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ב"ה

Equally Unique

Friday, 27 November, 2020 - 9:12 am

Thanksgiving is not a Jewish holiday.

But, its principles are something Jews should celebrate.

The purpose of Thanksgiving is to thank Almighty G-d for the abundance, joy and freedom that the United States of America affords.

Since its inception – and subsequent adoption as a national holiday – America has changed a lot and developed in many ways. In addition to the influx of diverse peoples into the USA, the character of our nation has progressed. From sports to cuisine; from laws to lands – America is a very different country than it was during the era of the Pilgrims and the Founding Fathers.

So, are we thankful in the same vein as our predecessors? Or, are we a new culture hanging onto an old tradition?

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In this week’s parsha Vayeteze, we learn about Yaakov’s family. Jacob married Leah and Rachel. Eventually he had 12 sons and a daughter from four wives.

Remarkably, Yaakov did not name any of his children. All his children were named by the mothers!

Jewish communities have mixed traditions about the mother’s and father’s role in child naming. However, I’m not familiar with any tradition in which the father plays no role at all. Why didn’t Yaakov participate at all in the naming of his children (aside from Benjamin, whose mother passed away during childbirth)?

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There is a fundamental shift that occurs in the development of the Jewish people in this week’s parsha. Up until this point we are dealing exclusively with the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. The reason these men and women are called the fathers and mothers of the Jewish people is because their lives, messages and spiritual DNA are connected with all future Jews.

If you are a Jew you have an innate bond with all the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

But, then the Jewish people branch out into twelve tribes. Not every Jew comes from the same tribe. And, each tribe has its own character.

As far as the Patriarchs and Matriarchs are concerned – all Jews are equal and identical. Once the Children of Israel branch into the twelve tribes, however, different personalities – and life missions – emerge. Now, all Jews are equal but different.

Some tribes focus on Torah study, while others focus on acts of kindness. Some are kings and others are priests. The diversity of the Jewish people comes into full bloom.

The names of the tribes of Israel reflect their unique personalities. Their individual destinies come into full focus.

They all remain, however, the Children of Israel.

Now, we can understand Yaakov’s reluctance to name his children. As far as the Patriarchs are concerned, all Jews are identical. And, this element of equality must never be abandoned.

As far as the future of Jewish peoplehood is concerned, however, it is critical that it include the entire spectrum of diversity, innovation and character.

Simply put, the foundation and principles are immutable and uniform. The development and character are distinctive and personal.

Each Jew possesses the exact same soul as her fellow Jews. And, a unique, irreplaceable character.

Both are to be celebrated and pursued with vigor and devotion.

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The founders of America may never have considered that they are laying the groundwork for Jews fleeing persecution in Europe or for emancipated blacks. Nevertheless, the freedoms we value today are part and parcel of their vision.

Americans reveling at Times Square or taking in the scene at Mount Rushmore may look nothing like the Pilgrims at Plymouth. But, they share the same fundamental principles – of faith in and gratitude to Almighty G-d.

As we move forward from Thanksgiving, let us cherish the opportunities that America has afforded us. And, as Jews, let us celebrate our Jewishness proudly and fervently.

That’s the American way.

And, certainly, the Jewish way.

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