At Touro Synagogue November 26, 2016
Thanksgiving and the Art of the Deal
by Aaron Ginsburg
Thanksgiving weekend is a perfect time to visit Newport. The crowds are gone, but it is still fall, not winter. Visitors joined us from Boston, Stamford, Riverdale, Brooklyn, New York, and New Jersey. Some traced their background to Aleppo, Syria, others to Ukraine and Moldova.
Parashat Chayei Sara, Genesis 23:1 - 25:18, starts with the death of Sarah and becomes a lesson in the art of the deal. Abraham is in Hittite-controlled Beer Sheva. Abraham spoke with his Hittite friends, and arrangements were made to purchase Machpelah from Ephron for 400 silver shekels, the going rate.
Then Abraham decided that it was time for his son and heir Isaac to get married. He commissioned his servant to fetch a bride from the old country. Negotiations with the servant ensued. The servant was worried that the still unselected young woman would refuse to leave her home. Tradition tells us that the unnamed servant was Eliezer of Damascus, who was mentioned in Parashat Lech-Lecha.
Once he chose Rebecca, the servant negotiated with her relatives. Further negotiations and gifts and a deal was made. At the last minute, Rebecca was consulted, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will.”
In the haftarah, I Kings 1:1 - 1:31, Bathsheba reminded King David that he should abide by the agreement for Solomon to succeed him.
Nathan the prophet was the éminence grise. He told Bathsheba, “You must have heard that Adonijah son of Haggith has assumed the kingship without the knowledge of our lord David.
Now take my advice, so that you may save your life and the life of your son Solomon.
Go immediately to King David and say to him, ‘Did not you, O lord king, swear to your maidservant: “Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit upon my throne? Then why has Adonijah become king?”
While you are still there talking with the king, I will come in after you and confirm your words.”
Women were not yet accepted as independent actors, at least in print.
With Thanksgiving in mind, Rabbi Marc Mandel said that Jews were a thankful people. The word Jew comes from the name Judah, which means thanksgiving. When Judah was born his mother Leah said, “Now will I thank the Lord.” The Torah continues, “Therefore she called his name Judah; and ceased bearing.” The rest is history...and us; Judah’s descendants became the tribe of Judah, from which all Jews are descended.
There were some children present, members of a visiting family of Syrian Jews from Brooklyn. The Rabbi asked them, “What’s the first prayer we say in the morning?” They answered, “Modeh Ani.” Modeh Ani is recited when waking, while still in bed.
מוֹדֶה (מוֹדָה) אֲנִי לְפָנֶֽיךָ מֶֽלֶךְ חַי וְקַיָּים. שֶׁהֶֽחֱזַֽרְתָּ בִּי נִשְׁמָתִי בְחֶמְלָה. רַבָּה אֱמֽוּנָתֶֽךָ׃
Modeh (women: modah) ani lifanekha melekh chai v'kayam shehecḥezarta bi nishmahti b'cḥemlah, rabah emunatekha. I offer thanks before you, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.
Rabbi Mandel wondered, “Why do we say the amidah twice? Wouldn’t once be enough?” Long ago books were a scarce commodity, and every worshipper did not have a siddur. We repeat for the benefit of those that lacked a prayerbook.
One part of the Amidah cannot be delegated. A “thank you” must come directly from us. While the reader repeats the Hoda'ah ("thanksgiving") prayer aloud, we silently recite Modim deRabbanan ("thanksgiving of the Rabbis”). We thank God for our lives, for our souls, and for God’s miracles that are with us every day.
That’s what Thanksgiving is about. And that is a big deal!