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How Do Jews Celebrate Thanksgiving?

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

The idea of a “thanksgiving feast” originates in the Torah. After years of struggling with infertility, Abraham and Sarah had Isaac. The day Isaac was weaned, Abraham made “a great feast,” to thank G-d for the arrival and well being of their son.[1]

One of the types of animal sacrifices that Jews brought in the times of the Temple was the Todah or Thanksgiving Offering, which was an opportunity to express gratitude to G-d. This type of offering was usually brought after someone was saved from a dangerous situation. After bringing the offering, it was customary to host a thanksgiving feast with family and friends.[2]

Although there is a Jewish source for having a thanksgiving meal, we shouldn’t need the American holiday of Thanksgiving to remind us to be grateful. For Jews, everyday is Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, as we have a constant commandment to respect our parents. So too, the very essence of a Jew is to be grateful.

Jews, “Yehudi” in Hebrew, are named after Yehuda, one of Jacob’s sons and a leader of one of the 12 tribes. (King David is a descendent of Yehuda and we believe the Messiah will be as well). Yehuda stems from the Hebrew word Lehodot, which means, “to thank.” This is not a coincidence; Leah named Yehuda as an expression of gratitude to G-d for her baby.[3]

One can only express gratitude if he or she admits some sort of lack. If we didn’t lack something, we wouldn’t need to express gratitude after receiving help. From this we understand that the essence of a Jew is to express our thanks to G-d for our blessings because without Him, we would have nothing.[4] Our health, our livelihood, our family, our friends: G-d blesses us with so much.

One of our greatest exercises of free will is to give gratitude to those around us and to G-d. Indeed, the first thing a Jew says in the morning is “Modeh Ani.” In this prayer, we thank G-d for restoring our souls within us and giving us another day of life.[5]

We should wake up every morning grateful for another day of life with the many blessings we have. As I wrote in an earlier post, one way to incorporate an attitude of gratitude into your life is to write down five new things you are grateful for each day.

Happy Thanksgiving!

[1] http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/680369/jewish/What-Is-the-Source-for-the-Custom-of-Making-a-Thanksgiving-Feast.htm (Genesis 21:8 “And the child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on te day that Isaac was weaned.”)

[2] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

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