As we move on from Thanksgiving towards the holiday season, I thought I would share with you a short portion from Berachot (Blessings) 54b2 in the Talmud, our Oral Torah. It teaches that there are “Four types of people (who) must give thanks: Seafarers, those who go through wildernesses, one who was ill and recovered, and one who was incarcerated in prison and came out.” In Biblical times, sea voyages and wilderness journeys were often dangerous undertakings- if the weather were not enough, there were brigands and the possibility of personal attack. Early medicine was equally unpredictable, and many who became ill died of their illnesses. Those who were incarcerated suffered in dire conditions- the text poetically says “those who sat in darkness and the shadow of death”- and often prayed for a ransom to be paid to grant them their freedom again. If a person survived any of these four life-threatening events, they were expected to express their gratitude to G-d with the following blessing: “Blessed are You who bestows beneficial kindnesses.”Unlike other sacrifices which were initiated as a response to human shortcomings, Rabbi Bradley Artson notes that “this offering was meant as a response to the abundant goodness of God. Whereas other sacrifices attempted to compensate for human imperfection or even evil, the Korban Todah is a celebration of life and its wonders.” 
     But the Rabbis did not feel that it was sufficient to simply state the blessing privately. They decreed that those who felt they had personally experienced G-d’s saving presence should declare it publicly (“Let them exalt Him in the assembly of people”) and bring a thanksgiving offering to the Temple- an offering of food that was meant to be shared.  It is often possible, as we look at current events around us and see a world in turmoil, to feel that the G-d of history is disengaged from human events, or wonder how such suffering could occur. The Rabbis believed that if a person felt his survival defied the law of probabilities, he should attest to it publicly, and not “hoard” the miracle. In this way, the community “shared” in the miraculous event, eating the thanksgiving meal together and bearing witness to the miracle as a group.
         So, as we relaxed and enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal surrounded by family, it is interesting to think about those pilgrims of long ago, whose journey to the shores of what is now Massachusetts was fraught with danger- some had been imprisoned for practicing their religion; they endured a long sea voyage to arrive in the wilderness, where many became ill and struggled to survive. So, it was not surprising that in 1621, when a bounteous harvest of wheat, corn, pumpkins, barley, nuts, and berries, and larders full of venison, salmon, herring, cod, and duck awaited- the Pilgrims felt like giving thanks for their salvation. That they thought to do it publicly, with an assembly of Native Americans there to share it with them, might not be so surprising either. Perhaps it could be said that they were simply “advertising the miracle.”
          The Shaw JCC Early Childhood Department would also like to “advertise the miracle” by donating cans of food to area food banks for the holiday season. If you would like to participate, simply bring canned food items to the collection bin outside the preschool office or outside Ms. Delagrange’s room in the Lippman wing between Dec. 2 and Dec. 17, 2014. The food collected will be transported to Summit Mall to become part of a giant “Canorah” (a menorah made of food cans) display on Thursday, Dec. 18 at 6:30 p.m., and will later be distributed to the needy in our area. You are welcome to join Myra Feinberg from our Senior Dept. and myself as we celebrate the season! It is a wonderful opportunity to bring joy to others- as the flyer says, “We can light up a life!”
        Rabbi David Teutsch has said: “What binds an authentic community together is its collective understanding of what is ultimately important, and its shared experience, which reinforces that understanding. Like a magnet that pulls a confused pile of iron fillings into a beautiful pattern of shared orientation, a shared vision of ultimacy moves members from an amorphous crowd into the beauty of community.” Thank you for being a part of the Shaw JCC Community and I hope you and your families enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving!


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