I happen to know a Jew, who is not a fan of the organized religion part of Judaism. He likes the values, most of them. He appreciates the commitment to family, usually. But the whole religious part – you know, the organized prayer, the specific stories of Torah, various beliefs about God – just turn him off. He can appreciate the Jewish stuff brings meaning to others, but not for himself. He will use any excuse to stay out of temple, so that his friends give him specific honors so he is forced to attend the family simchas.
And ritual, he has a special dislike for the “do’s and don’ts” of ritual. Formulaic, ritualistic, primitive, boring. I thought he just didn’t like ritual. And then, he began to tell me about his Thanksgiving dinner. And all of a sudden, I realized we had much more in common than I thought. Turns out that the ritual-disliker was really a ritual-creator, at least in relation to Thanksgiving.
They invite a 25-30 people for dinner, which he, his wife and friends have labored over for a few days. Appetizers galore, main course, fancy wine and beers, delicious desserts. Upon arriving, people nosh and shmooze. Everyone gathers around the tables, sitting and salivating, awaiting the ritual which allows them to dig in.
Each guest speaks about what they are thankful for this year. Although the participants sometimes laugh and at other times shed tears, the ritual is structured and serious. There’s no eating in this house until everyone – concluding with the host and his wife – has named their blessings, and all give thanks.
It turns out, that for these Thanksgiving diners, this ritual is meaningful, inspired and for many, their primary connection to the Holy One. Let us give praise where praise is due, lest we descend into sin by labeling each other as good Jews or bad Jews. There are many paths to the Holy One!
On Sukkot (Judaism’s Thanksgiving), the rabbis connect the four species of the lulav and etrog to four different kinds of Jews: those with Torah learning, those with good deeds, those with both and those with none. Their lesson is that it takes all kinds of Jews to complete the Jewish community.
May Thanksgiving remind us that we Jews are all brothers (and sisters), each approaching tradition, ritual, and belief in unique ways, from different perspectives.