The primarily American holiday Thanksgiving 2015 is imminent and it precipitates thoughts about what a glorious country this is. Yet Thanksgiving is a holiday from Judaism.
Most Americans, including my children, believe that the world’s first Thanksgiving took place in 1621on Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts. 90 Native Americans and 50 English Pilgrim settlers celebrated the land and the crops and foods that were harvested. Like the Jewish holiday of Sukkos, there is the dual significance of historical and agricultural. Interestingly, Thanksgiving remained in this country a one-time deal until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of the Civil War, proclaimed a national holiday for the last Thursday of every November as “a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.”
Yet the Torah commands us about thanksgiving in Deuteronomy 26:1-2 with themitzvah or commandment of bikkurim. During the Temple era, each farmer was commanded to bring to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem the first fruits of his orchard. At the Temple, the farmer would thank God for the Land and its harvest, and then he would give the fruits to the kohanim (priests). The Midrash states that the Land of Israel was given to the Jews as a reward for the mitzvah of bikkurim they would observe after entering the Land.
Judaism is a religion replete with “thank yous.” Think of the day of a Jew — from the moment when we open our eyes each morning and recite Modeh Ani, thanking the One Up Above for restoring our souls to our bodies. We pray three times daily. We thank Hashem before and after eating. And after exiting the bathroom, we recite Abayei’s bracha composed in the 4th century for a healthy body. It’s difficult to understand then the special significance of bikkurim. With all the thanking which occurs on a daily basis, why the need this specific mitzvah? And why the great reward for this particular form of expressing thanks?
The late Lubavitzer Rebbe Menachemn Mendel Schneerson tz”l pointed out that all the brachos are important but are words only. Bikkurim, on the other hand, requires a commitment to action which moves us beyond our heads and speech and into another realm.
Clearly, without the Temple in Jerusalem, we are unable to celebrate the mitzvah ofbikkurim. Yet we learn so much from this mitzvah – We give our very best back to this world.
I wish to thank the United States for giving us the opportunity to live with freedom of speech and the freedom to observe our religion which started at Mount Sinai and has continued unbroken all these millennia. Let’s all join together to thank this country and what it has done for us.
God bless America.