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Parshas Vayeitzay - Thanks for the Memories   11 Kislev 5781

11/26/2020 09:30:10 PM


As I get older, I have become ever-more nostalgic, treasuring the memories of my teen and childhood years. One of the fondest memories I have is Thanksgiving Day, a day which started by taking the subway to Manhattan to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in person. Sitting on the curb watching the parade, I was entranced by the huge floats and blow-up heroes of my childhood come to life as they cruised before me. I would wait patiently to see Batman and Superman floating in the air. We always came prepared with our winter gear, as some years the temperatures dropped below freezing. From there we hopped on the subway and headed uptown to Washington Heights where the day culminated with a family gathering of my aunts, uncles and first cousins (from my mother’s side of the family). Like the rest of America (or at least New Yorkers) Thanksgiving was about the parade, football, and dinner which included turkey as an option.  I am the second-to youngest-first cousin; all the older cousins watched the two football games that sported the same two teams playing in two separate games every year.

For just shy of a century (1924), the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City has been synonymous with the holiday. Thanksgiving Day football games, a close second, started a decade later. But this year will be unlike any other. With coronavirus cases spiking across the country, the department store will hold a modified version of the parade. Every year, thousands of spectators (including myself sitting on the curb) flock to the parade to see the towering balloons, decorative floats, acrobats, marching bands, and more  make their way down the 2.5-mile stretch of Midtown Manhattan. But this year, Macy's had to work with city and state officials in order to figure out how to have a parade at all. Giant balloons still flew, but without their 80 to 100 handlers. Much of the parade was pre-taped over a three-day period for the televised event. About 8,000 participants usually help with the parade — but this year, that number was reduced by about 88%.

Although it has been many years since I experienced these two events, I nevertheless felt a piece of my life was no longer the same. Today, I live too far away to attend the parade in person, and our family, Bli Ayin Hora, has expanded beyond continents, allowing us to  only get together on zoom, bringing a tinge of sadness to the day. On the other hand, however,  I do feel appreciative of what I experienced growing up within the nurturing of my loving family in New York. The fact that my parents took us to these events and family gatherings made life incredibly special. A day like Thanksgiving is not a particularly religious day; it is rather a day of reflection of Hakaras Hatov and giving of continuous thanks. It is one of the most crucial and critical middos a person needs to develop. If someone appreciates something or someone then they, in turn, will feel appreciated by others. Judaism and the Torah illustrate constant themes and messages of Hakaras Hatov, recognizing the good in someone or something that was done for us. In truth, Hakaras Hatov and giving thanks are really two similar but not identical concepts. Hakaras Hatov is recognizing the good, while Hoda’a is the practice of giving thanks. Giving thanks is something that needs to be done proactively and on a recurring basis. One needs to be careful, however, when giving thanks continually.  Such repetitious giving of thanks can lead to a lack of sincerity; care and pause needs to be exercised each time words of thanks are expressed, reiterating assurance of genuine thanksgiving.

On the heels of last week’s message about our senses, there is yet an additional dimension of some of the senses again this week related to thanksgiving.  There are basic functions that with which we are blessed and need to be mindful of them every day. Emphasized throughout the Torah and Rabbinic teachings, the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste should never be taken for granted (Loss of taste and smell are two symptoms experienced by Covid patients).

In this week’s Parsha Vayeitzay the Torah states in Bereishis 29:35 "ותהר עוד ותלד בן ותאמר הפעם אודה את ה', על כן קראה שמו יהודה, ותעמוד מלדת"  “She [Leah] became pregnant again and had a son. She said, ‘this time let me praise God,’ and named the child Yehuda, she then stopped having children”. Rav Meir Simcha HaKohein of Dvinsk, in his commentary Meshech Chochmah, explains why Leah specifically had to praise Hashem after the birth of her fourth son, named Yehuda. Rav Meir Simcha expounds there are four categories of Brachos: thanks, praise, mitzva, and benefit. We do not recite a bracha of benefit (Nehenin i.e. food) on three of the five senses: sight, hearing, and touch. If one sees something beautiful, hears something pleasant, or feels something good, they may need to make a bracha of praise but not of benefit. Only for a good smell is there a bracha of Hana’a/benefit is made. We learn this out from Gemara Brachos 43b bringing a passuk that we recite every day from Tehilim 150:6 "כל הנשמה תהלל קה, הללוקה"  “Let every soul praise God, Praise God”, something that the Neshama benefits from but the physical body does not. Therefore, in descending order, Reuvain’s name is based upon sight, Shimon’s name is based upon hearing, and Levi’s name is based upon a feeling that Yaakov would be close to Leah after securing at least three of the twelve tribes. Those three are not connected to a bracha. Only Yehuda, as stated in a passuk in Yeshayahu 11:3 states "והריחו ביראת ה' "  “And he shall be animated by the fear of the Lord…” The Redak and Ibn Ezra explain that through the fear of Hashem he will be endowed with acute senses, able to perceive things unperceivable by others. The sense of smell is mentioned since it is the most delicate of the senses and cannot be misled, as can the senses of sight and hearing. Thanks, is therefore associated with smell, and Leah named her son - Yehudah - with the name of thanks connected to smell.

There is not a specific bracha of thanksgiving made on the day, but it is a day to stop, think, and appreciate life in general. We have experienced a very long, trying, sometimes painful Covid experience. The Ribbono Shel Olam sent us all a powerful message to appreciate life itself. We need to be Makir Tov, to recognize the good and then give the praise with all our Neshama praising Hashem. Let Thanksgiving Day be a lesson and the reminder to give thanks to everyone around us and to the One above.

Tue, October 19 2021 13 Cheshvan 5782