There are some things that go together like peanut butter and jelly. Thanksgiving and grief don’t seem to co-exist, or do they? These days we are praying for the hostages to be released, the safety of the IDF, praying for innocent Palestinians to be safe, and for the safety of Jewish people all over the world. In a world that shouts for the extinction of Jews as they march in cities all over the world, what is there to be thankful about? Our grief can overwhelm our thankfulness, making the holiday of Thanksgiving unimportant this year.
In Judaism, grief and thankfulness are not mutually exclusive. Whenever we read the psalms we see the progression of pain, anger, grief, then the pivotal point where there is thankfulness, praise and joy. In Psalm 31:21-22 it says, “Praise be to the Lord, for he showed me the wonders of his love when I was in a city under siege. In my alarm I said, ‘I am cut off from your sight!’ Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help.” This psalm describes a person in a city under siege, which is a very difficult situation. Even though it seemed as if there was no hope, no way he could be rescued, the Lord heard his cry. This is why he starts out these verses with “Praise be to the Lord”.
Our lives are set up to thank God from the moment we get up in the morning to saying Kaddish for our loved ones. In the prayers Birkat ha Shachar (the Dawn Blessings) that are said each morning, it begins with the first words, Modeh Ani (I thank you) which begin the day with thanksgiving. In fact, this word can mean to confess or admit. So, as we wake up in the morning, we thank God and admit that we are in need and are vulnerable. When we say Kaddish we recite a 13th century Aramaic prayer which is filled with blessings to God during our most difficult times of mourning. Kaddish, even though it’s often referred to as “A Prayer for the Dead” is really a psalm of thanksgiving to God. It never mentions death or mourning, just thanksgiving. In the mourner’s Kaddish there is the line, “May His great name be blessed” this is found in Psalm 113:2 and Daniel 2:20. It is also found in Job 1:21, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised”. Job makes this statement after he hears that his children have all died. He tears his clothes, shaves his head and worships the Lord after hearing of the death of his children. No matter what God has allowed to happen to Jobs family, he is going to trust and praise the Lord. This verse gives us the tools we need to approach this Thanksgiving holiday.
On this Thanksgiving we have an opportunity to praise, thank and glorify God for all of His goodness. It is also an opportunity to remember the orphans, the widows, the hostages, the Palestinians who are blinded by hate, and to pray for Israel. As we gather together around our tables, let us not forget that God is also there. Together grief and thanksgiving make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18