From the Rabbi - December 2015 Print
– Edited from Sermon given at Thanksgiving Service at Church of the Good Shepherd.

Thanksgiving is really about concentrating our minds on what we should be thankful for.  As we sit around the table with friends and family and abundant and delicious food we are supposed to think about the many things that bring us comfort and support in our lives.  

But when we consider what we should be grateful for should we also be grateful for the things that make us uncomfortable - things that challenge, things that are different, that bring us out of our comfort zone?

Of course we should! This may seem strange but there are in fact very good reasons to be grateful for these things in our lives.

Facing the things that are different, that challenge and yes discomfit us, is what leads to meaning and purpose in life.  In the Torah we are constantly called to take care of the needy, the stranger, the widow and the orphan.  These were categories of people in the ancient world, and in many ways still today, that were different, that were other, that challenged our ancestors to think beyond the comfortable confines of their lives and consider those who were different and whose plight put the comfort of the average person’s life in sharp relief.  

And, in our prayerbook, Mishkan T’filah there is a prayer which reads - Disturb us Adonai our Gd, ruffle us from our complacency; Make us dissatisfied… Let not your Sabbath be a day of torpor and slumber let it be a time to be stirred and spurred to action.

This reminds us that only when we are challenged, vexed and dissatisfied by facing that which is different  are we spurred to the moral and spiritual action that gives us meaning in life and inspires us to make the world a better place for all who live in it.  And for that opportunity to live a meaningful spiritual life, we should be truly grateful.

And considering the other- whether people, ideas or realities we otherwise try to ignore – helps us grow as spiritual and moral beings.

The Pirke Avot, the Sayings of the Fathers asks a question - Who is wise?  And the answer is: “The one who learns from all people.” 

In my life I have understood that one of the best a ways of learning more about myself, my faith and my world is in finding those who are different, those who embody ideas and understandings of the world different from my own and learning from them.  Only in this way do we learn and grow as people.  

So as we consider the things for which we are grateful we should also include the things that are different and make us uncomfortable and be grateful for the opportunity to be inspired, to be better morally and spiritually, because of the our differences. 

Rabbi Ilan Emanuel