Messianic Judaism and Thanksgiving may not have much in common on the level of historical context, but both share a common value of gratitude.
Although Thanksgiving originated in a Protestant community, it soon became a primarily secular holiday on which both religious and non-religious people gather with their families to celebrate and express gratitude for what they have been given. For this reason, in the mid-1900s, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein published a series of statements reasoning that Thanksgiving, although it is not a Jewish holiday, can be celebrated by the Jewish community. Thanksgiving is a time when everyone can enjoy the fall festivities and express their gratitude for all the good things in life.
Gratitude plays a primary role in Jewish beliefs and practice, particularly in the context of prayer. According to Jonathan Sacks, “Jewish prayer is an ongoing seminar in gratitude. Birkot ha-Shachar, ‘the Dawn Blessings’ said at the start of morning prayers each day, form a litany of thanksgiving for life itself: for the human body, the physical world, land to stand on and eyes to see with. The first words we say each morning - Modeh/Modah ani, ‘I thank you’ - mean that we begin each day by giving thanks.”
Practicing gratitude means actively choosing to acknowledge and emphasize the good things that are present in the world, and to thank God for them. This follows with the instructions of Philippians 4:8 when it says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
There may not have been any pumpkin pie at the Last Seder, but the value of gratitude extends throughout all eras and cultures. Thanksgiving can remind us of this value as it creates an opportunity for gratitude to be expressed among families, friends, and communities.