As I’ve written in this space and taught in shul before, when the Pilgrims came to America -- the New World, as deeply religious people they sought Biblical inspiration to help them formally express their gratitude. They chose the festival of Sukkot to serve as the model for their celebration, which ultimately became known and celebrated as the American holiday of Thanksgiving.
Yet expressing gratitude was but the culmination – what were they expressing gratitude for? The Pilgrims left everything they knew in the Old World – both the comfort of the familiar and the troubles of their circumstances. It couldn’t have been easy to leave – fear of the trip, of the unknown that lay ahead. No doubt Biblical inspiration was at play here as well: none other than Avraham Avinu – Abraham – who was the model par excellence for one leaving everything negative behind to forge a new life, a better life, a Godly life (this foundational Jewish story is found in the Torah portion Lech L’cha which we read recently in shul). Abraham carried with him, and was bolstered by, great strength, courage, conviction, vision, pragmatism, morality, and faith.
Certainly each of us encounters challenges, difficulties, and opportunities in life, and it is incumbent upon us to face them with courage, vision, and faith on our journeys towards something ever-better. And in no small measure, this is also part of the story of Chanukah (the origins of which are actually linked to the holiday of Sukkot): the courage, vision, and faith to forge a path of light out of the pall of darkness.
May Abraham’s inspirational journey, surely a model for such as the Pilgrims and the Maccabees, help guide each of us on all of our life’s worthy journeys -- and may they be sacred, safe, and successful.
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and I wish for each of you a chag Chanukah sameiach – a very happy Chanukah!
Rabbi Jonathan Pearl