Actually Giving Thanks

I'd like to be clear that this is a prose offering of thanks to HaShem Yisbarach rather than a glorification of America or a desire to stay here forever. We must know what to take with us when we leave.

We have so many obvious things to be grateful for, among them: unprecedented freedoms in exile, widespread prosperity and community-building, and refuge from persecution. And yet, there is so much under the surface to be singing praise about. America was founded as a religious country, and this holiday was instituted as a religious one. That very faith and wholeness which continues to be idealized in some parts of the country is something to be appreciated.

The pioneering spirit of industrialism and expansion, despite the destruction it included at times, was one that transformed the world with new creations and new frontiers. The mind-blowing prospect of a "New World,” with a philosophically idealized political and social system, was messianic to the people who came here. The chance to renew the economy, education, agriculture, religious life, science and technology, artistic expression, and pretty much every aspect of life was literally considered miraculous. As I've written here before, creation and creativity at their essence are Jewish. True freedom as facilitated by a system of law is also Jewish.

Given this expansive creativity, America has long been a wellspring of physicality. It is easy to be cynical about the vanity of rampant consumerism; in its purest form, though, it produces of all the “things” you’ve been blessed with, the overflowing wealth of possibility that has been at your fingertips. The “cornucopia” that once described crops and resources has become the characteristic of an innumerable catalog of items. This, combined with international trade, means we can fulfill mitzvos in prosperity and sweet meticulousness. It also means we are exposed to the products and cultures of the entire world at once. If we can refine and harness this, we will save the entire world at once.

America spans the entire breadth of the continent. Many of us can take vacations to beautiful national parks and wonders, visit ski lodges and small towns, stroll in spacious backyards and fields, and find a Chabad pretty much anywhere we travel. We have peaceful neighbors at our borders, and most Americans are quite friendly. There is largely a culture of simplicity here, and the value of family is taken for granted. Though there is much filth and bifurcation in America, these other virtues were still essential to our childhoods and can be found upon introspection in our instincts.

Though Thanksgiving is a non-Jewish holiday, and though its customs be superficial, it still serves as a time to reflect on the bounty HaShem, in His providence and grace, has bestowed upon us. It is time to hoist this bounty of the fruited plain upon our shoulders and march to the spacious skies of Eretz Yisrael. Our true home is not yet finished; it is our responsibility as American-born, Torah-obsessed Jews to steer the wagons homeward.

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