John Adams, second President of the United States, sent a moving letter to Francois A. Van der Kemp, who was one of the Dutch radical leaders of the Patriot Party. Van de Kemp was also a minister and publicist who gave the Patriot movement a Christian tint in his blazing speeches. I quote the following from Adam’s letter to Van der Kemp:
“I will insist the Hebrews have [contributed] more to civilize men than any other nation. If I was an atheist and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations … They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this Earth.
The Romans and their empire were but a bubble in comparison to the Jews. They have given religion to three-quarters of the globe and have influenced the affairs of mankind more and more happily than any other nation, ancient or modern.”
Let me share with you the words of the late renown Abraham Joshua Heschel: “Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living. It is all we can offer in return for the mystery by which we live. Who is worthy to be present at the constant unfolding of time? Amidst the meditation of mountains, the humility of flowers—wiser than all alphabets—clouds that die constantly for the sake of God’s glory, we are hating, hunting, hurting. Suddenly we feel ashamed of our clashes and complaints in the face of the tacit glory in nature. It is so embarrassing to live! How strange we are in the world, and how presumptuous our doings! Only one response can maintain us: gratefulness for witnessing the wonder, for the gift of our unearned right to serve, to adore and to fulfill. It is gratefulness which makes the soul great.”
It would have been so easy for the pilgrims of 1621 to focus on what they didn’t have. Yet, their story reminds us that any moment is one to focus on what we have been given and to say thank you for it. Each day in this week of Thanksgiving and beyond—we say the words of the Psalmist Hodu—Give thanks to our Creator for it is good.
As we sit to eat our turkey (which in modern Hebrew is the same word—hodu), may we know just how good is our bounty and how great is our blessing. We should celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving EVERY DAY and through our behavior, we will show our unlimited appreciation to the true Source of all our blessings.