At the amazing Pacific Jewish Center Chanukah party yesterday, I spoke about using stories to keep our Judaism vibrant. After all, the Torah and Talmud are books of law but are replete with stories. Chanukah in particular is only told through stories as it is not mentioned in Tanach and the scant references in the Mishnah don’t inform us of the day’s obligations. Our knowledge of the day comes only thought stories. Even Maimonides, in his Mishneh Torah, which is devoid of storytelling for the most part, tells the story of Chanukah. So I urged everyone to tell Chanukah stories in their homes and add some warmth to the Mitzvahs of the day.
There is no more perfect secular holiday than Thanksgiving. It has a universal message, warm traditions, and is versatile enough to work to all kinds of people. I think it’s especially wonderful that so many Jewish people, including Orthodox Jews, have embraced Thanksgiving.
On a Jewish level there is nothing more basic than giving thanks. Gratitude begins the moment we arise with Modeh Ani. But that is a private declaration of appreciation to God. Thanksgiving gives us an opportunity to build greater gratitude with our friends and family. It’s a time to publicly give thanks to God and all the people in our lives who deserves appreciation. It’s true that we must be thankful everyday, but setting aside one day a year as a communal expression of appreciation is a wise tradition.