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Va-yishlah 5779: Thanksgiving

Va-yishlah 5779: Thanksgiving

Nov 21, 2018

In this week's Torah reading, Va-yishlah, we learn of Jacob's confrontation with his brother Esau after 20 years away.

In preparation for this confrontation, Jacob prays, acknowledging that "I am unworthy of all the kindness that You have so steadfastly shown Your servant: with my staff alone I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps" (Genesis 32:11).

In this pivotal and uncertain moment, Jacob reflects back on where he was when he last crossed the river, with only the proverbial shirt on his back. He is now the proud patriarch of a large family and prosperous household. He pauses to offer his gratitude for God's steadfast kindness in his life that has brought him to this moment.

This week, we celebrate Thanksgiving, which is not a Jewish holiday but whose themes resonate deeply with Jewish sensibilities. We take our name as Jews (yehudim) from Judah, about whose birth we read last week. His name emerges from his mother's statement, "This time I will give thanks (odeh -from the same root) to the Lord" (Genesis 29:35). So our very name as Jews means, in a sense, those who give thanks.

May the special time with family and friends this week give us many opportunities to pause before we cross our own Jordan rivers in order to take stock of the ways we are blessed and all that which we must offer thanks and gratitude.