Give thanks for more than that 16-pound turkey on the table


Genesis 28:10–32:3

Hosea 12:13-14:10

Thanksgiving is my favorite American holiday. Its message of thanking God for the blessings in our lives transcends religious and ethnic background. It links all of us as we acknowledge the blessings of liberty and prosperity that have characterized the United States. It is a great blessing to see people of all races and faiths find a meal that we can share. In a time when there is so much that divides us, Thanksgiving as a day of faith and giving thanks unites us.

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. First established by George Washington, Thanksgiving is a day to thank God for “for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us,” as George Washington put it. Our Thanksgiving practices are redolent of Americana, from eating turkey to watching a mediocre football game. Yet underneath, something of great meaning remains.

As Jews, we owe the United States a special debt of gratitude. When Europe restricted the rights of Jews to own property or enter professions, the United States from its inception provided a safe haven and an open society. Never in United States history has the government sponsored hatred of Jews. Few if any other Western countries can make such a boast. The home that we as a community have made for ourselves is a great blessing that we often forget. For me, Thanksgiving is one day in which I recall how appreciative I am for living in this country.

My family, along with many others, begins our Thanksgiving feast by going around the table and mentioning those things for which we are thankful. Family and health always lead the list. The blessing of being together for a happy occasion similarly moves us to give thanks. And specifically to give thanks to God.

This year at Thanksgiving dinner, let us read the following prayer immediately prior to reciting HaMotzi, the blessing over the bread:

O Lord our God, and God of our Ancestors:

We thank You for the blessings of peace, prosperity and health that abound in this great country. To be together today is a great blessing. We acknowledge those loved ones no longer with us and thank You for the blessings of their lives, the values learned and the special moments shared.

The psalmist asks, “Who are we? What are we? What is the meaning of our lives?” This year we have learned how important it is to value each day, how fragile life can be. We ask for Your help and protection over our armed forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world. Help their dedication to freedom, democracy and security become real.

We thank You for the blessings of our lives, for the value of our days. We thank You for the strength and wealth of this great country. We thank You for the peaceful home You have granted us here, calm in a stormy world.

We thank You for our souls and for the lives daily in Your care. Each day is a miracle from You — today we notice the blessing of that miracle and thank You as You deserve every day.

We ask also for Your continued protection over the State of Israel. A beacon for freedom in the Middle East, Israel stands strong but faces many challenges. Grant her leaders the wisdom to face the future and find the uncertain path to peace. Bring an end to terror, violence and bloodshed so that again all that will be heard in Jerusalem is “the voice of bride and bridegroom, the voice of young people rejoicing in song.”

May we soon and speedily see peace throughout the world, a day in which nation will no longer fight against nation, a day in which war will fade away as a bad memory. Let the day soon and speedily come when we beat our swords into plows, our guns into spades to work the Earth. On that day peace will come across all the lands, and the world will come to know You.

Praised are You, God, Our God and Ruler of all, who brings forth bread from the Earth.

Barukh atah Adonai, eloheinu melekh ha-olam, hamotzi lechem min ha-aretz.

Rabbi David Booth is the spiritual leader at Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto. He can be reached at [email protected].