Thanksgiving in the Midst of Tragedy


The horrific attack by religious Muslim fanatics in Paris not only maimed and killed over a hundred people but also undermined the sanctity of religion. The ultimate aim of a person of faith is to create a synthesis between the mundane and holy. The intention is to elevate a way of life from ordinary to sacred. However, the opposite has occurred. ISIS has managed to turn holiness into an abomination. In response, we can counter the terror by taking Thanksgiving, a secular holiday, and elevating it to show our gratitude to God.  


Anyone who has been to a Jewish wedding knows the ceremonial breaking of a glass is a highpoint. Some may joke that this custom symbolizes the final time in the young man’s life when he may put his foot down, but the real reason is far more compelling. The wedding marks the day when the bride and groom begin their future together, assured of a life full of joy and simcha. Yet, it is precisely during a time of happiness that we are reminded that our collective history has often corrupted our plans. Our tradition reminds us of the solemn when celebrating happy times, so conversely during hard and troubling times we could commemorate all for which we have to be thankful.


We can no longer feign ignorance or imagine that terrorism is under control. The deck has been cut and the antes paid, the question now is only what we do with the cards we were dealt. Personally, I won’t allow the exasperation I have been experiencing to be worn on my sleeves. Spewing venomous diatribes serves little purpose other than to placate myself. I will not offer military advice, except for stating the obvious: being reactive is counterintuitive and an admittance of failure.  For the silent majority with a tinge of moral equivalency, any words I may offer are unnecessary.  


The Anti-Semite needs no pretext, nor will an elucidation of the facts challenge their biased predetermined conclusions. Where it concerns the Jew, hypocrisy and duplicity is engrained in every immoral fiber of their bones.  While I often seethe in anger as our (so called) friends condemn Israel’s overreaction to terrorism, I am amused and confused by the international support for France as they seek to annihilate ISIS without regard for any collateral damage. There are no cries from the United Nations regarding the disproportional carnage wreaked on innocent civilians, nor did I hear the UN Council for Human Rights bringing up any resolutions in condemnation of France. Perhaps the celebration of Thanksgiving is more essential today in the aftermath of Paris.


Yes, my silence disturbs me. But what can I possibly say when our politicians are faced with the reality of ISIS and wholesale murderers who maintain that global warming is still the greatest threat to civilization? Or when after the tragedy in France our government is still pushing to release all of the Islamic terrorists from Guantanamo Bay (of course without using the derogatory term Islamic terrorist). Or when after confirmation that at least one and perhaps more of the terrorists were Syrian refugees, our country still has the welcome mat out.  All I can do is offer Thanksgiving, to entreat the Almighty to comfort, guide and protect me.


Yet despite the negativity, I still find comfort in rereading the words of this week’s Torah portion: And behold the angels of God ascend and descend. Although these words might seem eerily familiar to those who dabble in the stock market, they have other interpretative value.  The catastrophic events in Paris, the threats on Washington and the daily stabbings in Israel are all components of Jacob’s dream. It is only those who first ascend and have been successful in elevating their stature and position who are choice targets. The terrorist organizations that foment resentment and encourage violence do so as the only means in their arsenal that will keep their uneducated masses in a state of perpetual subservience. It is their inability to emulate the success of the free world that stimulates their desire to denigrate and destroy them instead.  The fictitious fabrication by the extreme-left that global equality be deemed a universal right has been an abysmal failure and has managed only to lower the playing field. Indeed, utopia can be achieved if people understand equality as a starting point in the journey of life; it should never impede personal achievement or be a highpoint of life.  It is only a point in the graph from which everyone is measured, with each individual granted immunity to achieve their own extraordinary heights.  


Perhaps it is also the essence of this dream that gives credence and meaning to the secular promoted (albeit monotheistic motivated) holiday of Thanksgiving. We can offer our thanks in direct proportion to the mayhem and confusion enveloping us. We can express our gratitude that regardless of our adversaries we remain vibrant and strong. Perhaps it’s the one holiday that portends that Jacob’s dream epitomizes our collective ups and downs. In Pirkei Avot it states that the greatest measure of character is a lev tov – a good heart. For a heart to be functional it must be in perpetual motion and it must beat at a rate that ascends and descends. Is the hypocrisy often expressed by the world justified or fair? Will the attitude of our frenemies ever change?  Perhaps not. However, even in the face of radical extremists and excessive tragedy, we still must be cognizant of our eternal blessings and especially thankful for all the good that have been bestowed upon us. Ken yirbu – May we continuously find reasons to be thankful. 


Shabbat Shalom and Happy Thanksgiving,

Rabbi Jack Engel


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