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Putting G-d in the Picture

Friday, 29 November, 2013 - 2:45 pm


We have a lot to be thankful for. Family, friends, health – life itself! We all owe a debt of gratitude for the goodness in our lives.

Thanksgiving is a time for appreciation.  I must have heard – and said – this hundreds of times this week.  The media, Facebook, phone conversations and checkout counters are all buzzing with thanks.

But one word I have not heard as frequently is the big G word – “G-d.” (In Jewish tradition we only spell out the word in sacred literature).

Why have we left G-d out of the picture?

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The Baal Shem Tov once famously asked a porush (pious ascetic) how he was feeling. The porush was annoyed by this waste of time. But the Baal Shem Tov explained that G-d “thrives” off of the praises that we offer Him.

The common refrain that I hear in response to, “How are you?” is, “Good, thank you.”

When someone asks me how I am doing, I try to reply, “Fine, thank G-d.” Instead of simply being thankful, Jewish tradition emphasizes that we must be thankful to the Almighty.

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When Pharaoh summoned Yoseph to interpret his dreams, he told Yoseph: “I have heard it said of you that you understand a dream, to interpret it.”

But Yoseph replied to Pharaoh, saying, "Not I; G-d will give an answer that will bring peace to Pharaoh.”

Yoseph had all the reasons in the world to hide – or at least downplay – his faith. Why wear his religion on his sleeve in the midst of a pagan culture? Why offend the world superpower’s dictator? Yoseph did not need to praise the Egyptian gods, but neither did he need to flaunt his own beliefs. Likely, he could have slipped G-d into the equation after-the-fact. Why the need to ruffle feathers before he even succeeds in freeing himself from prison? Was he absent when they taught diplomacy 101?

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The word Maccabee is an acronym consisting of the Hebrew words מי כמכה באלים ה', “Mi Kamocha Ba’eilim Hashem.” This was the battle cry of Yehuda the Macabee: “Who is like You, O G-d.”

The Jews were not fighting a war simply to retain Jewish culture. After all, the Greeks championed culture. They had no problem with Jewish foods and festivities – so long as G-d was not part of the picture. In fact, they only outlawed the parts of Torah that did not make sense to them. Those observances, they argued, exist simply due to the Jewish insistence that a G-d commanded them.

Take G-d out of the picture and the Greeks were perfectly happy with a Jewish community in their midst.  The modern-day Greek might say:

Eat your matzah balls, act kindly toward others and commemorate the historical events of your ethnic group. But stop overdoing the G-d worship. You can worship G-d in your synagogues, but not in my shopping malls, stadiums and homes.

And – like their ancestor Yoseph – that’s precisely what the Macabees fought for: a commitment to the Almighty. It’s not enough to have a tradition rich in history and meaning. Without G-d our lives lack the very essence of who we are and of what we stand for.

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In fact, Jews are not alone in this proud allegiance with our Creator. The founding fathers of this great country also considered G-d the foundation upon which their freedom and opportunity rest.

Toward this end the Thanksgiving feast was established.

We have a lot to be thankful for. In the spirit of Thanksgiving; in the spirit of the Torah; in the spirit of Chanukah – we are grateful to G-d.

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