Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. It is no longer (and perhaps never was) a celebration affiliated with any particular religion or faith, although some in America celebrate with religious ceremonies. On a social level, it is celebrated by Americans of a broad variety of religious backgrounds.

The bible discusses one of the many sacrifices that were instructed in the Tabernacle and Temple. The thanksgiving offering, would be brought to the Temple by anyone who survived a life- threatening situation, such as a potentially hazardous journey or illness.

These days one fulfills this obligation by making a certain blessing before a quorum and publicly acknowledging G-ds kindness. The code of Jewish law recommends giving money to charity and making a special party so that others will also share in recognizing G-ds benevolence.

In the times of the Temple, the Thanksgiving offering, included flour which was used to bake 30 unleavened loaves with oil and 10 leavened loaves without oil. The sacrifice along with the 40 loaves had to be eaten in an exceptionally short amount of time- less than 24 hours.

Why does the Thanksgiving offering have to be eaten in such a short amount of time? And why does the Thanksgiving offering include 30 unleavened loaves baked with oil and 10 leavened loaves baked without oil?

The Bible wants to create a situation whereby someone saved from a life-threatening situation will not only appreciate his good fortune, but will share that appreciation with others. With so much food to eat in a short amount of time the individual bringing this sacrifice and expression of thanks will have to invite family and friends to share in his gratitude to G-d.

Another reason offered for the requirement to eat the sacrifice in one day. EVERY DAY, if we only look out for them, there are lots of reasons to offer thanks and gratitude.

As for the symbolism behind the unleavened and leavened loaves, Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch elucidates. He explains how the leavened loaves (which rise and puff up) represent growth and unrestrained freedom. The unleavened loaves represent basic food, and the oil with which they are made is associated with well-being. Together the unleavened and leavened loaves show the idea behind the Thanksgiving offering.

The person has just emerged from a restricting, dangerous situation to an unrestricted life (leavened loaves) and now he must show recognition and gratitude (oil). He must realize that he owes everything - his food and well being (unleavened loaves) - to G-d. This recognition that we owe our very existence to G-d is done publicly. The books of Mysticism tell us, this act encourages G-d to continue his blessings of abundance to us.