Some people wonder whether or not it is right to celebrate Thanksgiving. After all, perhaps it is an established non-Jewish holiday which we should not participate in. Rav Hutner holds that Thanksgiving might be considered a Christian holiday, and therefore should, in fact, not be celebrated. However, Rav Moshe Feinstein holds that celebrating Thanksgiving is Mutar. Nonetheless, he advises that one should not establish it as a fixed celebration every year. Rav Moshe is concerned because we do not want children growing up with the impression that Thanksgiving is a Jewish holiday and that it must be celebrated. Rav Soloveitchik had a different approach: Thanksgiving is a holiday of Hakarat HaTov. It is just an appropriate way of saying thank you, and is thus certainly permitted.
It is around this time of year that we should be considering how much Hakarat HaTov we really give to Hashem. Every day, we recite prayers that praise and acknowledge Hashem, but are we truly thanking Him? How much Kavanah do we have when we say the paragraphs of Mizmor LeTodah and Modim in Davening, both of which thank Hashem?
In Parashat VaYeitzei, Ya’akov travels to his uncle Lot and asks that Hashem provide him with “Lechem LeEchol UVeged LiL’bosh,” “Bread to eat and clothes to wear” (BeReishit 28:20). What purpose do the words “LeEchol” and “LiL’bosh” serve? Is it not obvious that he will eat the bread and wear the clothes? Rav Grossman explains that there are many sick people in the world who have so much food and clothing but cannot enjoy it. Ya’akov is healthy and able to enjoy his bread and clothing. He adds those two words to emphasize this, and thank Hashem for his food and clothing. Even while being chased by Eisav, Ya’akov manages to show gratitude towards Hashem.
Rav Yosef Mendelovitch was thrown into prison by the Soviet government in the late 1900’s for eleven years, just for keeping Judaism. While in prison, he was not allowed to see his father, because he refused take off his Kippah. He understood that if he stopped keeping one Mitzvah, he might stop keeping other Mitzvot. In the labor camps, he made every effort to observe Shabbat, Daven, inspire other Jews to stay Jewish, and of course fear Hashem. The primary idea expressed by Rav Mendelovitch is that as long as every Jew performed Mitzvot, the Soviet Government could not eradicate Judaism. Years after he was freed, Rav Mendelovitch went to Yeshivah to learn and became a soldier in Tzahal to show gratitude to Hashem.
In Parashat MiKeitz, after Yosef is promoted to the position of assistant to Par’oh, he is reunited with his long-lost brothers. Later, in the beginning of Parashat VaYigash, he reveals his identity to his brothers and immediately asks, “HaOd Avinu Chai?” “Is our father still alive?” (Bereishit 45:3). Yosef is eternally grateful to his father for all that he has done for him, and is concerned for his well-being. Even at the most shocking and powerful of moments, Yosef keeps his values in order and knew to ask about his father.
Thanksgiving is a designated time to reflect and recognize how fortunate we are in so many ways. We must give Hakarat HaTov for all that we have. I believe Thanksgiving should not be just once a year, but every day. As we live our life, we should enjoy ourselves, but at the same time, we must always acknowledge all that Hashem has done for us.