This week was Thanksgiving (חג ההודיה), but for Jews we are already called, “The People of Thanksgiving.”
We are named יהודים (Yehudim) after יהודה (Yehudah), the son of Isaac and Leah because Leah said (Genesis 29:35): “הפעם אודה את יהוה.” (“This time let me thank G-d”). Also as Jews, we are not just called the People of Thanksgiving, but we are actively supposed to say 100 blessings a day thanking G-d, so in the true sense of the word, everyday is Thanksgiving Day for the Jewish people.
What characterizes us as a Jewish people? We are the עם סגולה, “the chosen people” by Hashem. We are not chosen as better than anyone else, but rather we are chosen to carry the torch to “be a light unto nations,” fighting for good over evil and for Tikkun Olam (“perfecting the world”). Moreover, as the chosen people, we are reminded of הר גריזים (Mount Gerizim where the blessings are said) and הר עיבל (Mount Eval where the curses are said) as Hashem told us that if we follow His commandments, we will get the blessings, but if we stray from following Him, then the curses (Deuteronomy 11:26-29).
What’s interesting is that as the People of Thanksgiving, it is precisely when have the curses or the blessings in our lives that we are most likely to actually forget Hashem. When we are cursed, G-d forbid, like in the death and destruction of the Holocaust or the destruction of our holy Temple in Jerusalem and the long exile and persecution that we had to endure, it is easy to question “Where is G-d?” and many even to abandon their faith altogether. Similarly, when we are so abundantly blessed, and we become fat from success, wealth, power, and honor, then we are apt to think “My strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:17).
Therefore as Yehudim, the mission and challenge for us is to always remember Hashem, walk in His way, and give constant thanks to Him for everything He does. We need to realize that G-d has a bigger plan for us and the world, and that ultimately everything that He does for us is for the best. Interestingly enough this year, Thanksgiving fell on the new month (Rosh Chodesh) Kislev, which is the month of Hanukah, miracles, and our thanksgiving to G-d for the one vial of oil that lasted eight days and our salvation by G-d Almighty. On Rosh Chodesh, we say in the Hallel prayers: “הודו ליי כי טוב כי לעולם חסדו”—”give thanks to the L-rd because His kindness endures forever.”
Jews are the People of Thanksgiving not only on Thanksgiving, but every day of the year. We are thankful for being the chosen people and for our redemption and return to the Promised Land of Israel; we are thankful for the life and opportunities that G-d has given to us; we are thankful in good times and G-d forbid, in the bad times; and we are thankful because, yes, ultimately everything from G-d is for the good.