This week millions of Americans will participate in marking Thanksgiving. Although it was first established nationally by George Washington and later proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, it wasn’t until 1941 that the 4th Thursday of November was formally established by Congress as Thanksgiving Day. No doubt as Jews living in the United States, we too have much to be grateful for and our gratitude should not go unmentioned.
We live in a county that respects the rule of law and order protecting the civil rights of all its citizens. We have both the freedom and responsibility to participate in the selection of our governing officials. If our candidates don’t win, we don’t experience the chaotic social turmoil and political upheaval common to other societies. In America we have access to excellent medical services, advanced technology and numerous educational choices and opportunities. The land is blessed with the capacity to provide hundreds of millions of people both here and abroad with its bounty. All of these factors and many others contribute to our high standard of living. We are fortunate to live in a country where we and our families can prosper and are free to pursue our life’s ambitions. Simply put, our American society is advanced and relatively peaceful and stable. We have much to be thankful for living in the America.
Thinking about life in America and Jewish life in particular, I am drawn to reflect on the last two laws found in the Rambam’s, הלכות מלכים, Laws of Kings. Here the Rambam describes the anticipated life and society during the time of the Mashiach. To paraphrase he states, “… at that time (the Messianic era) there will not be hunger or war, nor jealousy or envy. The physical benefits will be spread to all and the main occupation of the people will be to acquire a true knowledge of God.”
The Rambam isn’t describing a fantasy, or utopia, where physical transformations take place. In fact he specifically mentions the world will continue as it is. The same laws of physics will operate. New things will not magically pop into creation. People will still have to work. There will still be rich and poor. A court system to settle disputes will still be necessary. But due to the international tranquility that will prevail with the coming of the Mashiach, people throughout the world will focus their energy on the pursuit of wisdom and the true ideas about God. It is for this reason, according to the Rambam, that the great Torah scholars of all past generations desired to live in the Messianic era.
One of the things I am most grateful for about living in America is that I can live as a Jew fully and completely. I can practice my religion without any encumbrances. I can get all the kosher food to eat that I want. I can keep Shabbat. I am free from religious discrimination in employment, a protection afforded by law. I can send my children to Jewish day schools where, within our religious framework, they can get the best secular and Jewish education money can buy. In short, I can experience on a small scale, the life the Torah scholars envisioned for the entire world at the time of Mashiach.
In America today, nothing is stopping anyone from utilizing their skills and abilities to pursue the “knowledge of God.”
If there is any danger to living in America, it stems from the fact that precisely because we have all the freedoms and relative ease of life, we may succumb and fully integrate into an American life style. While our American society has all the means to support the era of Mashiach, it lacks the appropriate collective goal. Individually, however, a person living in America today can partake and experience to a great extent what life will be like in the time of Mashiach.
So as we reflect this week on the many things we have to be thankful about for living in America, let us consider redirecting our efforts. Let us strive to use the blessing of living in America to embrace the very same goal of life that the world will share with the arrival of the long awaited Messianic age.
May Hashem continue His protecting care over Israel, Jews, and God-fearing people the world over.
Rabbi Robert Kaplan