Standing in line at a local super market today, the lines were noticeably longer. The gas stations were buzzing with cars, eager to fuel up, and spend the day amongst family and friends. As Americans, we are all preparing for Thanksgiving.
Our calendar is dotted throughout the year, giving thanks to different individuals or entities. On Veteran's day we give thanks to members of the Armed forces. On Memorial Day we give thanks to the courageous men and women that made the ultimate sacrifice defending our country. On Labor Day, we express gratitude to the American workforce for all their hard work. On other selected days, we pause to thank different individuals who have made valuable contributions to our nation.
Then there is Thanksgiving. The day we thank G-D for all that He does for us in our lives.
Our founding fathers recognized that there is a Supreme Being who provides and cares for each individual. The strong morals upon which our republic was founded, express themselves to this day. Looking at the dollar bill and seeing “In God We Trust” is a reassurance that, as a people, we still recognize and acknowledge the Source of all our achievements.
What is it about this day that is designated to give thanks? Don’t we always give thanks? In Jewish tradition, the first words we utter when waking in the morning express our thanks to G‑d for returning our souls to our bodies. The day is filled with thank yous. There is even a blessing recited upon exiting the restroom, thanking G‑d for normal bodily function!
In the Bible, there is one particular commandment which is completely devoted to expressing gratitude — the command of of Bikkurim (Deuteronomy 26:1–12). During the Temple era, every farmer was commanded to bring the first fruits which ripened in his orchard to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There he would recite a passage thanking G‑d for the Land and its bountiful harvest, and the fruits were given to the kohanim (priests).
The uniqueness of this command to express gratitude is different than all the other ways we thank G‑d: bikkurim involves more than just words — it requires a commitment; the gratitude must express itself in deeds. Bikkurim implies that our thankfulness to G‑d cannot remain in the realm of emotions, thoughts, or even speech, but must also move us to action.
On a deeper level, perhaps what Thanksgiving holiday stands for, is more than just the words “thank you”. The day of Thanksgiving is a day in which we find ways on how to translate these words into action, how to make this world more G-dly.