creation, the loftier the divine energy it contains, like a collapsing wall, in which the highest stones fall the farthest.

          (R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi)

As we sit down to eat on Thanksgiving Day, these reflections can draw us closer to God, who generously provides every good thing, and without whose utterances we cannot live.

Remember that Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, and one of the temptations was to turn stones into bread.  He replied by quoting this text:

Man does not live by bread alone, but by the utterance of G-d's mouth does man live (Deuteronomy 8:3) 

Happy Thanksgiving!