When you go through the Jewish educational system in North America, there are certain stock questions and answers you get used to hearing annually.
Q: Why doesn’t our calendar have a day dedicated to this great idea?
A: Because for Jews, every day is Mother’s Day/ Father’s Day/ Thanksgiving/ St. Patrick’s Day!
OK, maybe not the last one. In fact, maybe not the penultimate one either, since there is a Jewish Thanksgiving — and it’s today, 13 Nissan.
In yesterday’s Torah portion, we read about the korban toda, the thanksgiving offering, accompanied by leavened loaves, usually a no-no in the Temple. Those who had emerged safely from life-threatening experiences–the classic examples are crossing the desert/ sea, serious illness and incarceration–bring the toda animal along with 40 loaves, ten of which are hametz. Passover is a great time to bring it, as people are making the pilgrimage anyway, but on the holiday itself, you can’t offer it. Nor is Passover Eve acceptable, since the prohibition of leaven starts midway through 14 Nisan. “Hence everybody brought it on the thirteenth” (Talmud Pesahim 13b).
In fact, Jerusalem was so full of stale toda loaves the next morning that they put two on the roof of the Temple portico as a hametz clock: when they were both present, you could keep eating your breakfast bagels; when one was taken away, you had to put down that croissant; and when the second was removed, you’d chuck your muffin into the flames.
It’s funny that 13 Nissan in Temple times was a day of thanksgiving, since it’s usually the most stressful day in modern Judaism. Frantic cleaning in advance of the search for hametz at dusk, dashing to the store for last-minute purchases before Hurricane Seder makes landfall (I hate to tell you, but they’re out of it already, whatever “it” is), arguing with the kids about how they can’t have bread anymore but they can’t have matza yet… Gratitude is not the emotion that comes to mind.
But maybe it should. Many of our first-world Passover problems are born of privilege. Ugh, we have so much food, so many appliances, so many rooms–what do we do with it all? But this holiday is all about a people that was once so downtrodden we had to save half a slice for later. As one of my congregants in Canada, a Holocaust survivor who was as horrified by the atrocities in Rwanda and Sudan as those she had personally experienced, reprimanded me when I tossed some bread past its expiration date: “Rabbi, bread you don’t throw away.”
So let’s try a little gratitude today. Personally, my family has been going through a very difficult time, and without the help of my parents and of our good friends like Zippy and Daniel — and Gila & Sarah, who listened to the gory details when we were at our lowest — I don’t know how we would have made it to today.
There is a Jewish Thanksgiving — what are you grateful for?