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Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Giving thanks this Hanukkah
By Rabbi Sholom Stern
Rabbi Sholom Stern of Temple Beth El

Many have pointed out that this year is the only time in the 21st century that the first day of Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving. It is fortuitous that the two holidays occur on the same day, for thematically they are identical.

During the entire eight days of Hanukkah at the daily morning afternoon and evening services we recite a prayer called ‘Al HaNisim’, a prayer in which we thank God for the miracle of Jews being able to restore services in the ancient temple in Jerusalem.

For a three-year period between 168 B.C.E. and 165 B.C.E. the temple had been defiled by the Syrian Greeks who erected a statue of Zeus, the Greek god as well as setting up a brothel in it.

The Al HaNisim prayer concludes with the words, “And they (the Maccabees who liberated the temple) designated these eight days for giving thanks and praise to God’s great name.

The art of giving thanks enjoys a special preeminence over all other religious disciplines. One can justifiably claim that a spirit of thanksgiving is the mother of all virtues.

            One of the first phrases we teach our children is ‘thank you’ to impress upon them a sense of gratitude for the favors they enjoy. We are conditioned to drop God a brief thank you on Hanukkah for being able to celebrate the gift of religious freedom and being able to worship God in accordance with the teachings of our faith.

   The gift of thanksgiving and gratitude was not born in mighty and prosperous Rome, or in secure and amply endowed Greece, but rather it has its origins in a weak and humble ancient Israel.

    To all the blessings we have been granted, may we always feel the need of offering one more. Dear God, you have given us much. Make sure you never take away from us a grateful heart filled with thanksgiving.

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