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Past Weekly Shabbat Message
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Jewish Heritage
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Rabbi Dovid Saks
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rabbi@jewishheritage
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(Torah Portion Toldos) Thanksgiving!
When our forefather Yitzchok wished to impart the patriarchal blessing on his son Aisav, his wife Rivka, aware that Aisav was unworthy, instructed her son Yaacov to present himself before Yitzchok disguised as Aisav.

Yaacov voiced his concern to his mother “What if my father realizes that I am Yaacov? He will curse me instead of blessing me.”

Rivka responded, “Don’t worry, if that should happen, the curse will be upon me.”

Yaacov thereby readily agreed to present himself before his father.

Reb Dovid Feinstein asks, what convinced Yaacov to take the bold move? After all, could a curse directed toward Yaacov shift over to Rivka?

Rabbi Feinstein explains: At first Yaacov thought that he would be going to his father, and any curse uttered would be directed towards him alone. Although his father’s curse could not be transferred to his mother, Rivka assured Yaacov, that as a loving mother, she would consider any curse directed towards her son as if it was directed at her, thus sharing in his plight.

Yitzchok understood and felt his mother’s determination and resolve, and it gave him the confidence to present himself as Aisav, which as we see, bore wonderful results. Perhaps, this concept not only applies to a parent/child relationship but to friends as well. One who sees a friend struggling, insecure, or stressed out, and reaches out to offer encouragement, give moral support, and show he sincerely cares, will bring about remarkable and positive results.

As Americans we are celebrating Thanksgiving.

The notion that the citizens of the United States of America voluntarily offer thanksgiving to G-d for their freedom and the benevolent services offered by individuals and their government speaks volumes about the wonderful country in which we live.

As Jews, offering thanksgiving is nothing new. We don’t have to look beyond our title, Jews, to appreciate that thanksgiving is an intrinsic part of our being. The Hebrew word for Jew – Yehudi - is translated as “one who offers thanks.”

Our title is derived from the name of our tribal head, Yehudah, who was so named because his mother Leah expressed deep gratitude to the Almighty for giving her an unexpected gift, her fourth son.

We assumed the name, Yehudi – Jew, after the disappearance of the Ten lost Tribes, because the majority of the remaining Jews descended from the Tribe of Yehudah.

The four letters of G-d’s name appear in the name Yehudah, symbolizing the message that we are invested with G-dliness which we convey to the world.

Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna o.b.m. shared the following profound thought: Since everything that exists in the world is the creation of G-d and all belongs to Him, it is impossible for us to return anything to G-d as a gesture of our thankfulness. The only way to do so, said Rabbi Sarna, is by calling out to G-d and expressing our thanksgiving and gratitude to the Almighty through prayer, and through strengthening our service and observance of the Torah. Our set daily prayers are replete with references of thanksgiving which affords us the opportunity to express our gratitude and thankfulness to the Almighty.

A while back I heard the following question and insightful explanation: Why is it when the Amidah prayer – the eighteen benedictions – is repeated by the Chazan – the leader of the prayers, the congregation responds with saying Amain – affirming each blessing. Yet, when the Chazan reaches the prayer of Modim – thanksgiving, the whole congregation chimes in and expresses a prayer of gratitude together with the Chazan. Why can’t the congregation simply affirm the Chazan’s expression of thanksgiving?

The answer is that when one makes a statement or asks for something, it suffices if those listening merely affirm what was said. But when someone expresses gratitude to the Almighty, one cannot simply affirm or nod their head, one has to verbally express their gratitude together with the Chazan and the rest of the congregation. Such is the nature of offering sincere thanksgiving.

So what does eating turkey have to do with Thanksgiving? Well, in Modern Hebrew, the name for Turkey is Tarnagol Hodu – It is interesting, that in the context of our prayers, the word Hodu means – Give thanks!

Wishing you a restful, peaceful and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks
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