With the American holiday of Thanksgiving coming up on November 24, now is the time many choose to reflect on the good in their lives. While Thanksgiving is not traditionally celebrated in Israel, it is a holiday to which many Jews relate, as Judaism has hundreds of built-in daily actions which make every day a day for giving thanks.
“Giving thanks for everything in our lives is a praiseworthy act,” said Rabbi Shmuel Veffer, owner of Galilee Green, an Israeli company producing high-quality extra-virgin olive oil for worldwide export, to Breaking Israel News. “One of the hallmarks of the Jewish people is expressing gratitude for everything in our lives.”
The Bible explains that Leah named her fourth son Yehuda (Judah) in recognition that God blessed her with more than her share of the 12 Tribes of Israel.
This time I will give thanksgiving unto the Lord; therefore she called his name Yehuda. (Genesis 29:35)
Yehuda comes from the Hebrew word for giving thanks, hodah. The Jewish people are therefore called Yehudim, a people who give thanks.
Biblically, names define essence and purpose. By naming her son Yehuda, Leah expressed her prayer that the soul of this child as well as his descendents would be people who constantly recognize God’s blessings in their lives.
“The first thing we are commanded to do upon waking up is offer a prayer of thanks to my Creator, even before stepping out of bed,” continued Rabbi Veffer. “This sets the tone for how a person should proceed for the rest of their day, every day.”
The prayer recited upon waking reads:
מוֹדֶה אֲנִי לְפָנֶיךָ מֶלֶךְ חַי וְקַיָּם, שֶׁהֶחֱזַרְתָּ בִּי נִשְׁמָתִי בְּחֶמְלָה. רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ.
Moh-deh ah-nee leh-fah-neh-cha melech chai ve’kayam, she-he-cheh-zar-ta bee nish-ma-tee b’chem-la, rah-bah eh-mun-a-teh-cha.
I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.
“As someone who grows olives in the Holy Land to produce the highest quality olive oil for export, I am particularly sensitive to another Biblical mitzvah [commandment] called bikkurim,” shared Rabbi Veffer. “The details of this mitzvah are described in unusual detail in Deuteronomy 26:1-12. Bikkurim is all about recognizing the good that God has bestowed on us and making efforts to thank Him.”
Fulfilling the mitzvah of bikkurim involved farmers harvesting one’s first fruits from the Land of Israel, packing them into a basket and bringing them to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The farmer then presented his fruits to the High Priest by following a prescribed script which summarized both the challenges and history of the Jewish people in ancient Egypt until that moment when the farmer was filled with gratitude for living in the land and merited to present his harvest in Jerusalem.
Part of the script included:
You shall rejoice with all the good that the Lord, your God, has granted you and your household, the Levite, and the stranger who is among you.
Bikkurim is no longer possible since the destruction of the Holy Temple nearly two thousand years ago. However, reflecting on this mitzvah and recognizing the blessings in our lives continues on a moment-to-moment basis.
“It is so important is express thanks to God that the sages state that Land of Israel was given to the Jewish people as a reward for their future fulfillment of the mitzvah of bikkurim after they live in the Land,” said Rabbi Veffer. “Recognizing the good and giving thanks to God protect us from thinking that our success or failures in life are dependent only on our own actions.”
Rabbi Veffer pointed out to Breaking Israel News that following festive meals, there is often a lot of food which goes to waste. “God commands us not to waste food as that is an example of taking the good in our lives for granted,” he said. “It is truly meritorious to do what we can not to waste.”
To that end, Rabbi Veffer suggested some Galilee Green recipes to use up holiday leftovers.
Creative “Eggs in a Frame”
Take leftover cooked potatoes and stuffing. Mix well. It should be slightly moist or add an egg or a bit of water to the mix. Mix in some cubed leftover turkey. Make patties and pan-fry in Galilee Green olive oil until crispy. Make a hole in the center and crack an egg in the hole. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until the egg is done. Enjoy!
Leftovers Vegetable Soup
Most vegetables made with just spices, as opposed to creams and sauces, can be blended together to make a rich soup. Or, you can fry 1 large onion and 2 garlic cloves in Galilee Green olive oil until translucent. Add two carrots and a zucchini if desired. When a bit soft, mix in leftover sweet or white potatoes or both and any other leftover vegetables. Pour over the mix to cover vegetable broth or water, salt, pepper, cumin. Cook until all vegetables are soft. Use an immersion blender to puree. Enjoy!